you're reading...

Cornelius News

Op-Ed: Sports can inspire, unify and create change

Andrew Lovedale

March 22. By Andrew Lovedale. Nelson Mandela once declared that sports “has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

We’ve seen throughout history, on stages big and small, the power of sports to not only reveal our own humanity, but our drive to make a positive difference in our communities and in our society.

One such example is the NCAA basketball tournament. Every March, the thousands of young men and women who take part in this storied tradition remind us that every person, every team, and every community has a unique story to tell. They empower us to believe that anything is possible when dreams meet opportunity.

My story is also an example.

A little about me

Fifteen years ago, sports changed my life forever. You may remember Davidson College’s magical run in the 2008 tournament, led by a scrawny kid named Stephen Curry. You probably don’t remember his 6’7” teammate who was setting hard picks, pulling down rebounds, and blocking shots.

I was born in Benin City, Nigeria, the eighth of ten children in a family that emphasized the value of education. After my father died when I was 14 years old, my brothers introduced me to basketball as a way to channel my energy and focus. In Davidson, I found a school and a basketball program that was a perfect match for my educational and athletic pursuits.

As a player, I noticed how much athletic equipment ended up being discarded, even if it was in good condition. So, in 2007, I started asking my teammates to set aside their used shoes so that I could take them home to Nigeria for kids who needed a good pair of shoes. I saw it as a way to give back to my community, as an appreciation for everything that was given to me.

It started with 40 pairs of shoes

I gladly took 40 pairs of shoes back to Nigeria.

A year after that historic tournament, as Davidson’s story reached audiences that I hadn’t dreamed possible, I was able to deliver 10,500 pairs of shoes to Nigerian children in need in my community. But as gratifying as that was, I knew I could do more. The children I visited, who were growing up just like I did, deserved the same love and consistency that I was lucky to have.

Through my dedication to service and my faith, I founded Access to Success (A2S), a nonprofit organization committed to providing sustainable programs that generate positive change for Nigerian children.

Success story

Since its inception in 2010, A2S has grown exponentially to make a positive difference in the lives of countless children and families in Nigeria. A2S provides empowerment and opportunity through a variety of athletic, academic, and entrepreneurial programs. Our first year, we served 50 children.

Today, we serve more than 10,000 in Benin City through year-round programs, and regularly provide food to 3,500 women and children who have fled from terrorists in northern Nigeria. And after offering after school services from a small church basement for more than a decade, we just opened a 20,000 square foot youth center to serve the children in our programs.

As much as we’ve achieved with Access to Success, I’m especially excited about the opportunity ahead of us to dream even bigger and continue making positive change.

The power of sports

My journey from Nigeria to Davidson College and beyond is a testament to the power of sport, the resilience of the human spirit and the favor of God. The Davidson Wildcats’ Cinderella story was the catalyst for A2S, and the organization’s ability to serve its mission is a reminder that small actions can lead to the empowerment of an entire community.

In the coming days, as we excitedly watch this group of scholar athletes excel and reach for their dreams, let us remember the power and the potential of sports to inspire, unify, and create change.

—Andrew Lovedale is founder and president of Access to Success. He played on the Davidson College men’s basketball team from 2005 to 2009, and played professionally in France and Switzerland. He lives in Davidson.