Photo by Eric Arnold
A GAME-CHANGER IN THE MOVE TOWARD EMPOWERING BAY AREA YOUTH
Mentor on a mission
It’s Thursday afternoon and a handful of students are still lingering in John O’Connell’s atrium, a rather unusual sight given the beautiful springtime weather. While most students sprint toward the exit doors before the last bell rings, these few students surround Banjoko, who they affectionately call “OG ‘Dis”, with energetic conversation, switching topics from the Warriors’ upcoming playoff series to the top 10 martial arts references in hip hop. From a distance, Banjoko could pass for a young teacher, or perhaps a graduate student, in his Harvard t-shirt, matching Harvard baseball cap, black-framed glasses, and loose-fitting jeans. When asked if he was ever mistaken for a student, Banjoko laughs, then leans forward with a look of seriousness.
“Actually, I’m wearing Harvard gear because I just spoke there,” says Banjoko, referencing his recent presentation at the Alumni of Color Conference at the university’s Graduate School of Education.
“The reality is that I didn’t even graduate from high school. I wanted out, so I got a GED.”
It may come as a surprise, then, that Banjoko – born in San Francisco and raised in San Bruno – would return to the roots he once tried to escape, employed as part of John O’Connell’s well-loved security staff, as well as operating a non-profit focused on educating youth. In fact, one of the main goals of Banjoko’s organization is encouraging kids to reach college.
“I created Hip Hop Chess Federation so that me, and other mentors who are committed to the cause [of helping at risk students], could be the people that I needed in high school,” Banjoko says, reflecting on his upbringing and need for guidance.
Though Banjoko credits his parents for supporting him, he dealt with bullying, violence, and racial problems from elementary through high school.
“Being in San Bruno wasn’t necessarily a picnic for us, as we were one of the few black families in an upper middle class area. It was very clear we weren’t welcome.”
Banjoko sought solace in hip hop music as a youth; it functioned as an outlet and sanctuary. Not only did the lyrics lend meaning to a racially-charged time, but he noticed a reoccurring mention of chess in these rappers’ lyrics, which drew him into the game as a form of meditation, along with martial arts. Seeing the self-healing trifecta, Banjoko now uses these tools as a basis for guiding students’ on a path toward self-discovery.
READ MORE: http://www.examiner.com/article/a-game-changer-the-move-toward-empowering-bay-area-youth?cid=rss