Manock Lual knows how important basketball is — on and off the court. After playing professionally for four years in England and Ottawa, as well as for the South Sudanese national team, Lual took his talents back to the community that raised him. In 2018, he founded Prezdential Basketball, a non-profit that helps around 300 kids from Ottawa’s disadvantaged neighbourhoods become better athletes. But dribbling drills are only half the story; Prezdential also offers mentorship and programs on financial literacy and videography.
Inspiration My first moment was being released from my professional team. That left me trying to figure out who I was for the first time, because all I’d done was basketball. That was my label: I’m a baller. Then I was in a space where I thought, ‘Okay, there’s going to be youth coming up after me — how are they going to navigate these avenues?’ I loved playing in England and the experience of playing in a different country, but I hated learning the business of the game and how replaceable you are. All right, I thought. Let’s give back to this next generation.
Approach Growing up, I saw a lot of people get into trouble. Basketball was my compass to stay out of that. It was my best friend. It was my therapist. It was the vehicle I could channel all my misunderstandings through. I had a lot of rage as a kid, a lot of trauma, and at the time I never understood where it came from. Basketball allowed me to be as competitive as I wanted to be — in a healthy space. You can learn a lot about the world through the game.
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Process From September to March and April, we’re working with different public schools and communities on basketball and programming. When we get into our summer months, we have basketball programs that highlight entrepreneurship — that includes things like kids learning how to start a company through basketball. We also have our youth media program, which allows youth from different communities to tell stories through videography.
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Challenges In some of the areas we work in, the youth have attachment trauma from workers who come in, build programs and suddenly, they’re not there anymore. In other communities, it’s violence that troubles the neighbourhood. Some areas, it’s not even about shootings or crime or anything like that — it’s kids whose parents are pushing them way too hard at a young age. There are so many perspectives that you’re dealing with.
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Empathy One youth brought a gun to the program. We calmed the situation down, sent him home and contacted his older brother. We made sure it was understood that the situation couldn’t happen again. Later, we had a conversation with him about safety: “You carrying this around means you don’t feel safe, but that means there’s a problem with when you leave your house; it has nothing to do with where you are in the moment.” It wasn’t about calling the cops on him; it was about communication. And now, he’s a university graduate. He just finished his first degree. I think that was an amazing story — how a little bit of empathy can change somebody’s life.
Identity I think the kids at Prezdential are learning: “I don’t have to be the narrative. I don’t have to be what everybody else is. I can be myself and find success.” And I’m talking about true success, where you can live effortlessly within yourself. I think that’s a very important thing. And that’s what we’re trying to put out there. Be yourself and be it unapologetically.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. It first appeared in Broadview’s December 2022 issue with the title “Manock Lual.”
Michael Grace-Dacosta is a writer living in Toronto.
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