Power Forward, a youth development initiative launched in 2013 by the ExxonMobil Foundation, the NBA and Africare, uses basketball to teach health literacy, including malaria prevention and personal hygiene, and life skills, such as leadership, respect and responsibility, to students in 30 secondary schools in Abuja.
This initiative, in its seventh year had two-time NBA all-star Victor Oladipo and 2015 NBA Champion Festus Ezeli headlined the first virtual Power Forward Huddle which livestreamed on NBA Africa YouTube on Nov. 19. The event, hosted by TV and radio host Jimmie Akinsola, celebrated seven years of the Power Forward program for youth ages 14 and under and coaches from 30 schools in Abuja.
The one-hour show, celebrating the program’s impact in Abuja, also featured representatives of the program partners – ExxonMobil Director of Community Investment and Strategy, Jim Jones; NBA Africa CEO, Victor Williams; and Africare President and CEO, Robert Mallett; – as well as testimonials from Power Forward students. The organizers also thanked FCT Abuja Secondary Education Board and Nigerian Basketball Federation for their support of the initiative.
Victor Oladipo and Festus Ezeli spoke about the role basketball played in their lives, the values of the game and credited their Nigerian upbringing for the successes on and off the court.
Festus Ezeli recalled his visit to Nigeria last year, after a decade and a half abroad, when he also took part in the sixth Power Forward Finals at the National Stadium in Abuja.
“I had been gone for 15 years. I left my home, I left my family, it was just me when I came to America. And coming back after all this time, a lot of inches taller, it was a very emotional time. You know it’s always going to be home. Nigeria is always home. Granted that America is my home now, but when I went back, it was this feeling like: man, I’m home. These are my people, and seeing my family and everybody, it kind of reminded me of my purpose. When I left Nigeria I said I was not going to come back unless I have something to contribute, until I accomplished something. And making it to the NBA was accomplishing something, but I wanted to do more and I wanted to do more for Nigeria myself. So I’m excited for the future,” visibly excited Festus explained.
Victor Oladipo credited his family and the way he was brought up in a Nigerian household, for his academic and sports success.
Victor stated that, “Coming from a Nigerian household and Nigerian parents, they are really big on academics. Originally playing the sport was kind of different in my household. My three years at Indiana, I was taking extra classes during summertime so I could graduate early. I still had a dream and the ability to go to the NBA Draft early, a year early. I credit definitely my culture, I credit definitely my parents and the way I was brought up, for my ability on and off the court. That’s just Nigerian way, it’s academics first and basketball later. That’s how it was growing up, so I had to make sure that I follow that plan.”