Oakland teen who lost his mother focuses on new clothing line to help others

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19-year-old Devon Banks has had a hard life. 

The Oakland native spent most of his childhood in and out of foster care. He said his mother, who was a single-parent to him, his sister and three brothers, struggled financially, struggled to keep them fed and housed, and struggled to stay out of abusive relationships with men. 

And Banks believes it was Nidja Marshall’s final violent relationship that sent her to the hospital with injuries that she would never recover from. She passed away last year. 

Banks knows what it means to be homeless, to be hungry, to be cold and feel alone. So with the memory of his mother to guide him and the memories of his hardships never far from his mind, the college-bound teen has made a commitment to help those in need. 

Last month, Banks took his two younger brothers with him and went out into downtown Oakland looking for those who live on the streets like he once did, and he passed out more than 100 pizzas, drinks and snacks along with smiles and an acknowledgement to those he encountered that he understood.

“I know how it feels to not have food and a place to stay... when I was homeless I wished someone gave me something to eat when I was starving. So now that I can do stuff like that, why not do it?” he told KTVU.

Banks said he was able to pay for the giveaway out of his own pocket with a new venture he poured his heart into after his mother passed away.

It’s his own clothing line which he calls “MakeThemRespectYou” (#MTRY). The teen said the line represents his mother. It’s a reminder of her difficult life cut short, but also the respect she garnered from others as she tried her best to survive and look out for kids amid all of her challenges. 

As part of the venture, he's made it a point to devote a portion of any profit he makes to help others.

About five years ago as unstable and uncertain as it often was, life as Banks knew it changed forever.

He was passing his cousin’s house, on his way to the gym when he received horrifying news. He cousin ran to him to tell him his mother was in the hospital and it was serious. No one knew what had happened. Banks jumped on the next bus and rushed to Highland Hospital, where he was met with a sight he’ll never forget.

“It was traumatizing… it was tubes and machines all over her body and she was paralyzed and some of her hair was like burnt as if someone set her on fire and her skin was different shades of brown,” he recalled. “I broke down and started crying, I had no words then I asked the doctor what happened to my mom and they said they aren’t 100% sure they just found her in the middle of the street all beaten up injured.”

He tried, but was not able to hold back the tears.

“... my mom is looking at me the whole time as I’m crying and she can’t move or talk but she can only move her eyes, I’m trying to hold my tears in because I don’t want to make my mom sad because she gets sad when she sees her kids sad,” Banks remembered.

For the next four years, he and his siblings would visit their mother in the hospital. Later, when her health slowly began to improve, she got moved to assisted living facilities for treatment and care. 

But she never got well enough to return home to be with her kids again or got well enough to make it to Banks’s graduation from Oakland High School last year.

That didn't stop the teen from sharing the triumphant moment with her.

“...after my graduation I went up to the hospital and gave her my graduation cap to show her I did it because only 40% of foster care kids graduate high school.”

But it wasn’t long after that he lost her. 

Within a few days after his graduation, she went into cardiac arrest which led to brain damage and more complications, Banks explained.

Doctors told him she would need life support, a decision that Marshall had already made, according to her son. Banks said she had told her children that she would not want to be kept alive by a machine.

So the family made the difficult decision to let her go. Marshall was 44 years old when she died.

Banks said no one has ever been arrested in the attack that led to her death. 

The loss of his mother was a painful blow to the teen’s life already wrought with adversity and hardship. But her difficult end moved him to act and live in a manner to inspire others and command respect by the choices he's making to live out the life that his mother wanted for him.  

“My mom had respect in the streets and I want respect on the basketball court and in the classroom,” he said.

Banks played on Oakland High School’s varsity basketball team. In fact he's been featured on KTVU on its sports segment, “That Kid’s Got Game,” for his impressive ball-handling skills, displaying almost the mirror image of Warriors' Stephen Curry’s pregame warm-up routine.

Banks has worked hard in the sport which he credits for keeping him out of trouble. He said if it wasn't for his dedication and love for the game he could’ve ended up in jail or even dead. 

Next month, the 19-year-old athlete will be leaving the Bay Area for Oregon, where he will attend Clackamas Community College on a full ride basketball scholarship.

He plans to play hard on the court and do well in the classroom with hopes of moving on to a NCAA Division I school.

Banks will also continue to work on building his business with a focus on helping others along the way, all while he holds his mother’s memory close.

“That’s what this brand is about because when I see the less fortunate I see myself in the mirror and my mom and my little brothers,” Banks said, “...my mom would 100% support this if she was still alive and this brand does represent her, and why not when it’s something positive.”