On Friday, the Toronto Raptors held their annual Giants of Africa game as they played the New York Knicks. This year, it was a little different though, as Giants of Africa celebrates two decades of empowering the youth of Africa. The first Giants of Africa Basketball Camp took place in 2003, and now 20 years later the organization has impacted over 40,000 youth in 17 different countries.
The organization decided to spend this anniversary highlighting how Giants of Africa empowers women in particular. To read up a little more on this, check out the special feature the Raptors released Friday — written by RaptorsHQ’s own Chelsea Leite.
Along with the game Friday night, and the Giants of Africa Gala on Sunday, GOA also held an All-Girls basketball clinic on Saturday in partnership with the Muslim Women’s Summer Basketball League. A group of young girls spent the day doing goal-setting and leadership workshops, and then participating in on-court drills and exercises and a scrimmage game. Helping coach the event was Toronto Raptors assistant coach Mery Andrade, who joined the Raptors staff this summer.
After the workshop, Andrade talked about how refreshing it is working for an organization like the Raptors who doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to impacting the women of their community and being an inclusive franchise — they really walk the walk. She talked on her experience coming from a smaller country — Andrade is from Portugal — and how she loves to work with young kids to show them that if she can build a successful career in sports, so can they.
Also in attendance to help coach were Kia Nurse, Laeticia Amihere, and Miranda Ayim from the Canadian National Women’s Basketball team. Nurse and Amihere are on the offseason from the WNBA, while Ayim retired from professional basketball after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (in July 2021).
Catching up with Nurse after the clinic, she noted how she likes volunteering at these events because when she was growing up in Canada, the only representation she had for women’s basketball players was through a screen.
“It’s so different when you can be in a gym and you can say ‘I was in your seats and I’ve made it to where I am today’,” Nurse said, “I think that’s a massive piece of it, is being able to really physically be in the room with someone that you could possibly be in the future.”
One of the things many people within Giants of Africa appreciate is the subtle yet impactful way the organization prioritizes women. It’s not some tagline, shove down your throats slogan that we need to empower women — it’s just integrated into the system. Take this clinic — it was an all-girls basketball camp, where all the athletes were young girls. The coaches were all women, and talented women at that — there was representation from the WNBA, the Olympics, European basketball, high-level college basketball. All of the people running the event were women, and all of the people covering the event as media were women. It was an incredible atmosphere, something that surely those young girls will remember and take note of.
Another big priority of Giants of Africa camps is the off-court component. The organization is all about teaching youth skills through basketball that can be used in all aspects of life. You can learn so much from team sports — collaboration, resilience, hard work, compassion, empathy, and more — and GOA tries to set youth up for success no matter if they pursue basketball or not.
“Having these young women answer questions, use their leadership voices, stand tall, be confident, all of those things are going to be essential in their life,” Nurse said.
The girls were also treated to a visit from Masai Ujiri himself, who spoke to them about his journey and how they can Dream Big — a motto within the Giants of Africa organization. He talked to them about how this small leather orange ball filled with air has the ability to change lives, and how they can use anything to change their lives and the lives of others. “Dreaming is free,” he told them, and then led them in a chant of “Who Let the Dogs Out,” which sounds goofy but after an emboldened speech by Ujiri was incredibly inspiring.
“Dreaming is free” - Masai Ujiri tells young girls at this morning’s Giants of Africa Dream Big Clinic pic.twitter.com/Hh28IB058q— chelsea leite (@chelsealeite) December 2, 2023
It was fun to see the power of Giants of Africa in action — as Toronto Raptors fans we hear about this incredible organization and their work a lot, but seeing it in front of you is different. Kids were coming out their shells as the day went on, cheering each other on, lighting up when they made shots. There was an incredible atmosphere in the room, and even more so knowing that it was the next generation of women leaders being impacted by the day’s events.
The impact Giants of Africa has made in 20 years alone is encouraging, and makes you think about the power of basketball. It brings us together, creates community, teaches life lessons, and encourages us to Dream Big.