It’s Africans, Not African Americans That Are Appreciating College Education

By Gregory Moore
Updated: January 17, 2005
DeSagana Diop
DeSagana Diop

SAN ANTONIO, TX —-With the NBA season being about a month or so away, I thought it was interesting that while searching through the various sports resources at my disposal that I actually came across a story that seems to put more credence into my argument that the young African American kids in this country look at professional sports as a God-given right where as other kids from ethnic backgrounds see the college education as a privilege worth striving for. No more was this ever present than on Friday when I was combing through said resources and came across a story from Sports Business Network entitled, “Young African Men and their NBA dream”.

At first glance I thought, “Oh no, not another story of how poor kids are trying to make the jump to the pros to escape poverty” but as I began to read the story, the writer delved into how African kids have dreams of attending and graduating from colleges in the United States more so than becoming the next Hakeem Olajuwan or Dikembe Mutombo. The story definitely shored up my argument that today’s kids here in the States have life entirely too easy based on such programs as MTV Cribs and such because to them, an education is not important. That’s ironic because to African kids, a college education means so much more to them and their families.

Maybe hearing a writer say such things doesn’t send home a good message because for at least the past few years, I have written articles saying that it is time for parents to stop emphasizing the importance of athletics as a way to get “out of the ghetto”. That has been my mantra for as long as I can remember. It has been one my ‘thorns’ during my writing career. Yet when I hear African citizens who have taken the opportunity to graduate from college in this country say those very same words, my heart sinks in some respect because I feel that our African American kids should be able to grasp the same message. As we all know, this is certainly not the case; not by what we see, read and hear about young sports stars these days.


The story that I am referencing first appeared in the Houston Chronicle and was written by Fran Blinebury. In the piece, the writer quoted numerous individuals who were from the continent of Africa and each and every one of them said that education was important to both them and to their families.

“The chance for an education took my life from out of the gutter to letting me live out a dream,” said Thabo Letsebe. Letsebe is touted as being the pioneer for Africans to be able to not come play in the NBA but to be able to come to the United States and obtain a college degree. Letsebe obtained his degree from Goucher College, a Division III school outside of Baltimore, Maryland.

There are others who have now followed his path. Olajuwan played for the University of Houston while Mutumbo was a Georgetown product. Currently in the league, Ruben Boumtje Boumtje and his Cleveland Cavaliers teammate, DeSagana Diop, are just two players who have continued the dream that Letsebe helped pave back in 1981.

There is good reason why success stories from Africa are finding their ways into the sports pages that we read. There is a climate in that country that goes beyond anything that could be dreamt up by the naysayers of the ghettos. While many of our African American kids are dealing with drugs, poverty and other social ills, kids from Africa, like Diop, are trying to escape the realities of abuse, HIV and other ills that are killing off Africans at an alarming rate. For them, getting to the United States is literally a life or death situation that many have no fear of trying to accomplish. To these African individuals, obtaining the college degree is more important than basketball.

The social climate here in the States is alarming because thanks to the media, what many African American kids see is a skewed view of reality. The Carmelo Anthonys, LeBron James’ and others are anomalies in a sea of sports tragedies. One of my favorite phrases I tell young, aspiring ball players is that for every one of you who tell me that you will be a professional athlete, I can introduce you to a few thousand others in your state who are saying the exact same quote. I go on to tell them that by the time high school, college and pro coaches weed them out for a draft, you are down to a select 200 or so players and not even all of them get picked. Is that a harsh reality/ Sure it is but it’s necessary in this day and age. It’s necessary when I sit in the barbershop and listen to grown, educated men tell me that their son is the best thing since sliced bread and yet that son can barely read, write and do simple math. It’s necessary when you are dealing with parents who simply think that it’s all about the ball between the painted lines and that their child can get that sheepskin after his playing days are through. It’s necessary because when the African American community has failures, the community is quick to point to society for its ills. It’s necessary to point out these realities because with stories like the Blinebury article, the whole scenario comes to focus in an instant. The reality of this situation is that others are taking advantaged of what African American kids should have already been ‘exploiting’ for their success in life.


Blinebury’s article also brought something else to light for me. When I read the article, what I saw was a people who were making opportunities their realities. The Basketball Without Borders program in Africa showcased just how serious Africans are about making a better life for themselves and/or their families. When you read about how family members were more concerned with that individual’s grades and not his scoring average, you know that they will be successful in their future endeavors. Now is that saying that African American kids cannot follow suit? No. This isn’t a blanket indictment on the African American community but more of a “shove it in your face” message for those parents who believe the hype that is delivered from MTV, BET and others.

Maybe Bob Lanier put it best in the article when he said, “Basketball, even if you’re successful at it, lasts a short period of time. The message that we are trying to spread is that the game can give you an opportunity to do so many other things.” That has never been a truer statement in this day and age. What the game of basketball has been able to do is to transform some lives that would have never been able to blossom and flourish. These individuals who are coming from countries like Senegal, Cameroon, Morocco and other African nations see the United States as a land of opportunity for success. These players who took part in the Basketball Without Borders program realize that getting to the NBA may be a long shot but their families are encouraging them to pursue the degree first and then see what lies in front of them.

It’s not that African American basketball players don’t see the vision that African ball players see. With this society showing that everything is about the bling-bling, the ball players who you see on the playgrounds these days do not understand the vision because to them education isn’t an important aspect of their lives. That ladies and gentlemen is the tragedy facing the African American community but maybe there will be some hope coming from across the pond. With young African players playing at the Division I level and with the few that have made their way onto NBA rosters, maybe their work ethic will rub off on the home grown product. At least that is my dream.