By William F. O’Brien
In Thies, a small community in the West African nation of Senegal is a school operated by an American foundation, the Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal.
That school is known by the acronym “SEEDS. It seeks to provide a rigorous education in both academics and training for basketball. Several of its students who were awarded basketball scholarships to American prep schools is the subject of the inspiring and uplifting documentary motion picture, “Elevate,” produced and directed by Anne Buford and featured at the deadCENTER Film Festival.
The movie documents the poverty that is part of daily life in rural Senegal. Donkeys transport people and goods on unpaved streets, and goats can be seen tethered in front of residences.
Also shown is the warmth and strength of the Senegalese people, and the determination of the students to better themselves. The successful transition that the players in question make to life in American prep schools is documented. The pressure placed on them both academically and athletically is made clear as well.
The title for the movie comes from a scene in which one of the students is advised on the basketball court that he must now “elevate” his arms when he tries to make a shot. Several vivid scenes include college coaches and scouts who come to watch the players practice.
In his commencement address at South Kent School in Connecticut, the headmaster gets emotional as he thanks the Senegalese student Assane for the contribution he made to the school. There is a similar scene when a coach and his wife say goodbye to one of the other students at an airport.
While the students have to adjust to a foreign culture where their Muslim religious traditions are not part of school life, it is made clear that they are welcomed by most of the people that they come in contact with.
Anne Buford, who made the movie, appeared at one showing and explained how that several years ago she decided that she wanted to make a film about how sports can be a means to improve peoples’ lives. Her brother, formerly on the basketball coaching staff at the University of Kansas, introduced her to a scout for a Texas NBA team who had been instrumental in the formation of the SEEDS Academy.
Shortly thereafter, she found herself and her camera crew on a plane to Senegal. Buford said in response to a question that the students at the SEEDS Academy who do not receive scholarships that bring them to the United States graduate from that school and most of them continue to colleges and universities in Senegal.
One student featured, Dethie Fall, was also in attendance. He is currently a student at Roanoke College in Virginia, and a starter on the basketball team.He entered South Kent School when Assane was still a student there, and said that his transition was eased by Assane’s mentoring. He indicated that while he would not be averse to playing professional basketball, he would like to go to medical school.
“Elevate” was awarded the grand jury prize by the deadCENTER Film Festival. It is clear that Ms. Buford succeeded in her effort to make a movie that shows how sports can improve people’s lives