The phone rang in the middle of the night on May 7, 2016, rousing Tim Anderson from his hotel bed in Baltimore. On the other end was his friend and manager, Darrius Chapman, calling with news that would leave Anderson heartbroken and sobbing: Branden was dead.
Earlier that night, back in Anderson’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Branden Moss had been shot and killed outside of a bar while trying to help a man who’d been beat up in a fight. Just like that, the White Sox’ young shortstop had lost his best friend since childhood. “We grew up together,” Anderson says of Moss. “Same neighborhood, same high school. We was always with each other. It was like, you see him, you see me.”
Now he was gone, and Anderson was left to deal with the grief. Through all the pain, something became clear to Anderson. “I learned a lot from his death,” he says, “and it gave me a different perspective on life.”
The message that Anderson took away from Moss’s passing: He didn’t want others to go through that kind of suffering, and he wanted the tragedy to lead to something positive. “I felt like it was on me to keep his legacy going,” Anderson says. And to him, that meant focusing on young people, to help them avoid Moss’s fate.
So it was that one of the worst moments of Anderson’s life led him to start a charitable foundation: Anderson’s League of Leaders. Based in both Tuscaloosa and on Chicago’s South Side, the goal was to provide kids with tools to succeed in school and at home. “We try to focus on the youth, because they’re our future,” Anderson says. “We go in and show them a lot of love and put a smile on their face and leave a beautiful mark.”
So far, that outreach has been varied. Since League of Leaders’ inception in 2017, Anderson and his wife, Bria, have helped organize back-to-school haircuts for kids, along with giving them backpacks and school supplies. They did a Thanksgiving dinner giveaway in Tuscaloosa, as well as hosted a youth baseball camp. They held a Christmas dinner at Turning Point of Tuscaloosa, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. They’ve partnered with mentorship programs in Chicago, organized through Youth Guidance. And there’s a scholarship in Moss’s name, providing $1,000 for students from their high school affected by violence.
“We’re swerving in a lot of lanes, but it’s a lot of good stuff,” Anderson says. “It’s keeping [Moss’s] name alive and doing what’s right.”
There’s more to that, though, than simply donating money or giving haircuts.
Anderson wants to be a role model for kids—particularly, as an African-American player, for African-American kids living in the South Side, a part of Chicago heavily afflicted by gun violence.
“I feel like that’s what I’m here for, to be an example for the youth,” he says. “When you think of the South Side, you think of negative things. By me being there and being the color I am and the majority of the kids being the color I am, I think they look up to me a lot more and see someone doing something successful the same color as them.”
To that end, Anderson wants to make sure they know the history of black baseball. Last year, he took kids from Chicago to Kansas City during a White Sox-Royals series to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; he’d like to do another trip this year to Atlanta. Before Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, he held a screening of 42, the Robinson biopic, for several dozen kids in Chicago.
But what Anderson enjoys most, he says, is simply spending time with the kids. As someone who came from a turbulent background—his father, Tim Sr., was in prison at the time he was born, and his aunt and her husband raised him—he feels like he can connect with those who face similar hardships.
“There’s a lot of kids in the South Side that go through a lot of things, and it was easier for me, because I’ve been there,” he says. “I’ve been less fortunate. I’ve been through certain things that they’ve been through.”
What’s important to Anderson is letting kids enjoy their youth instead of having to worry about a life full of danger. “Sometimes, you do have to grow up before you’re ready, and I think that’s what happened with a lot of kids on the South Side,” he says. “They get a chance to be kids around me.” That means talking with them about their favorite music, or what’s happening on Instagram—simple, everyday, positive things. “If we give these kids love and joy and show them that life is beautiful and that someone loves them, or that someone’s been there doing the same thing you’re doing, I think we’ll be just fine,” Anderson says.
The ultimate goal for League of Leaders is a permanent physical center, where Anderson’s foundation can provide sports and after-school activities, as well as help with schoolwork and studying. “If we can do that, this world will be so much more positive and powerful with knowledge,” he says. Until then, he’ll keep doing everything he can to raise money and support. Earlier this season, he announced that for every base he steals this year, he’d personally donate $500 to his charity—a move that, given his speed, will likely add up to a few thousand dollars. He's already swiped 13 bags this year.
Since Moss’s death, Anderson has found several ways to honor his friend. He got a tattoo on his left arm to memorialize him, and wore a “B. MOSS” jersey for MLB’s Players Weekend in 2017. Anderson can’t and won’t forget Moss—and League of Leaders is just one way to make sure that his death will have a positive impact, even on those who never knew him.