NBA basketball star and Darfur Dream Team co-captain Tracy McGrady shares his Enough Moment.
Every summer off from his grueling basketball season, Tracy McGrady would take a vacation overseas. Something moved him in 2007 to talk with his manager, Elissa Grabow, about doing something different than the usual recreational vacation to Cancun or wherever. So they literally called Amnesty International’s main number and eventually got to Bonnie Abaunza, who at the time was coordinating Amnesty’s work with artists and athletes. Bonnie called Enough co-founder John Prendergast, and they conspired with Tracy and Elissa for a trip to the Darfur refugee camps in Chad.
Dorothy, we’re not in Cancun any more.
Tracy and Elissa went with John, Darfurian activist and Enough advisor Omer Ismail, and a film crew led by documentarian Josh Rothstein. The stories Tracy heard were like nothing he had ever encountered, and they moved him to tears, and to life-changing action.
We met Isaac, a young man whom we met sitting on a mat in a humble community center in one of the refugee camps we visited. We listened closely to his story to understand why a government would try to wipe out entire groups of its own people such as Isaac.
Before late 2003, Isaac was a student in a high school in West Darfur. His village wasn’t wealthy, but his family lived well, growing all kinds of crops, nurturing large orchards of fruit trees, and raising goats and a few cows. He had heard about a few battles between the Sudan government and some rebel groups based in Darfur, but he was concentrating on his schooling and hoped it wouldn’t disrupt that.
But on December 1, 2003, everything changed.
Isaac had just left a wake at his mosque when his village came under attack. The Sudanese government and their main militia allies, the Janjaweed, came into town on horseback and trucks, hunting all the males in the village, whether children, adults, or elderly. At least 150 males were killed that morning, including 42 children. The village was looted, and most of the houses were burned to the ground. Isaac lost two uncles, two aunts, and two brothers.
Dazed and devastated, the survivors hid in the orchards outside the village. For the next two months, the Janjaweed scouted out their locations and warned them, “If you don’t want to turn to ashes, you better leave this place.” But for Isaac and the others, “this place” was their home, and they didn’t want to leave.
But on February 13, 2004, the Janjaweed and government forces attacked again. Many more were killed, and this time many of the women who were trying to hide were raped. It took Isaac and some of his neighbors three months to find their way to the safety of the refugee camp in Chad. There we found him, three years later, trying to make sense of his ordeal.
He told us that the government of Sudan had decided to destroy the communities like Isaac’s from which rebels were being recruited, even though no rebels lived in his village. And he said the Janjaweed want their land, so they have to get rid of the people on it. This is why there is an alliance between the government and the Janjaweed to destroy the non- Arab communities of Darfur.
We met dozens of people from both Sudan and Chad with stories like Isaac’s. All of them told us that they just want to go home. They said that to get there, three things were necessary: a fair peace deal, a UN force to protect them, and punishment for those who had driven them from their homes.”
These “three Ps” inspired Tracy to change the number on his Rockets uniform to 3, and it is the name of the documentary, 3 Points, that resulted from the trip.
But something bigger emerged from this visit as well. On their last night in the refugee camps, the team came up with the idea for a sister schools program that could connect students in U.S. schools with students from Darfur in the refugee camp schools. The Darfur Dream Team’s Sister Schools Program resulted, and it now has hundreds of schools in the United States actively involved in raising funds and awareness for the refugee camp schools. A number of basketball stars have joined in as supporters, including Derek Fisher, Baron Davis, Luol Deng, Etan Thomas, and Jermaine O’Neal. And most importantly, just as Tracy did, the students are connecting directly with the students in the camps, thus putting a human face on war and investing young Americans personally in helping to find a solution to the Darfur crisis.
Tracy concluded about his trip and the aftermath:
As I was hearing more about Darfur, something inside me needed to learn more about the conflict. I was filled with questions and was compelled to get answers. But as my journey brought me to the refugee camps, I realized that there are no easy answers, just more questions. How can we stand by and allow this to happen to these innocent people? How can the world be aware and do nothing? After looking into the eyes of my brothers and sisters who sit in those camps, I made a promise to tell their stories, to share what I saw, and to help in any way that I can. If I put a hand out in aid, then maybe, just maybe, it will inspire another to do the same.
This profile and many others were compiled for The Enough Moment, a book by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle about engaged citizens – known and unknown, in the U.S. and abroad – who are mobilizing to help end genocide, rape, and the use of child soldiers in Africa. Visit the Enough Moment Wall to hear people describe their “Enough moment” and to upload a video, photo, or written testimonial of your own.
Visit Tracy McGrady's Celebrity Upstander page for multimedia from his trip and about his involvement with Darfur Dream Team.
Photo: Tracy McGrady with young boy during his visit to Darfuri refugee camp in eastern Chad (Josh Rothstein)