CFL.ca presents In My Words, a space for CFL players, coaches and staff to share their stories.
I’ve always felt a sense of gratitude getting involved in the community. Whether it was the Lower Mainland, Vancouver, BC Lions or DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), the place of birth, or Oregon and Baltimore. Leaving Congo at the tender age of six and flying 20 hours Northwest to a much colder, new country that was going to bless my life with unimaginable adventures, was a sacrifice that my parents made that provided us with a good life. The values that they instilled in me is the reason why I wake up every day with purpose.
Those first few years as immigrants were hard years. Having to adapt to freezing temperatures, having to wait in line to receive food from food banks, going to school and having to repeatedly correct teachers on how to properly say your name.
There were times where I would overhear my parents discuss the struggle of everyday living, scraping to get by. My parents talked about how dreadfully they were treated as immigrants in a new country as they were also charged with the responsibility of raising a big family. My mother was a well respected teacher back home, who was more than qualified to teach at any school district in Quebec. There weren’t any language barriers because we came from a French speaking country. She was overlooked and discriminated against because of the colour of her skin which ultimately made finding employment next to impossible.
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Now that I’m an adult and reflect back, I realize how naive and helpless I was with the issue of racism. I believe that if I was in elementary or middle school and a group of athletes came to my school to do a presentation and made me aware that the issue of racism exists on a bigger scale, it would’ve opened my eyes and ignited a desire to be part of the positive change in our communities. That is why over the last few years since the inception of Team up to End Racism, I got involved.
After the viral video of the death of George Floyd circulated the internet on May 25, 2020, drawing widespread outrage, the province of British Columbia and the BC Lions teamed up in an effort to tackle racism in our schools and our communities. Big thanks to Bryan Burnham who was a strong advocate and one of the main pioneers on this topic.
I got involved because I wanted to shine some light on this issue of racism because it affects all of us. I knew that I had a story to share and I felt that the way I grew up, the things that I didn’t know, maybe a student would benefit and that my story would be a cause for action and through my story, students across BC could learn and inspire to push our community forward.
We all have an individual and collective responsibility to work towards creating a more inclusive society. Much like a football team, the idea behind “Team Up” is to form a group of people with complementary skills working together towards a common goal and purpose. It takes all of us to join together to form a strong and unified team in order to end racism.
Being able to share this message and bring awareness to these different schools across BC truly leaves a lasting impact. There’s been times when after our presentation, students would come up to me and express their gratitude, whether it was because they learned something they didn’t know before, or they were touched by a story. Some students admittedly share that they don’t know the definition of racism, which is simply the belief that one group of people, identified by physical characteristics of shared ancestry (such as skin colour), is superior to another group of people that look different from themselves. And when a belief is emotionally charged with hate and hurt, it can cause an incredible amount of damage. Racism occurs when individuals or groups are disadvantaged or mistreated based on their perceived race and/or ethnicity either through individualistic or systemic racism.
When you’re given this knowledge at a young age, when you’re growing and discovering who you are and what you stand for, and now you have professional athletes come to your school and acknowledge that discrimination and racism does unfortunately exist but you’re provided with resources and different ways to take action, the impact goes further than a football win. Students are now able to know the difference and make a difference whether it be in their schools or in the community. And I wish I had that taught to me growing up as a young student. I would’ve been able to spot what a microaggression is. I would’ve been able to distinguish between individual racism and systemic racism. I would have been able to follow the 4D’s, which are Deescalate, Diffuse, Disrupt and Distract, if I spotted racist act. It’s important for me to continue to spread the message because if we want to continue to push society where everyone has equal amounts of resources and opportunities, a society where everyone is understanding and kind with one another, we will and can prosper.
With February being Black History Month, I think about all the amazing humans that pushed the culture and society forward, all the great contributions that black people have made. I think about sports icons like LeBron James, who is an excellent role model for young black men and women. I think about my Father and the adversity he dealt with, leaving his family behind in hopes of a better life. All the failures he endured and the many sleepless nights. I think about the kind of discrimination he dealt with even earlier on while we were split, us in the Congo and him in Canada waiting to see if he was going to be able to get our passports, VISAs and change his family’s life forever. He’s an inspiration to me. I think about the sacrifices my mother made over the years, whether it was taking out student loans just to feed the family, or picking up extra shifts at work.
I think about being a CFL football player and having a platform to share my experiences and the things that I’ve been through, an immigrant kid who didn’t know a lick of English. Fast forward to now and I’m going into a 10-year pro football career. It’s all part of the plan.
It’s about leaving an impact and being of service to others. February is a time to reflect on the progress to where we once were as a society and the arduous journey black people and people of colour endured to where we are now. To celebrate black excellence while continuing to push society forward. I am extremely grateful that I’m able to play my part and be a small part and I know that one day, we will achieve our goal.