Resilience is this month's character strength and I realized replaying a story from one of our DUSC alumni would provide the best means of defining this trait we value in our players. See our post from 2019 about Mahfouz Soumare and the update afterwards.
As I thought about the message for 'Resilience' - this month's Character Strength - I started writing about grit and the growth mindset. As it took shape it became about how challenges, obstacles, adversity, and struggle are inevitable in soccer and life – especially when we choose out real effort and intention into our growth and development. It was on point but sounded like a page straight out of a textbook. I needed an example; something to bring it to life. It didn't take long for me to think of someone who personifies resilience: Mahfouz Soumare , a DUSC 1999 Academy graduate last year, and now a first year honor student on full scholarship at Fairfield University. This is his story which was his college essay:
5:00 AM: The streets of the South Bronx have become familiar with the song of my feet running all the way to Freeman Street to go to my favorite place: school. My alarm clock has become my mother, waking me up and pushing me out of the door. My Puma backpack is my best friend. To it, I entrust my whole life: my soccer cleats, books, pencils and a flash drive for my videos. This backpack became my pillow and companion while I bounce from house to house.
5:00 AM has become a daily reminder that I’m not defined by my story.
I was born in Ivory Coast. By the time I was eight years old, I was abandoned by my father, and I witnessed my mother struggle with health problems, poverty, and an abusive marriage. I juggled between different cities and countries. Senegal. Mali. And Guinea. I was never able to spend more than six months in the same school. I routinely lost everything and could not pursue what I wanted most: school, soccer, and film technology.
By the age of 15, I learned what it meant to be an orphan. An orphan is a child who travels to the United States alone in pursuit of an education. It is having to navigate the streets of New York without knowing English, while simultaneously having to cope with his mother’s death three months after his arrival to the “Big Apple”. It is having to sit on the train with an empty stomach, trying to figure out when his next meal will come.
But before my mother’s death, she left me with a passion that motivated me to not give up. In New York, I was given the resources that my mother and I had been seeking for my entire life. For the first time, I didn’t have to worry about getting kicked out of school because my mother could not pay the fees. In September 2016, I finally started school in New York, ready to take advantage of every opportunity given to me.
I wake up every day to go to school, with images of the people who died from bullet wounds in Ivory Coast’s civil war, the millions of people living without electricity, and the young girls living through the same experiences that my mother went through. All of these images come to me at 5 A.M., when I am getting ready to go to a classroom filled with students who only know me as Mahfouz, the kid from Ivory Coast.
After school, I go to one of my two jobs, where I endure everything that comes with the term “undocumented immigrant.” But the discrimination, the mistreatment and the feeling of not belonging have never stopped me from working hard to make the restaurants a better place for my customers and coworkers.
After work, I go to soccer practice for my club Downtown United and pursue the other passion I brought with me from Ivory Coast. Even though I’m usually tired from school and work, I’m still passionate about performing well for my teammates. At around 10:00 P.M., I walk into my makeshift living room: Starbucks. It is here that I have internet access and can finish my homework. It is the Starbucks employee who encourages me with free drinks and reminders: “One day, all of this work will be worth it.”
My education is the only thing that has never left me. It followed me from city to city, and country to country. It is the only thing that I can truly call my own. College is where my ideas will be born, and a place I will finally be able to call home. Because of this, I believe in my passions; I believe in my dreams; I believe in the power of education.
5:00 AM is the beginning of my journey, the journey I’ve nicknamed, “hope.”
Mahfouz will graduate with honors this month. He was presented with the Fairfield University MLK Vision Award this February, was on the Dean's List every semester, majored in International Studies/Economics with minors in Humanitarian Action, French and Finance...and was on the soccer team.
He will be moving back to NYC where he has accepted a position with Brookfield Asset Management. Mahfouz credits DUSC as being one of the most significant aspects of support in his ability to rise above the incredible challenges he faced and has asked to give back to the club by coaching young DUSC players in the evenings.