U of T’s 17th annual Black History Luncheon on February 28 rounded out four weeks of Black History Month celebrations. The event commemorated Afro-Canadian culture through food and live music, culminating in the recognition of the philanthropic efforts of Masai Ujiri, President of the Toronto Raptors.
Ujiri is the first African-born General Manager in the NBA. In addition to his work with the Raptors, he is the co-founder of Giants of Africa, a non-profit organization that uses basketball as a means to improve the lives of African youth.
In an email to The Varsity, Ujiri wrote, “Every year I am amazed by the youth of Africa. They are truly the future.”
Ujiri founded Giants of Africa soon after becoming director of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders, when he was inspired to create a basketball camp for the children of his home country, Nigeria.
As an NBA scout at the time, he was concerned with finding the next African NBA star. However, over the years, Ujiri came to the realization that few people have the skills it takes to make it to the NBA.
He said at the event, “That began to eat me inside because not everybody is going to be a talented basketball player that’s going to play in the NBA.”
Ujiri said that he may not have been the greatest basketball player, nor did he make it to the NBA, but he “used basketball as a tool” to get himself an education and to meet new people. Basketball helped him to understand the importance of traits such as teamwork and leadership and this is what he hopes to teach the children who attend his camps.
It is also important to him that they understand that there is more to sports than being a professional basketball player. He listed sports management, psychology, law, and journalism as a few of the areas available. Ujiri discovered that this was not a common perception in Africa, and so he sought to educate children about alternative careers in sports.
The sold-out luncheon took place in Hart House’s Great Hall at UTSG on Thursday. It was also live-streamed at UTM, UTSC, and the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport. The event included guests such as Nigerian High Commissioner to Canada Adeyinka Olatokunbo Asekun, U of T President Meric Gertler, New Democratic Party MPP Jessica Bell from University—Rosedale, and students from the York Region District School Board.
In his email to The Varsity, Ujiri wrote that Africa will always be his homeland.
“I will always be proudly African. Every country in Africa has its own unique charm and beauty, but universally Africans are hardworking, good people dedicated to [bettering] themselves and those around them. Giants of Africa and basketball have shown me sides of the continent I didn’t even know. The resilience, strength of the youth, women and Africans in general is unparalleled.”
However, he added that “Toronto is an incredible, world class city that I consider to be home,” and that Toronto has “come into its own” as a “tier one sports city.”
For Ujiri, sports can teach a person valuable life lessons of “hard work, dedication, teamwork and commitment,” and because of that, sports have “the power to change the world.”