My name is Sally Nnamani pronounced (Na-Mani) and I am the newest addition to the PeacePlayers team in Northern Ireland! Below, I’ve shared my story leading up to becoming a fellow and I am looking forward to learning more about the Northern Ireland community and sharing with you all.
After spending a Thanksgiving dinner filled with laughs and warmth with my family in upstate, New York, I boarded on Shortline bus heading back to my apartment in the city to pack for the next two years. For months, I imagined what this day would feel like, it was very surreal that it was actually happening.
Once I boarded my flight, I was engulfed with many emotions and questions, the biggest being — “Am I really doing this again?” Over fifteen years ago,at the age of 12, along with my mother and five siblings, I immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. I still remember my first day at Warwick Valley Middle School as an 8th grader, I missed my school bus going and coming home from school; the kids were perplexed at the idea of an African in America. Overall, the culture shock was overwhelming and I was anxious and curious all at the same time.
After High School, I moved to NYC and attended Lehman College – City University of New York where I was a four-year member of the Women’s Basketball Team as well as a three-year captain. In my sophomore season, our team won the school’s first ever CUNYAC championship and a berth in the Division III NCAA Basketball Tournament. I was fortunate to have had a successful student-athlete experience where I won several accolades including becoming Lehman’s all-time leading scorer at 2,113 points and all-time blocks leader at 177 blocks. At Lehman, I met people from diverse backgrounds, and I truly felt a sense of belonging. From my teammates, to my professors, and the college community in general, there was a feeling that I was part of something greater than myself. In 2010, I graduated with Honors in Political Science and Philosophy and soon after, I began my graduate studies at The New School.
Grad school was the most challenging experience I’ve ever undertaken and I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for the resilience I developed as an athlete, I would have had an even more difficult experience. I was challenged in many ways and as a result, I experienced a period of immense growth. In 2014, I earned my Masters in International Development, I left the New School feeling empowered and with a greater sense of self-confidence that I can achieve any goal that I set my mind to. Upon graduating, I worked as a Research Assistant on the data collection team for Ewald & Wasserman Research Consultants, a female-owned social research firm, while also serving a one-year term as a Coach Across America Lead Coach at PowerPlay, NYC, which is a girls-focused organization that provides sports programs for young girls in underserved communities of New York City.
When I first learned about PeacePlayers International, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of the organization. It seemed like a natural fit — PPI’s approach of using basketball as a medium to address broader issues such as changing perceptions in divided communities meshes with my passion for the game of basketball and my interest in global issues particularly education and girls empowerment. When asked if I was interested in being a fellow in Northern Ireland, I was very excited even though my knowledge of the divide between Catholic/nationalists and Protestant/loyalists in Northern Ireland was and still is limited. I have learned something new from every interaction and every conversation I’ve had while here.
Living in Belfast for nearly two weeks, I have found it intriguing and slightly different than I expected. Aside from driving on the left side, it is legal to park a car on the curb! Despite the rainy weather, the people are very warm-hearted and have welcomed me with open arms. In addition, I arrived in the middle of preparation leading up to the Jingle Ball Tournament where young people from all sides of Belfast, Protestant and Catholic, Asian, African, etc came together to play basketball. As an outsider looking in, I found it captivating that something as simple as a game of basketball represented a sense of unity, ignited new friendships, and potentially changed perceptions for the better.
Personally, through playing basketball, I have learned a lot about myself and life in general. The most important lesson I have taken away is to reset in the face of adversity. My hope is that all young people regardless of religion, race, origin, or sexuality will have the opportunity to learn that it is alright to “reset,” to challenge the norm, and to be an ambassador of peace.