This column appeared Friday, January 26, 2018 in The Manhattan Mercury.
Monday will mark 157 years since Kansas entered the union as a free state. That night you’ll find me at Bramlage, cheering for Mawdo Sallah, Makol Mawien and their Wildcat teammates. I will also applaud for KU’s Udoka Azubuike, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Silvio De Sousa, and not simply out of politeness and good sportsmanship. Like me, they come from places peopled by human beings who, regardless of whether it’s declared on parchment, are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
Earlier this month, government officials in the Gambia suspended permission for rallies and other public political gatherings after clashes with opposition groups involving stone throwing and the destruction of vehicles.
Sallah was born in the Latrikunda neighborhood of the city of Serrekunda in the Gambia. His favorite team growing up was Manchester United. At 24, Mawdo’s older than his K-State basketball teammates and the coaches expect big things from him. In the paint and the locker room.
The Republic of South Sudan has been involved in a civil war virtually since gaining independence seven years ago. Thousands have died. A cease-fire between the warring parties appears shaky. On the list of countries from which people are fleeing, South Sudan ranks third, behind only Syria and Afghanistan.
Mawien is averaging 17 minutes a game for the Cats and leads the team in field goal percentage. Born in Egypt, raised in Utah, Makol’s father is a South Sudanese diplomat.
In recent years, hundreds have died at the hands of the extreme jihadi Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. In 2018, a separate conflict has erupted. Farmers who seek to protect their crops from being damaged by thousands of cattle have clashed with Fulani herdsmen. More than 70 people have been killed this month alone.
Born in Lagos, Azubuike grew up in the province of Delta, Nigeria. Today he leads KU in rebounding.
A conflict between government in Ukraine and Russian-based separatists rages into its fourth year. Russia may covet Ukraine’s natural gas resources or they may feel threatened by Ukraine’s vibe of independence. A difference of opinion with Vladimir Putin over the Crimea accounts for still more bloodshed. Ten thousand lives have been lost.
Cherkasy, hometown of Mykhailiuk, lies on the Dnieper River roughly halfway between Kiev and Donetsk, where much of the violence has ocurred. Svi drains threes for the Jayhawks. NBA scouts describe him as a young Manu Ginobli.
In Angola, a new president, in office since the fall, appears to be cleaning up the nepotism and corruption of his predecessor, who held power during the bulk of the Angolan civil war which ended in 2002. That bloody conflict claimed more than a half-million lives. When De Sousa was born there, Angola was one of the last hot spots of the Cold War.
On the hardwood for the crimson and blue, Silvio spells his teammate, Udoka, in the post.
The course of human events in each place began with a cultural, religious, tribal or ideological disagreement and led to bloodshed. On Kansas Day, that hits close to home.
The migration of human beings from New England to Lawrence and Manhattan was a tactic, aimed squarely at moving a political agenda. Muster enough souls within the borders of the Kansas territory who oppose holding other human beings in bondage, gin up public opinion and allow hearts, minds and consciences to go to work within the body politic. Many who disagreed crossed over from Missouri, roused rabble and in the years before Kansas became a “united” state, the violence came in waves.
A New England abolitionist organizer later wrote to Isaac Goodnow in Manhattan, “Pioneers who responded to my call for volunteers for Kansas made the first self-sacrificing emigration in the world’s history.”
We cannot choose where we come from, but we can choose where we go. I come from Kansas, a place borne of violence and bloodshed. These young men have chosen to come to Kansas. To reach for the stars, clean the glass, put a body on ‘em and charge the lane, through difficulty.
This is an opinion column, not a fact-based news article, but it happens that I hold these truths to be self-evident. It has dawned on me in recent months in my state and my country, that just because they’re evident to me, does not make them evident to all. Liberty grounded in fairness and equality cannot be taken for granted. Those New Englanders who steamed up the Kaw had it right.
I hope for the best in the Gambia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Ukraine and Angola. I will work for the best in Kansas and the United States. On Kansas Day, I’ll be at a basketball game, pursuing happiness.