WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Two men from different backgrounds and generations ended up changing each other’s lives, and now they’re trying to change the world. America’s pastime is what started Kevin Jordan and Tom Walter’s friendship more than a decade ago.
Kevin Jordan had dreams of being a professional baseball player. Growing up in rural Georgia, Kevin says all he did was play baseball. As a high school senior in 2010, he was recruited to play for Wake Forest University. Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter said he was immediately impressed with Jordan and wanted to help him achieve his dreams.
“We saw Kevin play and you know, he could run he could throw he could hit for power hit for average. He was one of those five-tool players. You know, one of those guys, you can build a program around,” Walter said.
Kevin almost didn’t make it to Wake Forest.
“I was recruited by Wake Forest, signed and planning on coming to Wake or going into the MLB draft when in senior year, I started to get sick,” Jordan said.
Coach Walter had noticed a change in Kevin’s game.
“His senior year in high school, we had started hearing from Major League scouts that were in there to watch him play saying, ‘hey, KJ — kid doesn’t look right,’ it doesn’t look like he’s the same. He looks lethargic. That’s not who he is. Looks like he’s lost some weight. So I called Kevin’s dad and I just said, hey, Mr. Jordan, you know what’s going on?”
Kevin’s family initially thought it was a virus, but more testing revealed it was something much worse.
“We found out it was kidney and it was kidney failure. So my kidneys failed over a period of like two or three months during my senior year of high school,” Jordan said.
Kevin’s dream was in jeopardy and now he had to break the news to his new coach. Only, Coach Walter didn’t give the response Kevin was expecting.
“We talked to the coach and he just said ‘just show up.’ So in the summer of 2010, we show up. And I’m 150 pounds, not worth anything just very sick,” Jordan said.
Kevin showed up to practices as instructed and Coach Walter accompanied him to doctor’s appointments.
“Coach came to my first doctor’s visit where they said, hey, you’re going to need a kidney, you’re going to need a transplant,” Jordan said.
Kevin first went to his family for a new kidney, but he was striking out. Neither one of his parents nor his brother was a match. Just when Kevin thought he might be out of options, Coach Walter stepped up to the plate, volunteering to give his Kidney to his player.
“When I heard you know what the criteria is, for a new kidney, I mean, the first criteria is your blood type. And I was like, well, my blood type and his blood type are the same. So we got a shot here,” Walter said.
“I just remember the words. I think I’m a match. Can I donate? And you know, that’s when our relationship may have went from here to here. Because I didn’t expect that,” Jordan said.
Walter says he hadn’t thought much about the deed until he talked to a friend about it right before the surgery.
“When I found out I was a match, I went to, you know, somebody that I had to go to and be like, ‘hey, I want to do this.’ And he looked at me confused. He’s like, well, can you do that? And I was like, well, what do you mean? And he’s like, well, ‘isn’t Kevin black?’ And the question startled me. And I was confused,” Walter said.
Coach Walter’s friend was white but didn’t know that white people and Black people could donate organs to one another.
“I was thinking, I was like, well, it’s not a racist or a malicious question. It’s just not understanding science questions. Like, he just didn’t understand how it worked. And I remember my response to him very clearly, which was, I was like, ‘Well, yeah, my blood and his blood are the same. And that’s all that matters,'” Walter said.
That conversation flipped a switch in Coach Walter’s mind. He realized more people in the world thought this way. While his friend may not have had malicious intent in his question, there are people in the world who do believe in racist ideologies.
“We’re not talking about race enough. Like we sweep that under the rug. And we think it doesn’t exist, and we don’t want to talk about it. But at the end of the day, we’re having the same problems that we had, when Martin Luther King was standing on the steps of the Lincoln, we have the same problems today. And there’s no reason for that. And the only solution is we’ve got to get these conversations out in the open,” Walter said.
On February 11, 2011, Kevin got a new kidney from his baseball coach. He was able to play on the team, finish school and was in the clear for a while.
Coach Walter and Kevin were talking a few years later and they agreed they could use their story to help educate and bring people together.
“We both kind of thought the same thing where we have to start something that contains a conversation, get something going and get some education, and some connection around this, because we’re now on the same page as a country. So that became Get In The Game,” Jordan said.
Get In The Game is an organization the two started in 2020. They go into schools, tell their story and lead students in conversations around race.
“We provide safe spaces for these kids to talk about race. But we also train facilitators, so they can have these conversations in a productive and positive way. And get these kids to better understand who they are, you know, what they stand for, get them to celebrate their differences instead of criticizing differences. And then from that, you know, they become more comfortable in their own skin more confident, and become changemakers,” Walter said.
Kevin finished his baseball career and his degree at Wake Forest and stayed in Winston-Salem. Baseball is still very much a part of his life. He teaches and coaches baseball at Philo Middle School. Coach Walter is still a baseball coach at Wake Forest. They’ve remained close over the years and work together to grow Get in the Game.