Elevating My Ideals

Turns out the toughest part of traveling is coming home. I’ve been back in the States for just about a week now, and as wonderful as it has been to hug my mom, and hold some of my dearest friends’ baby, there is an unsettling feeling to being…settled.

I wanted to slip back even momentarily into my travels, so I sat down and watched Elevate, an ESPN documentary about SEED Academy. Having been a part of the organization for nearly 3 years, it was almost criminal that I hadn’t watched it yet. The documentary follows 4 of our alumni from the campus at Thies through their careers in prep school, before showing where they ended up going to college.

I had the opportunity to hang out with one of the 4 alums, Dethie Fall, when I was in Senegal. Dethie is a character in a half. Now a grad assistant for Grand Canyon State, he parlayed height and some limited basketball skills into a great education. He’s now pursuing his MBA and will be bringing a team entirely capable of beating IU to Bloomington in December.

I will be there, and I will almost definitely be the biggest Grand Canyon State fan in Assembly Hall.

Seeing Dethie as a quiet and shy 17 year old in the film had me laughing, because in the time I’ve spent with him, I wasn’t sure he had the physical ability to be quiet. He’s always cracking jokes, or teaching Noah and I the basics of picking up Senegalese women in their native Waloof.

Shy is the last adjective anyone would use to describe Dethie today, but he’s used his passion for people to be one of SEED’s greatest ambassadors.

Seeing that transformation in reverse has really re-energized me in my efforts with SEED. After gaining a first hand view of what we’re trying to accomplish in a gym that wouldn’t be the 15th nicest in my county of 40,000 people, I was shocked at how our organization has achieved so much with so little in the way of resources.

Seeing the founder, Amadou Fall, deliver heartfelt speeches to the kids about taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them was an emotional tug on this stoic. Amadou hit the proverbial lottery when some Peace Corps volunteers helped him get a scholarship to the University of DC, where he went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude in Biology, an achievement far outstripping any on the court.

He turned around and worked to ensure that the next generation of his countrymen would have opportunities to do the same, to create a program which allowed hard work to determine opportunity, not sheer luck.

The organization he founded has generated nearly 6 million dollars in scholarships for 95 alumni over the past 12 years, and with our current efforts and expansion, that number should increase exponentially over the next 5 years.

No longer merely an elite educational academy for a handpicked few, we are reaching nearly 200 boys and girls a year in our Thies programs, and we’ve expanded our total footprint to nearly 2000 with a partnership with USAID and the NBA’s Live, Learn and Play program.

I was blessed to get a random introduction to the Executive Directors of SEED, Noah Levine and Romola Ratnam, who put my inherent Indiana passion for basketball (at least I’ve got passion because God knows I never had a jumpshot)  to work for an organization that needs both funding and manpower to really reach the next level.

Positive change doesn’t happen in the world overnight. Turns out, magic wands are only in Harry Potter. It takes the dedication of men and women who believe that they can make a difference. It is setting up container shipments, chasing down sponsorships, pouring over stretched budgets, and coaching scared 16 year olds through visa interviews.

Then you’ve got to wake up and do it all again next week.

I sat on the sidelines for too long, content to think that if I took care of myself, that the rest of the world would fall into place. That’s not how it works. Communities thrive on the willing sacrifice of others, whether it means donating your time to an after-school program, or taking a world class education and working for peanuts for a cause that you truly believe in.

Community starts next door, but in a world of ever increasing connectedness, it spans oceans as well.

I’m glad that my worldview was shaken on this trip, and I’m glad that I’ve been re-energized to try to make a difference in the lives of people who truly deserve it.

If you can’t convince the man in the mirror to put forth the effort, why do you think that someone else will?

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