Lawrence Funderburke is what those of us in the writing business call a “good talker.” Better make sure fresh batteries are in the tape recorder when the former Ohio State basketball player opens his mouth.
There are two types of talkers. The first use many words to say little. The second speak in best-sellers, their sentences strung together with engaging relevance and intelligence. They exude passion without wasting words.
Funderburke belongs to this second type.
“If you don’t change people’s minds, you’re never going to change their lives. If you don’t change their lives, you’re never going to change their legacy. If you never change their legacy, you never change our world.”
The 46-year-old Columbus native dropped that quote during a recent conversation that centered on his mission to positively impact the lives of at-risk youth. Get Funderburke started on the perils of poverty and prepare to be enlightened.
“It’s really not a capability issue with disadvantaged kids. It’s an accessibility issue,” he said. “They need to know that success is possible, that they just need the right framework and guidance. That’s what I focus on. We want to change behaviors in the kids, but we have to back up and say, ‘In order to change their mindset you have to change their frame of reference,’ or how they filter information, which is based on upbringing and life experiences.”
Kids know him as Mr. Fundy, the nickname he uses when teaching financial life skills to schoolchildren and through his nonprofit Lawrence Funderburke Youth Organization (lfyo.org). Older adults know him as the 6-foot-9 former high school star at Wehrle who played three seasons for the Buckeyes after transferring from Indiana, where he butted heads with coach Bob Knight.
“In college I fought against being a role model. I wanted to do my own thing,” he said, a confessional he shares for the benefit of current athletes who think the world owes them. “I was like a lot of athletes. I looked at it as me against the world. I was very distant and guarded toward people.”
Listening to Funderburke’s impassioned verbal paragraphs and knowing his heart for the disenfranchised, it is hard to picture him once being an untrusting loner. But achieving such life change is exactly why he donates money, time and financial expertise to the Columbus community of children. He understands that kids without hope struggle to break through boundaries of disobedience and depression created by economic hardship.
“Most kids only know their neighborhood,” he said. “They only know their street. ‘I live on Livingston Avenue. I live on West Mound. That’s my world.’ But the world is much different than that, and it’s very important to let them see a different way to do things.”
Funderburke is just one of a number of former Ohio State athletes who are giving back to central Ohio. Another one, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, recently received the Byron “Whizzer” White Award from the NFL Players Association for going above and beyond in providing community service to his hometown and where his college is located. Jenkins and Funderburke, who played eight full seasons in the NBA, also work with Ohio State to prepare athletes for life after sports.
“I played basketball. That was my platform, but my purpose is what I’m doing right now,” Funderburke said. “As an athlete, or anyone of influence — or even not of influence — we’ve got to make a difference. There are all these movements happening, and really it’s about people feeling trapped by their circumstances. Feeling marginalized. We have to find ways to move people toward their potential.”
Pay attention to this guy. He talks — and walks — a good game.