Over the course of his college basketball career, Steven Gray has been a leading scorer and assist man as a member of Gonzaga University's (GU) NCAA Division I varsity basketball team in Spokane, Washington. In a post-season interview he gave to the Seattle Times this year, Gray commented,
"I've really enjoyed being a part of this program," said Gray, whose four years saw a 105-31 record. "They've taught me a lot, not just on the court, but [about] being a man."
He's not just talking about his life on the court. Gray understands that there is more to being a well-rounded student than playing basketball.
During his junior year at the university, he found himself looking for other meaningful options. Sitting in class one day he decided that he wanted to "go do something". His search led him to look at Gonzaga's education abroad options. He emailed Josh Armstrong, Director of GU's Comprehensive Leadership Program (CLP), asking to apply for the Intercultural Servant program in the African country of Zambia. The program takes Gonzaga students to teach English and computer skills in the town of Zambezi for a month as they learn about the community, service and themselves.
Armstrong was somewhat hesitant about Gray's application - even with Gray's 3.0+ GPA and theater involvement - because of his stature as a campus sports star. All the student participants on the program are asked to live simply and selflessly. But after Gray provided an essay that showed his desire to discover more about himself, Armstrong was "impressed" by Gray's passion and drive and accepted him into the program. Armstrong explained,
"Our program goal [is] to give [the students] an experience of leadership, but also an experience of cross-cultural engagement. Stephen is somebody who has a lot of passions. He's really passionate about basketball, but he's got a lot of other pieces of who he is.
"I think a lot of Gonzaga students have the sense that they want to go to Africa to help other people, but the reality is that our Gonzaga students are completely transformed by this experience. They find out more about who they are in their own culture by being in that space -- and it's pretty incredible."
When Gray talks about the experience, he says:
"As soon as we landed, it was completely different from anything I'd ever been a part of or experienced. It was very, very refreshing."
For that one month, Steven was not defined by his reputation as a star athlete. Instead, he was simply a student, a traveler and a teacher. He found himself seeing the world through different eyes. Gray uses words such as "liberated" and "free" to describe his life in Africa. In an interview with an ESPN reporter, he commented:
"It was so different from anything I had ever known. It put me in a position to experience life through the eyes of different people. We get caught up so much in things here, and their lives are so simple. We have so much stuff. You don't need stuff.''
Gray spent a lot of time during the program teaching creative writing to local 6th and 7th graders.
"I was one of six people teaching how to write a story, the basics of the story, going over characters, what happens in the stories, where it takes place and having the kids write their own short stories."
He was thrilled when his students presented him with the stories they'd written. He also took the opportunity to play basketball on a slab of cement in the middle of a field with the schoolchildren and others. It had been a long time since he'd experienced the game that way. Armstrong commented,
"I think for Steven it was a great experience to go in as Gonzaga student and not as a basketball player. Nobody there knew that he played ball here for us at Gonzaga. He got to be a student just like everyone else. The person they fell in love with was ''Steve Gray', who is just a student. This is a place that he could see that he could develop a lot of who he [is and will be]."
The reporter closed the ESPN article by writing:
So the question is a simple one: Is Steven Gray satisfied?
When he collects his diploma and takes stock of what he did, will he leave Gonzaga empty-handed or fulfilled?
"I think I can say I did as much in college as realistically possible,'' Gray said.
More than 1,000 points, games across the country, three NCAA tournaments, two theatrical productions.
And one life-changing trip to Africa.
It's definitely a start.
We couldn't agree more.
Gonzaga University currently offers three study abroad programs in Zambia as part of their “Zags in Zambia” effort. In addition, they have a nonprofit initiative, the Zambia Gold Honey Project started by the CLP to bring fair-trade honey to the United States. All three study abroad programs in Zambia give Gonzaga students an awareness of the great cultural and social richness of Africa while providing hands-on opportunities to address the economic and environmental challenges faced by so many local communities around the world. Their video is below. For more information, contact Josh Armstrong.
And, if you have the time, check out Gonzaga's new project - Green Machine - a relatively inexpensive solution being developed by a team of Gonzaga engineering students working with the EPA to conceptualize and build a green machine that will hopefully bring an electricity to remote regions of Kenya.