Howard was born in Atlanta, to Dwight Sr. and Sheryl Howard, and into a family with strong athletic connections. His father is a Georgia State Trooper and serves as Athletic Director of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, a private academy with one of the best high school basketball programs in the country, while his mother played on the inaugural women's basketball team at Morris Brown College. Howard's mother had seven miscarriages before he was born. A devout Christian since his youth, Howard became serious about basketball around the age of nine. Despite his large frame, Howard was quick and versatile enough to play the guard position. He elected to attend Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy for high school, and in his four years he played mostly as power forward, averaging 16. 6 points, 13. 4 rebounds and 6. 3 blocks per game in 129 appearances. As a senior, Howard led his team to a 31–2 record and the 2004 state title, while averaging 25 points, 18 rebounds, 8. 1 blocks and 3. 5 assists per game. That same year, Howard was widely recognized as the best American high school basketball player, and he was awarded the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award, the Morgan Wootten High School Player of the Year Award, Gatorade National Player of the Year and the McDonald's National High School Player of the Year honor. He was also co-MVP (with J. R. Smith) of the McDonald's All-American Game that year. On January 31, 2012, Howard was honored as one of the 35 greatest McDonald's All-Americans.