To All the Kids Back Home in Congo,
Even though I’ve been in the States for five years, Congo is never far from my mind and it’s always in my heart. It’s actually really difficult for me to put my feelings about home into words. But I did have to study my butt off for years to get my English on point, so I’m at least gonna try.
I’m thinking about where you might be reading this. Maybe you’re at the old Internet café I used to go to. That was one of my favorite places on earth, man. It’s funny, in America people are always connected to the Internet — it doesn’t matter where they are or what else they’re doing. And the signal is always good! If it’s not — for even like a second — everyone freaks out.
But back home, getting to use the Internet was a special thing. I would beg my parents for enough money to get me a 30-minute session at the café. And I made every second count — it was right to YouTube, search NBA, No I’m not watching no ads, and then … I was in my zone.
For those 30 minutes (or man, sometimes I’d get an hour — those were the best days), I watched every highlight I could get my eyes on. Kobe highlights were of course my go–to — there’s an unlimited amount of them, and every one is amazing. Then of course there was LeBron, the King, who could do things on a basketball court I’d never seen before … or even imagined.I’m really excited to take my next big step by announcing that I’ll be turning pro next year.
Growing up, I almost never played on an indoor court — for most of my childhood there weren’t any in Congo. Most of the time the pair of sneakers I was wearing during games would be too beat-up to even recognize what brand they were. And I had cuts all over my knees from sliding around on the dirt court we used to play on. Busted sneakers + no-traction dirt courts = lots of scars. Basketball has been my passion for as long as I can remember, but for most of my life, nothing about the way I experienced the game was flashy.
But when I was sitting in that café, headphones plugged in, leaning toward the screen, it was like I was in this dream world. The nice uniforms, the packed arenas, the perfect hardwood floors. I would just kind of get lost in it all. And honestly, the thing I remember the most about those experiences was the feeling I would have whenever my session ended. Like, that split second of going from being in this dreamworld to having it suddenly feel like it was a million miles away again. I just hated that feeling so much.
The reason why I’m writing this is to let you know that whatever dream you have — whether it’s in basketball, medicine, engineering … or whatever you feel a passion for — it isn’t as far away as you think. Yes, the challenges you face are greater than anyone else understands — but I get it. I see you. I’m one of you, and I’ll never ever forget where I’m from.
I took a big step toward my dreams five years ago by moving overseas — away from my friends and family — to play high school basketball in the States. And now I’m really excited to take my next big step by announcing that I’ll be turning pro next year.
Just saying that out loud is crazy. Like, I’m a professional basketball player now. And what I really want the kids back home reading this to know is that if you stay disciplined and work really hard, you can achieve your dreams too.
I know if I can make it this far, you can too.
Fresh Focus Sports
Before I go any further, I have to give a shout-out to my mom.
It was her birthday yesterday. (Happy birthday, Mom!) She truly is the best mom ever. There’s no chance I’d be where I am today without her love, support, and, yes, a smack every now and then when I needed it.
I miss her a lot. I miss both my parents. I haven’t seen them since I left home five years ago. Having to leave them was really hard, but it also gave me a sense of focus and purpose that I’m grateful for. I came to America prepared to work and get better. Because of the sacrifices we had to make, I never treated this like it was just my opportunity. My dad was a great shooter and a really athletic player back in the day, but he never got the chance to be coached and developed the way I have these past few years — so many really talented Congolese players haven’t. So all the work I’ve gotten to put into my game the past few years hasn’t felt like work at all. It’s felt more like a blessing.Because of the sacrifices we had to make, I never treated this like it was just my opportunity.
Being offered the chance to play at the top college programs in the country is something that meant a lot to me. It showed that I was on the right path, and definitely made this decision really difficult. But after giving it a lot of thought and prayer, I decided I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to start as a professional and be able to dedicate myself entirely to growing my game. I’ve followed my love of the game to get me to this point, and I know this is the right step for me and my family.
Courtesy of Jonathan Kuminga
And right now, I’m just so grateful, man. I think a lot about how so many kids from Congo usually don’t get the same kind of opportunity as me to really follow their passions and show the world what they can do. Thinking about that is one of my main motivations. It makes me grateful for how far I’ve come, but it also represents what I want to help change.
My long-term goal is — more than anything else — to just do whatever I can to help change that. If I’m able to live up to the potential I know I have as a player, then eventually I’ll have the resources to do really big things back home. And maybe one of those things will help at least one other young kid do their own big thing. And between all of us, over time, we can change Congo for the better.
I know we face obstacles that most other people in the world will never understand. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t worthy of opportunities and the chance to go after our dreams. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. I didn’t manage to make it this far despite being from Congo. I’m only where I am today because I’m from Congo.
To all my African brothers who are chasing their dreams in America, we all know how tough it is to deal with people who are looking out for their own benefit instead of yours. People who don’t appreciate or understand the pain and struggles you went through just to get to this point. They don’t know yet of your genius, but they will find out soon. The discrimination, bullying and disrespect we experience isn’t fair, but, my brothers, your only choice is to make your dreams come true and make your motherland proud. Keep pushing, stay patient and keep working hard.
Change is coming. We are change, and we’re coming.