The Bright Side of Business bimonthly column is presented by Star Motors.
Can you transform a professional basketball career into a social enterprise? For Manock Lual, founder and CEO of Prezdential Basketball, the answer is yes. Now in its third year, the business provides basketball lessons and foundational life skills to Ottawa youth.
Lual and his family came to Ottawa from South Sudan as refugees. He grew up in Overbrook from the age of 12.
Lual says that, at the time, there was a huge influx of first-generation immigrants from around the world.
“It was such a diversity of culture and artistic expression,” he recalls. “The thing that wasn't around was resources.”
At 16, Lual witnessed some of his friends be arrested and others deported. He chose to channel his energy into basketball and use it as a springboard.
“I said, ‘I can change my circumstances, I can even provide financial freedom for my family,’” he says. “I put everything into the game.”
After graduating university on a full scholarship, Lual began to play professionally, starting off in England.
“It was 10 years of business experience within one year,” he says, noting this wasn’t always a positive side of the game he loved. “These coaches were trying to make (basketball) something that it wasn't. I understood that when you involve money in something, it always drives it into a different area.”
Lual returned to Canada and played for the Ottawa SkyHawks before being released.
“I went through my own depression,” Lual says. “To see that no matter how hard you work, or how talented you are, when it comes to the business world – if you're not meeting the criteria, you could lose all of it. I went through a very tough time, but I picked myself up and said, ‘I'm going to give this back to the kids.’”
And so, after five years of playing professionally, Lual started Prezdential Basketball, partnering with community resource centres across Ottawa to provide basketball training for youth. Under Lual’s leadership, Prezdential quickly expanded its offerings to include entrepreneurship classes, coding workshops, financial literacy programming – even family counselling and cooking classes.
“We really, really try to stress how important vegetables and minerals are for your body, your brain, your thinking, your overall attitudes,” he says.
Prezdential also held a Know Your Rights session, inviting a non-uniformed officer as well as a lawyer and a judge to field questions from youth about their rights if they ever found themselves detained or arrested.
“I'm somebody that experiences racial discrimination, prejudice. I've experienced it my whole life,” Lual says. “I've fought so hard to break through and for the amount of work that I've put in – even the amount that I feel a lot of people have put in – we've barely scratched the surface until now,” he adds, referring to this year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Lual’s youth speak to him about their own experiences with racism and harassment.
“I'm fighting for these kids to understand that it's not something that we're going to get rid of until we change the system,” he says. “It will continue to happen, but equip yourself so you can handle it when it's happening.”
“I've been in a dream state these last couple of weeks, just reflecting on how far I've come.”
To keep supporting youth during the height of physical distancing, Lual launched Quarantine Care (now the Overbrook Show).
“The first episode was showing Black, Indigenous and People of Colour how to take care of their hair naturally, the history and the culture behind dreads and braids, to be proud of your look,” Lual says.
He also launched a back-to-school fundraiser in July, providing backpacks containing masks, T-shirts and supplies to more than 300 Overbrook youth. He’s also working to create a youth entrepreneurship program with a Dragon’s Den element as well as find a permanent home for Prezdential Basketball so it can offer all its programs from a dedicated location.
“We're in a great state where we have a lot of support, and the programs are packed,” Lual says. “I've been in a dream state these last couple of weeks, just reflecting on how far I've come with the game (and) how amazing it is to find what you love at such a young age, and to carry it with you to adulthood.”
The Bright Side of Business is a new editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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