SOUTH CHICAGO — Tanika Harmon’s three young children couldn’t wait to see their remade home.
Legendary two-sport athlete Bo Jackson was just as pumped up to show them in.
“Keep your eyes closed. Come on in. Keep them closed; don’t open them yet. Don’t open them yet. Don’t open them yet,” Jackson said, gently guiding the eager kids. “OK, open your eyes! So what do you think?”
Bella, 4, lit up and said, “It smells good in here.”
Earlier that morning, the family’s tight quarters had housed nothing but a mattress, a couple TVs and a broken futon. Tanika Harmon, a mother of three with a baby on the way, has experienced homelessness for most of her life, though she managed to move her family into the bare-bones apartment two years ago.
“I just didn’t feel like my house was a home,” Harmon said. “Now it is.”
Harmon’s home now has a living room with sofas and tables, a room with beds for her kids, a stocked kitchen and a Christmas tree with toys underneath.
The White Sox footed the bill to completely furnish Harmon’s apartment ahead of the holidays in partnership with local nonprofit Digs with Dignity. Jackson stepped up to the plate and put on his Sox jersey to surprise the Harmon family with the furnishings.
“They don’t know who I am,” said Jackson, one of the most famous athletes of all time. “As long as they know that some big guy in a White Sox jersey [cares] enough about them to make sure that they have a good Christmas, that’s all that matters.”
Before the big surprise, Jackson took three $100 bills out of his pocket — one for each of the kids — and attached them to the tree.
“I can relate to them because I’m one of 10. I was raised in a 700-square-foot home,” Jackson said. “And there were a lot of Christmases where I didn’t get gifts because the money had to go to keep the lights on.”
Jackson grew up in Alabama, growing up to win Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1985. He’s the first athlete to be an all-star in two professional sports, playing for the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Royals. Later, he played with the White Sox.
On Friday, Jackson added his finishing touches to the home while showing volunteers a picture of his 7-month-old grandchild wearing a Sox hat.
Harmon’s 3-year-old son, Antonio, made a menacing face when Jackson asked the boy to “give me some knuckles” — but Antonio quickly took to Jackson. Antonio gravitated toward a plastic baseball bat and teed up a homerun swing.
The big guy in the Sox jersey offered up grandfatherly advice, reminding the kids, “When you play with your toys, you got to put them back.”
Harmon cried at the sight of their home while Jackson comforted her.
“Since I didn’t have nothing, ya’ll gave my kids what I didn’t have,” Harmon said. “And I appreciate it so much.”
Jackson has lived in Chicago with his wife, Linda, since the Sox signed him in 1991.
“I’ve been here for 30 years. Kids all grown up and moved to warmer climates; I’m still here,” Jackson said. “This is home for me. And doing something for the city, makes me feel good.”
Jackson’s professional careers in football and baseball were cut short to injury, but that hasn’t stopped him from staying active in retirement. Famously crafty, Jackson builds bicycles, makes bows and arrows and, on Friday, gave volunteers tips on how to construct wood shelves.
Harmon’s pantry was stacked to the brim with her kid’s favorite snacks, causing the shelves to sink in the middle. But Jackson Knows how to add crossbeams.
For the afternoon, the legend had a new purpose: making sure everything in the humble home was perfect.
“I’m a jack of all trades,” Jackson said. “There’s things to do. Always.”
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