JuJu: 'It's just about giving back'

Sammy Toa-Schuster had to stop for a minute and collect her thoughts.

It was easy to understand why.

She was talking about one of her children, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and trying to put into words how proud she is of him.

Not because of what the young Steelers receiver has accomplished on the field, but what he is doing off the field, to help others and to honor those who raised him to be the person he is today.

“It means a lot. I can’t really put it into words,” said Toa-Schuster. “It means a lot to me.”

On Friday night, JuJu Smith-Schuster hosted the inaugural JuJu Foundation Luau, keeping a commitment to hold the event despite being injured the night before when the Steelers played the Browns. He had teammates on hand to support him, as well as team President Art Rooney II and Coach Mike Tomlin.

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It was an event that had a lot of different levels, from a fundraiser for the foundation to an opportunity to give back to the community.

It had another level, too. He chose the luau them to honor his Samoan heritage, a side of him he wants people to understand more.

“It’s good because I can show my culture, give back and show where I came from,” said Smith-Schuster. “It’s cool. It’s good for a lot of people to see my Samoan side.”

Showing the heritage is something that really hits home with his mother and touched her heart deeply.

“It means a lot for him to represent where I am from, where his grandmother is from, where his dad is from,” said Toa-Schuster. “Not to take away from anything, because we do know that he is half African American, so not to take anything away from that side of him. But just to represent his culture, where he grew up, where I grew up, mainly where his grandmother grew up. It means a lot. It’s humbling. It’s emotional.”

The event had everything a tradition Samoan luau would have, from the attire guests wore, to the food, including a pig roast, to the entertainment, which included an amazing fireknife show.

While the luau and everything that came with it kept everyone entertained, what pulled at the heartstrings was when Smith-Schuster surprised over 50 kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania with new bikes. Smith-Schuster chose to give bikes because of the social media frenzy that occurred his rookie season when his bike, which was his main form of transportation because he didn’t have a driver’s license yet, was stolen.

“It’s just about giving back,” said Smith-Schuster. “It’s an idea from my rookie year when the bike became a big thing. I thought why not give back to the kids too, give bikes to kids who don’t have one. The bike thing became such a big thing for me that I wanted to turn it into something to help.”

JuJu Smith-Schuster hosts his first JuJu Foundation Luau at Stage AE in Pittsburgh, PA

His mom was in Pittsburgh when the bike was stolen and remembers getting a call from him about it.

“It was something that was really funny. He laughed about it,” said Toa-Schuster. “It was funny to me because he was an NFL player riding a bike to work. Him calling me, it sounded like a little six-year old saying, ‘Oh man mom, somebody stole my bike.’ He was laughing. But it turned into something bigger than what it was, and he is able to turn it into something where he can give to kids who have different stories. Some kids can’t afford to have bikes. Some kids always wanted to have bikes, like JuJu. He always wanted to have a bike, but we couldn’t afford it. Now he is able to give that back to the kids.

“This has been JuJu since he was a young child. He was always the kid who looked out for everyone else. Always put himself last. Now he can showcase that on a higher platform, and he hasn’t forgotten about that. He is continuing what life was like when he was younger, and I am so proud.”

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