Dear President Albright,
There once was a time when I measured my life in hours while I hid with my family in the basement of our small home, terrified as the rebels invaded the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa. Death and poverty surrounded me. I wondered why the minute hand on the clock took forever to click to the next mark. I wondered when these hardships and atrocities of a civil war in my country would ever end.
I remember a time when I measured my life in days; a time when I wished to be redeemed from that phase of my life. I anticipated the excitement of tomorrow and hoped that tomorrow would come soon and would bring an interesting and surprising future. My hopes became true beyond my wildest imagination.
Africa– My Early Life
I was born in Sierra Leone in a town called Freetown. My native land has a population of about 6.15 million people and an area of 29,925 square miles, which is slightly smaller than South Carolina. This was the land where I spent my first few years. Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources. The natural resources should have been a blessing, but they soon became a curse. These resources turned beautiful Sierra Leone into a bloody civil war. Whoever controls them, controls the country. These natural resources are known as diamonds.
After my birth, my parents continued schooling while I was raised by the hands of my grandmother who taught me the basics of life and so much more. In my childhood, I was taught that the word “impossible” means nothing. I saw my dad prove it in so many ways. I was also taught that in life, you can feel happy by being happy, gentle by acting gentle and feel righteous and good by acting that way, regardless of riches or poverty. However, there were many times when those lessons didn’t seem to stick in my head.
In the early years of my life, we lived in a condition where we did not know where our next meal would come from. Living conditions upon my birth involved extreme poverty. We would stay in the dark most of the day because there was no electricity and my parents did not have the money to buy more candles. My mom would only light the candle when she wanted to feed me or change my clothes and then she would quickly blow the candle out for fear of the wasting the precious candle. Hence, we were in the dark for most of the day and night.
My mom eventually returned to school so my grandmother was asked to watch over me. My grandmother took care of me from until I was about eight. She wrestled with my illnesses by using traditional tribal medicines to heal me. She went through a lot in trying to raise me and with all of this, she was still happy to do it. Growing up, when people asked me who my mom was, I referred to my grandmother. For the later part of my years in Africa, I called my mom my aunt.
Back then, poverty was our way of life. Slowly, education started to be a savior for us as my father finished school. My family worked hard as street vendors to put my father through school. We had a small table near a busy intersection in the city, where my mom would sit and sell merchandise while my dad went to college. We’d have one meal together at the end of each day. With the small profits from our vendor table, my parents paid for my school and the one meal we had every evening together. The civil war took a terrible toll on our family with my mom and dad both losing loved ones to the rebels. The tragic civil war affected everyone in Sierra Leone in countless ways.
My Journey To America
Moving to America was a dream that I had as a young boy in Africa. Of course, I realized such a move was never going to happen. It was clearly an impossible dream. Our eventual immigration to America was made possible through a wonderful program called the Diversity Lottery (DV) that America implemented in various developing countries. It allows people from different parts of the world in underdeveloped nations to apply to immigrate in the form of a lottery.
If the lottery is won, the winners have to go through a series of interviews and medical tests. If the medical screening is cleared and the interview is passed, they get to immigrate to America legally with the possibility of earning their citizenship after some four years. My father eventually won the lottery and since he included his entire family in the application process, we all won and that’s the beginning of our journey that changed everything. Winning the Diversity Lottery is not easy and it involves a great amount of luck, or perhaps destiny, as there are millions around the world that apply each year.
America: A New Way of Life
Upon arrival in the U.S., I began the most thrilling adventure in my life. Moving from an underdeveloped nation (perhaps at that time, the poorest nation on earth) to one of the richest counties in the United States (Orange County, California) was a huge transformation. I learned quickly to adjust to my new surroundings. My new friends taught me the local sports of surfing and skating. A friend of my father invited us to attend the local LDS ward. There we met the missionaries and started to take the lessons together. Our family was baptized when I was just 16 years old.
I will always be grateful that I made the decision to be baptized because by joining the church, I truly found Christ. My conversion to the church of Jesus Christ has been a process and a journey. In the early stages, being an immigrant in America was difficult, with my parents not having a job while living in affluent Orange County. If it were not for the help from the church and its wonderful members, our story may have been very different.
Our local LDS ward in California took it as an obligation to make our new life in America as comfortable as possible. In the midst of all of this, my dad received a job offer but it would require him to work on Sundays. He turned it down (which took much faith) to keep the Sabbath day holy. The very next day, a member of our ward found out about my father trying to obey the tenets of his new faith, called him, and gave him a different job.
Shortly after our baptisms, my little sister Eileen was born. The blessing my father gave her a few weeks later in sacrament meeting had a profound impact on our ward and me. He blessed her to have a roof over her head and food to eat. This was simplicity beyond complexity. I can still remember the look and comments among some of the ward members who had often forgotten that there were still people in the world who considered such basic necessities as food and shelter as blessings.
There was a sense of humility from almost every member and a desire to thank the Lord more for their blessings.
The Mission- Eternal Moments
If ever there was a place to be, if ever there were great lessons to learn, and if ever there were heroes to walk with, it was in the days that I served a full-time mission for my church. My experiences in the mission field were glimpses of heaven. One of the great blessings our family enjoyed together just before my departure for the mission field was being sealed together as an eternal family in the temple.
Seeing a black missionary serving a mission for the LDS church was surprising to many people. Some people told me I was a fool. Some African Americans said I was a traitor. They told me that if you are Black and Mormon, then there must be something wrong with you. Others told me that I had been brainwashed and that I needed to read more about my church. Thankfully, though, not all comments were negative! Some converts said: “Thank you, you saved our family! You helped me change my life, and I needed to meet you. Christ is in our family now because you and your companion knocked at our door. You and your companion have given me hope to live again.” This chapter in my life gave me the courage to ignore my critics and continue to reach my goals after my mission.
Upon my release, I entered the plane for the cross-country flight home thinking back over my entire mission, the best two years of my life to that point. I had loved the loveable and the unlovable. I’d spent many hours on bended knees and I had looked forward to this very moment when God would be pleased with me and my sacrifice in the mission field. I returned home with no regrets. I had given it my all. Leaving my mission after two wonderful years was a sad experience; sad in the sense that there were people that I didn’t want to leave behind. I loved them.
As I thought about my future and what tomorrow might bring, I had no fear because whatever happens in my life, I knew God would be there to help guide me. But I still cried at the thought that I would not be able to continue wearing my missionary name-tag!
Entering the Business World as an Entrepreneur
After my mission, I embarked on my journey in Utah to start up a new business. There were days when my faults were big enough to discourage me from going forward, and there were days that my conscience and my heart demanded more of me. This allowed me to expect more of myself when lying down or quitting seemed to be a favorable decision at the time.
The first real test of my life came on my mission and the second one, and perhaps the hardest test, came in the creation of the FAS Movement Company. The sports clothing company I started with the help of some close friends is a humanitarian surf, skate, and snowboard brand. The company was formed with the basis of my background and knowledge in the sports that I loved while growing up in Orange County, California. I wanted to take my passions and interests around the world to introduce these sports to youth in developing nations like my birth country and to provide humanitarian aid through our new clothing brand. I wanted to add to the world and not just take from it. We are now launching our new clothing line with help from Kickstarter . Our goal is to return to Sierra Leon soon and other developing countries to provide aid and teach the local youth our love of surfing and skating.
The Future – Promise of Tomorrow
I am now writing a book about my adventures from Africa to America. I hope it gives hope to my family and loved ones but most importantly, I hope it gives remembrance to me. People usually need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed. The story of my journey in life so far reminds me of my blessings, and creates a reason for my hope. This hope guides me. It is what gets me through the day and especially through the nights. No condition is permanent. History has proven this over and over again.
I know the many complex problems in our modern society often cripples our desire to know that good will eventually come, no matter how much bad has happened. Sometimes I dread how slowly times passes and how quickly I’m aging with no sense of real accomplishment. But as I look back at how far I’ve come since my years of poverty in Africa, and what life has offered me so far, I’m compelled to be grateful to God for my many blessings. Since Christ and his true Church came into my life, I have come to the conviction and to the realization that without Christ, I am NOTHING.