Yankees Spread Hope for Sierra Leone War Survivor From NYSE to First Pitch

Ten years ago, Mohamed Kamara said he could never have envisioned a day that would start at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street and end with him celebrating at Yankee Stadium with Derek Jeter.

At the time, Kamara was more concerned with providing for his family as an 8-year-old boy in Sierra Leone and surviving a bloody civil war in his west Africa homeland. Kamara, now 18 and living with his aunt and uncle in the Bronx, is still looking after his younger brothers and sisters, sending money home as he balances work and school.

Kamara, who had no formal schooling and spoke little English when he came to the U.S. nine years ago, recently graduated from high school and earned a scholarship to study international business in college. His story of overcoming adversity led the New York Yankees to honor him yesterday as part of their HOPE Week initiative, a program that seeks to recognize individuals who embody “hope.”

“When I met him he was a shy, quiet young boy,” Kamara’s global history teacher, Joe King, said in an interview in front of the Yankees’ dugout before last night’s 9-5 win over the Detroit Tigers. “Now I see a smiling, confident young man. His is an incredible story.”

King and his wife, Stacey, took Kamara on a visit to Wall Street yesterday morning. On hand to surprise him at the NYSE were Yankee pitcher CC Sabathia, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and General Manager Brian Cashman.

City Hall, United Nations

After attending the market’s opening bell, Kamara was taken to City Hall for a visit with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP. Kamara then went to the United Nations to meet Shekou Touray, permanent representative of Sierra Leone, and get a tour of the General Assembly Hall.

Kamara may have been most awed at Yankee Stadium, where he chatted with players such as Jeter, Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada behind home plate during pre-game batting practice and later threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

“In my dreams it was never like this,” Kamara said as he stood alongside home plate. “My dream was just to go to school. I never dreamed of a day like this and to be down here on the field with all these great players.”

Inspiration

King, a 42-year-old Bronx resident who became a teacher after giving up a job as a bond salesman at First Empire State Corp., said he was inspired by Kamara, who studied hard and also stayed after class at Bronx Leadership Academy High School to talk about life in general.

“It was my first experience as a teacher, I was in the South Bronx and I was in way over my head,” said King, 42. “Kids like Mohamed really helped me through it.”

King, whose wife left her job at a hedge fund to become a guidance counselor at the school, said the couple looks after Kamara like an “adopted son.” While Kamara had never played golf, King got the youngster a job as a caddie at Montammy Golf Club in Alpine, New Jersey. Kamara would get up at 4:30 a.m. and spend up to five hours a day commuting to the job -- taking two trains and two buses -- so he could make money to send to his family in Sierra Leone.

Kamara caddied on Saturdays and Sundays during the school year and six days a week during the summer.

College Scholarship

Upon graduating, he earned a partial scholarship to Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. Kamara said his hope is to get a Masters degree and then continue working to improve the lives of others.

Kamara became a mentor for other African students in his school and founded the Sierra Leone Gentlemen, a group that organizes benefits at his local church in the Bronx to raise money for children in his homeland to buy textbooks and attend school. His plans are bigger.

“I want to start a foundation to support not only the kids in my country, but in other countries in Africa as well where they’re struggling with education and well-being,” Kamara said as he rolled a baseball in his hands.

Kamara was the third person to be honored by the Yankees during their second HOPE Week, which stands for “Helping Others Persevere and Excel.”

To start the week, the Yankees threw a pool party and barbeque for 13-year-old Jorge Grajales, a quadruple amputee from Panama, and brought him to a game. Two days ago, Yankee players and manager Joe Girardi surprised 67-year-old Jane Lang, who’s been blind since birth and still made more than 250 trips to Yankee Stadium accompanied by her guide dogs on the two-hour journey from her home in Morris Plains, New Jersey.

Kamara said he’s thankful to the Yankees for the experiences they arranged for him. He also said he’s humbled by the support he’s gotten from friends since leaving his homeland to seek a better way to support his family.

“I was fortunate to be able to have good people around me,” Kamara said. “I’ve been given such good opportunities to better myself. I hope to be able to do the same.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

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