Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is back in the Bluegrass. His new mission goes beyond basketball.

Former Kentucky basketball star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was active in the community as a member of the Charlotte Hornets, and he’s now launched a non-profit organization to help those who stutter. (David T. Foster III/dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com)

It has been a little more than 10 years since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was on the court for the Kentucky Wildcats. One of the most beloved figures in recent UK basketball history, Kidd-Gilchrist helped lead the Cats to the 2012 national championship and went on to become the No. 2 pick in that year’s NBA Draft.

This week, Kidd-Gilchrist will be back in the Bluegrass for a reason that goes beyond basketball.

Last year, the former Kentucky star launched a non-profit called Change & Impact Inc., an organization that seeks to improve access to healthcare and expand services and resources for those who stutter.

Kidd-Gilchrist has endured the challenges of stuttering for his entire life. His hope is to help those in similar situations, while raising awareness about the difficulties the stuttering community faces.

“My whole purpose is to change the stigma and connect with individuals who stutter,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “Whether it’s one person, two people, three people, a whole auditorium — I try to inspire. And try to help.”

The eight-year NBA veteran last played in the league in 2020, and his new mission has taken him on speaking engagements to college campuses and other educational settings. On Monday night, he returns to Lexington for the first fundraiser related to his non-profit organization.

The event will feature bowling at LexLive, where local children and adults who stutter will join Kidd-Gilchrist for a night of fun and camaraderie. It will also bring together corporate and individual sponsors to further the goals of Change & Impact.

This fundraiser is a ticketed event that is not open to the general public, but Kidd-Gilchrist hopes it’s the first of many public gatherings as his advocacy work continues into the future. (Those who’d like to donate to the cause can do so at ChangeAndImpactInc.org).

Kidd-Gilchrist and Change & Impact Inc. will also be recognized Tuesday night during the Kentucky-Bellarmine game in Rupp Arena.

The setting for the organization’s first big event was important to the UK basketball great.

Kidd-Gilchrist grew up in New Jersey, spent nearly all of his eight-year NBA career in Charlotte and now resides in the Washington, D.C., area with his family. He spent less than a year in Kentucky, but the commonwealth will always hold a special place in his life.

“Everything is coming full circle,” he said. “Lexington was the first place that I got help for my speech therapy. It’s a special place, with special people. I’m talking about the whole state. I love the state of Kentucky, man. I’m not from there, but those memories from eight months last a lifetime. Those relationships. To do something of some substance is how I give back to the community. This is very important to me.”

Kidd-Gilchrist was just 17 years old when he arrived at UK as a freshman, and — not having access to speech therapy growing up — it was his first opportunity to get help for his stutter. As one of the best players on the nation’s best college basketball team, he was a constant focus of media attention, which extended into his NBA career.

He shied away from the attention. And while he often still does, he’s using his stature to help others that have faced similar struggles.

“I don’t like the camera. And I’ll never like the camera,” he said. “This isn’t about a PR push or attention-getting — nothing like that. This is just about helping individuals like myself.”

Known for his selflessness on the court as a player, Kidd-Gilchrist is taking the same approach to his new focus in life. He speaks of his advocacy work with the same passion with which he played basketball, and John Calipari still holds him up as a standard in that regard when talking about his past Kentucky players’ competitive spirit.

Kidd-Gilchrist has remained close to the UK program — he was in town for Big Blue Madness just last month — and said Calipari was the first person to know he was doing this event in Lexington.

“Cal and the staff and the players — it’s one big family,” he said. “They’re very proud of me. And that means a lot.”

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