JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Sept. 7 --
"Let your little light shine."
With the warm afternoon sun high in the South African sky, the NBA players left the comfort of AISJ campus and took the 35-minute trip into a whole other world. A world of harsh realities, social injustice and abject poverty – today the mighty NBA visited the township of Soweto. For the second consecutive year the children of the Soweto Kliptown Youth (SKY) Trust - a youth empowerment program - played hosts to the stars of the NBA, once again putting on a spell binding performance that left not a dry eye in sight. The day was particularly special as it marked the inauguration of the NBA’s new Reading and Learning Center, as part of the NBA’s Legacy Project in partnership with Feed the Children.
The visit began with a walking tour of the township, with the players listening attentively to the words of ‘Little Bob’ – the founder and head of the SKY Trust. They witnessed first hand the degradation and squalor that the innocent children of Kliptown are being born into. For a population of over 40,000 there are only 49 working taps. The central points of each community, these same taps are used for washing, cleaning and of course drinking. The lack of basic hygiene was particularly striking; five families, of maybe seven members or more, would share a single toilet. It was evident for all to see, and for anyone that was willing to listen, that the residents are desperate for basic development to better the intolerable living conditions that they endure each and every day.
Having completed a circular tour of the community, the players went back to the SKY Trust center and took their seats for what was going to be a very emotional and uplifting few hours. Sitting in a tent, specially erected outside the newly built Reading and Learning Center, the players were humbled and touched by the performances of the children; individual stories of rape, child abuse and of HIV and AIDS. The haunting singing and wailing pulled at the heart strings of all those present. In that moment, a Defensive Player of the Year award or a Slam Dunk Champion award suddenly seemed somewhat insignificant.
When it was almost becoming emotionally too much to bear, the tone suddenly changed: The children, seemingly reborn, appeared in wonderful flowing robes and costumes and proceeded to put on a spectacular display of traditional dancing. The contrast in the children was impressive; faces wrought with sadness and pain only moments earlier,had been transformed into smiling beaming, happy faces.
Following the performances, the players cut a ribbon and unveiled a plaque to mark the official opening of the Reading and Learning Center and then spent some time reading to the children.
As the sun began setting on another day in Soweto, the parting words of ‘Little Bob’ continued to resonate in the minds of the NBA stars: "We don’t have silver and gold but we have love, and love conquers all. And we will make it happen. Angels will surround you when you bounce your basketballs, and when you play you will be doing it for the children, our Kings and Queens."
The Legacy Project at SKY consisted of the building of a unique Reading and Learning Center, a multimedia/computer room, a library and a donation of books, computers and educational materials, clothing and basketball equipment. Feed the Children provides daily meals to SKY’s 500 students and have also remodeled their existing kitchen. Last year, current and former NBA players visited SKY Trust as part of Basketball Without Borders Africa to encourage literacy and education.
Quotes from ‘Little Bob' (Bob Nemenga, founder and head of SKY Trust).
"I believe in myself more than anything else. I believe in myself and I know that I am here for a purpose; as long as I am here things are going to happen."
"No matter what you are going through in your life you must let your little light shine; no matter what your conditions are let your little light shine. Find your purpose and fulfill that purpose because tomorrow may never come."
"Hope is better company than fear."
"No matter what you do, you must let your little light shine."
"Appreciate nature the way it is, appreciate yourself the way you are. You are here to make a difference. You are here to touch souls to change other people’s lives."
"Living for yourself, you are living in vain, but living for others you shall live again and again and again."
"Survival is the motto in our ghetto. Poverty is a sin. Our children are treasures from heaven."
‘If there is pain in you, it won’t last forever. Joy comes in the morning. Stop worrying, look at the future ahead. Look at the beautiful things."
Bob Lanier – "The NBA at its best"
"This was a real rollercoaster of emotions for me, I was trying to not have tears in my eyes, but I couldn’t - I was crying over there with Mutombo. It’s so important that these kids don’t remain victims of their circumstances; they have to keep that fire burning inside of them.
"This is truly the NBA at its best; what the players and coaches are doing – they were touching lives this morning in the gym today with these bright eyed campers from allover the continent and again now this afternoon at the SKY Trust. They donate their time because they want to make a difference in this continent.
"I am very touched by all of this."
Mamadou N’Diaye (L.A. Clippers) - "Very honored to be here"
‘It’s an honor and a privilege to be here with my brothers and sisters from Kliptown, Soweto. When you walk through the streets, when you look at the living conditions and the obstacles they have to go through every single day, it's amazing. But then you come here and you see kids playing and dancing and having fun - you can see the joy in their eyes. It really impressed me. To me, material things and money do not control a person's happiness. Integrity, qualities and morals - that's what the people here are putting into their future, for people to be the best that they can be. I’m very honored and happy to be here."
Maciej Lampe (New Orleans) – "Makes you look at yourself"
"I am honored to be here and was really touched by the performances of the kids. Just to walk around and see how happy they are despite the conditions they are in, it makes you look at yourself and think about where you came from. So I want to thank them all for sharing this with me."
Darvin Ham (Detroit) – "Thanks for the gift of truth"
"My eyes have been opened to a whole different world today. This whole thing has really touched my life and I just want to thank the NBA and everybody that has enabled me to come over here and experience all of this; it has been truly wonderful. And to all the children here in Kliptown, Soweto, I just want to say, keep the faith, never give up, don’t ever let anyone put a ceiling on what you want to do with your life. Have faith and your prayers will be answered. Thanks for the gift of song, thanks for the gift of dance and, more importantly, thanks for the gift of truth."
Jimmy Jackson (Phoenix) – "It has turned my life around"
"I want to thank the NBA for giving me the opportunity to come to Africa and visit my roots. Before coming, I thought it would be us that would teach and help and nurture and guide, and that it would be us that would be a source of light to these young men and women in Africa, not from a basketball standpoint but from a mental standpoint. But this whole experience, first driving through Senegal and then through here to South Africa, it has touched me, and I am sure it has given me more than I could ever give them. It has turned my life around, I am very emotional. This is really difficult. I always say this when I speak to kids, and I leave them with this because they have left me with something that will always be with me, 'Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise, seek what they sought.'"
Marcus Camby (Denver) – "Good to be home"
"The first thing I want to say is that it is good to be home! I want to thank everyone for making this possible and to answer the question the young lady had in the play, 'Where is the love?' Well there’s a whole lot of love right here among my fellow players. And if the NBA would allow me, I would love to be back next season."
Jerome Williams – "You can do it"
‘I’m truly blessed to be here amongst all of you today - the things you have given us all today, just to see the joy and the smiles on your faces it really lifts us up and it really took me back to when I was a kid and when I had a lot of hope to strive to make something of myself. I had strong parents and people around me just to encourage me and to say you can do it and I just want to be that person today to be able to say to all of you kids that you can do it.
"I really support the NBA and Feed the Children for what hey are doing here with this center that we are inaugurating today because now these kids have an opportunity to educate themselves and to learn and I know from the smiles on these faces today that each of u have to take advantage of that and I happy to see that. Always feel good about yourself just like you are today, feel good about where you are going in life. Don’t let anyone let you down, keep striving and pushing for it. Somebody will see that light in you and will lift you up - just how you have lifted us up."
Dikembe Mutombo – "I am sick and tired of seeing people dying"
Being African and being born in poverty, this affects me very much. My African people are dying, these thoughts plague me and it is always on my mind. The African continent is disappearing, cultures are disappearing, families are being destroyed all because of what we call the diseases of the poor; tuberculosis, malaria and HIV AIDS – the fabric of our society is being destroyed. It is becoming so important right now, to find a way to look at the next generation that is coming behind – our children. I am sick and tired of seeing people dying; I am sick and tired to see how the mortality rate continues to drop in the African continent. Here in South Africa, people are struck by HIV and AIDS where the mortality rate has dropped to 45 and 46 for women. We need to do something to save this beautiful continent that God gave us. We need to improve living conditions and protect our resources, which is the children. Our children, our resources."