The first time I heard this word, I was in college taking an African Dance class. Near the end of class one day, my professor asked us to gather in a circle around her. “Repeat after me,” she said, “Ubuntu.” As my professor explained, Ubuntu means “I am because you are” and “you are because I am.”
Ubuntu is a Bantu word that most closely translates to meaning “empathy” in English. This philosophy of Ubuntu is reflected throughout the documentary “Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters,” directed by Dan Hedges and produced by Taylor Sharp. Without giving too much away, the documentary focuses on the development of basketball in the African continent. The documentary intersperses various perspectives throughout the work, from small children who learn basketball with the help of the non-profit Hoops for Hope, which aids the development and education of children in Zimbabwe and South Africa, to the 2007-8 Boston Celtics, who overcame a losing streak to win the 2008 NBA championships with the help of Ngoni Mukukula, the Zimbabwe Center Director of Hoops for Hope who taught the Celtics the philosophy of Ubuntu. The film showcases several African basketball players and NBA greats like Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Luol Deng and Luc Mbah a Moute, among others.
I saw “Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters” during the screening held at Fairfield University’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m on Oct. 11. After the screening there was a panel discussion with Taylor Sharp, the film’s producer, Fairfield University’s Bryan Ripley Crandall, Ph.D., director of the Connecticut Writing Project and assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, Sydney Johnson, the Fairfield University Men’s basketball coach and Mark Crandall, the creator and executive director of Hoops for Hope.
One major theme in the film was the impact of social responsibility. Dikembe Motumbo, a Congolese-American who played in the NBA for 18 seasons, said, “I always believed that we as players have a chance to make a change … what we make is a living, but when you give, you are giving life to someone else.”
Sydney Johnson mirrored this sensibility during his speech at the panel. “The greatest outcome is transformation,” Johnson said about his coaching strategies, echoing the philosophy of Ubuntu. This is why the work that Hoops for Hope does as a non-profit is so valuable. Hoops for Hope helps give education, food and clothing to children. It helps them live.
“Togetherness,” as Hakeem Olajuwon, NBA Hall of Famer said, is at the very center of Ubuntu, and that is what makes “Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters” such a powerful documentary. It shows how the philosophy of Ubuntu can aid the development and education of children as they grow into adults, how it can help a struggling team of basketball players win an NBA championship, and create human connections across continents. The film is available for rent for $4.99 on Amazon and iTunes.