Young and Muslim

youngandmuslimIt is Monday morning at 4:30 am and the sun is hardly up.  But, if you are a dedicated Muslim, you’ve already risen to take your morning ablution and prayer, and gone back to bed.  If you are a dedicated Muslim child, like Kalifalah Kenneh, you have done all of this and still have to get to school on time.

Kalifalah is an 8th grader living in the South Bronx. He has one brother and one sister.  He plays soccer for South Bronx United and plays drums in his middle school orchestra.  He enjoys video games and staying true to his Islamic faith.  We interview Kalifalah during Ramadan to ask about his experiences being young and Muslim in the Bronx.

Kaliflalah said that some of the biggest social challenges he faces are “…the usual terrorist comment, going outside in religious attire, and not fitting in with your friends who are most likely one ethnic group.”  He explained that as he grows up he is learning to deal with these challenges as well as new obstacles that come with age.

Kalifalah was brought up very religiously.  His mother, who moved to New York from Guinea, and father, who moved from Liberia, are his biggest influences.  His father is an Iman, a Muslim leader or chief for the local mosque.  He is one of the most respected Imans, if not the most respected, in Kalifalah’s community.  This puts a great deal of pressure on Kalifalah’s shoulders.

We asked Kalifalah if his expectations for his future differ from his father’s expectations for him? He explained, “since we were brought up during different times and in different countries, what he has planned for me contradicts my ‘American Dream’.  But we settle it out by having many periodic talks and making compromises.”

Being young and Muslim is not easy, especially during Ramadan, when you have to fast all day and stay active at school.  “Your faith is challenged when you have to make certain choices.”  He said, “In my case, I had to decide if I wanted to go to my 8th grade prom [during Ramadan].  After evaluating the pros and cons, I decided not go to for the sake of my faith.”

Kalifalah has many goals and aspirations for his future.  Among them, is to go to college in America and finish the Quran after graduation.

Photographs and story by Ayouba Swaray and Kalifalah Kenneh.  Kalifalah is now attending Clinton High School  and living in the Village of Clinton, New York as part of the Community School Program through A Better Chance.

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Adjusting to College

Estefani after receiving the 2015 South Bronx United College Scholarship, with SBU Executive Director Andrew So.

Estefani after receiving the 2015 South Bronx United College Scholarship, with SBU Executive Director Andrew So.

My first semester at Bronx Community College was not really what I expected college to be. After being in high school for four years, I had grown accustomed to having the same schedule everyday and seeing friends in every class.  College was not like that. I picked my own classes, including the times and then it was all up to me.

Even though I had already taken college courses in high school, I had this weird feeling in my stomach.  I knew college professors were not like high school teachers.  When my first professor walked into the class, she was so happy and smiling it made me wonder if I was in the wrong class, but she took attendance and called my name.   I also hadn’t expected college to be so diverse.  I was in a classroom full of people I never imagined I would be in a class with. Some people were already parents,  and some were going back to college for the second time. I was actually one of the few that just recently graduated high school in my class.

This semester I’m taking four courses. Sociology, Art , pharmacology and my remedial reading class. I want to get in to the nursing program but, first, I have to take all the prerequisite classes. Nursing is one of the hardest programs to get into. You have to push yourself to get in the program, and, if you get in, the program itself is very intense. My pharmacology class was one of the most difficult classes I’ve ever taken. Many people asked me, “Why are you taking that course in your first semester of college?” Well, I’m always up for a challenge.

I’m the first generation in my family to ever go to college. I want to make my family proud of me, and I want to be proud of myself as well. My mom was excited that she finally was able to tell family members and friends that her daughter is a college student.  My mom has really impacted my decisions in school.  The reason I’m majoring in nursing is because of her and my younger brother.  My brother was born three weeks premature because of a medical condition my mother had. He ended up being taken to the NICU.  I saw how the nurses took care of my brother and realized I wanted to do the same for other babies.

While there are challenges to college–I used to play soccer everyday, for example, but now I’m so caught up in my school work that I barely have time to play or practice–I am so happy and fortunate to be in this position.

Estefani graduated in 2015 from University Heights High School and the SBU Academy.  She is a recipient of the South Bronx United College Scholarship.

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South Bronx United part of Cityzens Giving Campaign


South Bronx United youth leaders carry out a Cityzens Giving program in May 2015.

BRONX, NY –South Bronx United has been announced as one of six projects taking part in Cityzens Giving, a global charitable initiative that uses the power of soccer to change lives.  The initiative helps create a fund that is split between six organizations chosen from around the World.

South Bronx United first partnered with Cityzens Giving in March, 2015.  One of the South Bronx United youth leaders who helped initiate the program, Mohamed Camara, reflects on it’s inception, “I grew up in the South Bronx, which has one of the most diverse immigrant communities in New York City.   It is home to many West Africans and South Americans, basically people who are most familiar with the game of football. For this reason, I believe that football can have a big impact on my community, because it’s one thing that truly brings people together. Besides, having this program in my community is a good way for kids to have fun and stay healthy.”

Run in partnership with City Football Group, whose family of Club’s include New York City Football Club, Manchester City Football Club and Melbourne City Football Club, Cityzens Giving supports young leaders in cities around the world to tackle tough challenges affecting their communities.

Through this partnership, another SBU youth leader, Brenda Casimiro, had the opportunity to participate in the Global Youth Summit in Manchester, England this past June.  At the summit, Casimiro talked with other youth leaders about the general challenges the South Bronx community faces, and specifically about mitigating obesity by using soccer to motivate young kids.

To face these challenges, young leaders from South Bronx United deliver football based projects that promote youth leadership and health awareness in the community.  When asked why people should support South Bronx United, Camara replied, “soccer turns dreams into reality.”

By voting, fans have the power to decide how much funding each project receives. To make a difference in the lives of over 850 boys and girls in the South Bronx, cast your vote here.


Brenda Casimiro, 18, played for the SBU Rising Stars and currently attends Borough of Manhattan Community College. Read more about Brenda’s experience at the Global Youth Summit here.

Mohamed Camara, 19, played for the SBU Blue Devils and currently attends Sarah Lawrence College. 

They both in appear in the video that is linked above.

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Liberty Sport and South Bronx United Partnership

FAIRFIELD, NJ – Liberty Sport is excited to announce a sponsorship with South Bronx United to supply sports protective eyewear to the students and athletes while providing opportunities to educate them on the importance of eye protection. Striving to make a difference by engaging at-risk and immigrant youth through their passion for soccer, South Bronx United serves over 800 boys and girls aged 4-19 with a variety of programs from academic and leadership to recreational and competitive youth soccer.

As part of the sponsorship, Liberty Sport will provide custom ‘South Bronx United’ frames, with a complete Rx to the athletes and they will also be available for purchase. Liberty Sport will have a display at the Annual Health and Wellness fair to help grow awareness on the need for sports protective eyewear and provide educational materials to the students and parents. In addition, South Bronx United student-athletes will also have the opportunity to provide direct product feedback to the Liberty Sport Product Development Team.

 “It’s great to partner with an organization like the South Bronx United, in generating awareness and providing a service to the local community. We enjoy having the opportunity to support our advocates and athletes, and we are looking forward to a long-lasting partnership,” says Daniel Chang, Manager of Sports Organizations Outreach at Liberty Sport.

 The My Spex Collection from Liberty Sport provides ASTM F803 certified impact protection for several sports. Patented eye rim assembly and 6-base lens curve design allows for a wide range of prescription lens powers and the sculpted temple design has color coordinated inside padding. The customization program allows for the placement of a specific team name and number and is available in Matte Black, Matte Crimson, Matte Electric Blue, Matte Hunter Green and Matte Navy.

To learn more about outreach and sponsorship opportunities, contact Liberty Sport at

To learn more about South Bronx United visit

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About Liberty Sport, Inc.

Liberty Sport is the leading manufacturer and distributor of sports protective and sun performance eyewear and functions as the Complete Rx Sport Vision Resource. Our dedication to research, engineering and technology places Liberty Sport on the cutting edge of Rx’able protective eyewear solutions for sports of all kinds and continues to expand its reach into motorcycling. With distribution through eye care professionals and leading optical chains worldwide, Liberty Sport has been proudly servicing the optical industry since 1929. To view the full range of eyewear solutions, visit

About South Bronx United

South Bronx United is a nonprofit, youth development organization that uses soccer to engage community youth and support the South Bronx community. South Bronx United serves over 800 boys and girls aged 4-19 combining recreational and competitive youth soccer with academic enrichment, college prep, mentoring, health and wellness promotion, leadership development, immigrant legal services, and other social services.  South Bronx United aims to make a difference in the community by engaging at-risk and immigrant youth through their passion for soccer. To learn more visit


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Guests Pack the Floor for South Bronx United’s 5th Annual Benefit

Master of Ceremonies Jimmy Conrad, Youth Honoree Gnim Bazim, and Special Guest Chris Wingert/

Master of Ceremonies Jimmy Conrad, Youth Honoree Gnim Bazim, and Special Guest Chris Wingert.

BRONX, NY – On Thursday, November 12, 300 professionals gathered at the Midtown Loft and Terrace to celebrate and support the South Bronx United’s programs reaching over 800 youth in the community.  In all they, helped South Bronx United raise $78,000 at its 5th Annual Benefit.  100% of the net proceeds will go towards sustaining and expanding the nonprofit organization’s youth development programs that combine soccer with mentoring, academic enrichment, college prep, leadership development, and support services.

Jimmy Conrad, former MLS defender and current host of KickTV, kicked off the evening by interviewing the special guest, New York City FC defender Chris Wingert.  Jimmy and Chris spoke on the importance of soccer as a medium for growth, reflecting on both of their experiences with the game.  Wingert, a 12-year veteran of Major League Soccer, closed by commenting, “Organizations like [South Bronx United] are essential for strengthening communities and equipping youth with the tools they need to follow their passions.”

South Bronx United Alumni Gnim Bazim and Kevin Achundia stand with Executive Director Andrew So (center).

Gnim Bazim and SBU Alumnus Kevin Achundia with Executive Director Andrew So (center).

Executive Director Andrew So followed with remarks on South Bronx United’s progress over the last year and the organization’s goals for expansion and improving outcomes for South Bronx and immigrant youth.  He shared, “On the one hand, I hope that South Bronx United will be able to grow from serving 800 boys and girls to serving thousands.  On the other hand, we need to go from a 94% college enrollment rate among our SBU Academy alumni to a 94% college graduation rate.”

South Bronx and immigrant youth face immense challenges growing up.  Yet, South Bronx United has a proven track record for making a difference in the lives of these young student-athletes.   One of these youth, Gnim Bazim, shared his story through a video presentation produced by Amanda Berg and then made a speech that captivated the room.

Gnim Bazim presenting his speech.

Gnim Bazim presenting his speech.

At three years old, Gnim immigrated to the Bronx from Togo with his parents and sister. Gnim says, “Besides the challenges we faced as a family, as I became older I started to realize the broader adversities in our community.  The reality is that my neighborhood where I grew up in the Bronx has been and is defined by a cycle of poor education, poverty, and violence.”

Gnim enrolled in the SBU program at 12 years old and would grow to become a SBU Youth Council member, and SBU 97 Strikers team captain.  He is now a high school junior at Mercersburg Academy, a Pennsylvania boarding school, where he attends on a scholarship.  Says Gnim, “I would never have expected to be considered a leader and role model to my peers all around me, whether on the soccer field or in the classroom in the Bronx or at a school in Pennsylvania.  I have come a long way, and when I look back, I can simply say that South Bronx United is the reason why.”

Guests bid on auction items.

Guests bid on auction items.

Throughout the evening’s program, guests could also be found dining on Dos Toros burritos or sipping on drinks provided by The Bronx Brewery, Tanteo Tequila, and Hudson Whiskey.  Other sponsors included Two Sigma Investments, Barclays Capital, DDB,InterFysio, and Growth Through Sport.  An auction and raffle featured items donated from various companies and institutions including New York City FC, the New York Yankees, the FC Bayern Munich Fan Club of NYC, Relish Caterers, and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

South Bronx United has served the community youth since 2009.  Starting from a group of 15 boys, the organization has grown to work with over 800 boys and girls through a myriad of programs that help the youth build character, teamwork, and leadership so that they can succeed in high school, careers, their communities and beyond. The success of the benefit will help South Bronx United continue to promote educational achievement, health and wellness, and character development through activities on and off the soccer field, and to unite a diverse group of individuals and an incredibly diverse community toward common positive goals.

For more information on South Bronx United, please visit or call (718) 404-9281.

View photos from the SBU 5th Annual Benefit.

Photos by Hakim Kabbaj

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South Bronx United 5th Annual Benefit on November 12th

FB banner Annual Benefit

BRONX, NY – Over 250 guests are expected to attend South Bronx United’s 5th Annual Benefit at the Midtown Loft and Terrace (267 Fifth Avenue) in Manhattan on November 12th.  The event raises funds for South Bronx United’s youth programing that serves 850 boys and girls each year.  The organization offers programming in the classroom and on the soccer field focused on the needs and interests of immigrant and at-risk youth, including academic enrichment, college prep, mentoring, leadership development, immigration legal services, and soccer.

The evening will be hosted by soccer personality Jimmy Conrad, who competed for the United States in the 2006 World Cup and is currently the host of KickTV, a youtube channel dedicated to soccer, news, lifestyle and entertainment.

Guest will also hear from a current South Bronx United program participant and the evening’s youth honoree Gnim Bazim.  Gnim was born in Togo, grew up in the Bronx, and currently attends Mercersburg Academy, a Pennsylvania boarding school on a full scholarship.  He has been a member of the SBU Academy since 2010.

Dos Toros Taqueria, known as New York City’s premier burrito, taco and quesadilla destination, is sponsoring the Benefit along with Two Sigma Investments and Barclay’s Capital. An open bar will feature locally-brewed beer from sponsor the Bronx Brewery.  Live and silent auctions and a raffle will be held to raise additional funds.  Tanteo Tequilla, Hudson Whiskey, DDB Worldwide, and InterFysio, are also supporting the event.

All proceeds from the evening go towards South Bronx United youth programming. The organization’s mission is to help youth build character, teamwork, and leadership skills so that they can succeed in high school, college, careers, their community and beyond, and to united a diverse group of individuals and an incredibly diverse community toward common positive goals.  The organization is making its part with community youth.  100 percent of SBU Academy seniors have graduated high school, and 94 percent have enrolled in college.  To learn more about South Bronx United, visit

Doors to the event open at 7pm.  Tickets are currently on sale starting at $110.  Sponsorship packages and advertising opportunities are also available to businesses.  The majority of the ticket cost is tax-deductible. Full details on the evening are available at the SBU Supporters Club website. For more information, please contact or calling Sara Conley at (718) 404-9281.

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Social Change Through Education

The writer's students on their trip to visit New York Law School.

The writer’s students on their trip to visit New York Law School.

I cannot pinpoint exactly one moment that made me realize how happy I was to intern with South Bronx United this summer. Instead, I can describe small snapshots of memories from various times over the six weeks, which can hopefully start to piece together what made my summer so special and worthwhile. I remember my commute, which I spent singing (screaming) along to music while sitting in traffic at 8 in the morning. I remember the high-pitched screeches as the interns would move our desks and chairs into a circle (the shape we would remain in during our training). I remember how the silence of strangers turned into the laughter shared by friends as a result of playing endless name games, practicing teaching techniques, and learning from one another. Most importantly, I remember how welcomed I felt.

I learned the student’s names and forgot their names. I lost important papers and found important papers. I finished class too early and also ended class too late. I followed lesson plans and strayed away from lesson plans. I would feel prepared and unprepared at the same time. I later came to understand that these inconsistencies were what defined teaching and made it worthwhile, something I could not learn in my college classroom.

I remember how happy my students were when they’d answer a trivia question right during homeroom. I remember the way a debate about censorship turned into a twenty-minute discussion about the rapper Drake and, more broadly, the music industry. How amazing it was to see their faces light up with passion, and to watch how they’d react and argue for or against opinions that weren’t their own. I remember one subway ride on our way to New York Law School where I watched my kids unbutton and re-button their work- appropriate clothes. “Jackie take a picture of us in front of the New York Law School sign!” they would exclaim over and over again. I was able to watch my students grow into miniature adults and discover their interest in the law. I remember how brutal it was stepping out onto the soccer field in the hot summer sun. Although, playing soccer in the rain was definitely a bonus, and something I can now check off my bucket list. Nothing was as rewarding as joining the kids in playing the game that they loved.

 As we were on the bus home from Six Flags on the last day, I found myself secretly smiling each time we got stuck behind traffic and appreciating every last minute I had with this program and all of the incredible people I’d met. I couldn’t imagine a day without seeing these kids I had grown so close to. I have never met a group that was so driven, intelligent, and thoughtful. I’m so happy and grateful to have been a part of this program, and to have contributed to the transformation and growth of these kind and talented kids. Teaching and working with them taught me how to be more patient and open-minded. I helped them, and they helped me: a beautiful exchange.

I walked into the summer not yet a junior in college, lost, and with very little direction. Now, thanks to South Bronx United, I know exactly what I want to do and exactly where I want to be. I admire and respect all of the people who work so hard every day at SBU. They believe in their students and know that with hard work and perseverance those students can achieve great things. I hope to one day join a community similar to SBU and work to enhance social change through education.

(Jackie Aboulafia was an intern for SBU over the summer of 2015.  She is currently a junior at Union College.)

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Connecting Through the Sport of Soccer

SBU Select U11 Boys Team and Portland (CT) Soccer Club

It was Saturday, September 19th, sunny and 72 degrees at South Bronx High School. It’s the first game of the season for the South Bronx United U11 Select Boys Team. They’d be met at the field by their opponent from Portland, Connecticut (about a two hour ride). The opponent came in large numbers, which included players, coaches, moms, dads and siblings. They all wore smiles and were friendly and supportive to the boys on both teams.

The Portland team was grateful to South Bronx United for hosting the competition. South Bronx United was grateful to Portland for making the trip and, most importantly, for showing up with an abundance of love to share with both teams. The two teams lined up at midfield while one of the outgoing dads led us through the opening ceremony. Each player was introduced and cheered by the parents and coaching staff for both teams. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and the players shook hands before the game began.

It was 9 v 9, and both teams filled out the turf field nicely. South Bronx United got off to a good start with a few quick goals. Portland never gave up and eventually had a couple of goals of their own. While the score was never close, the sportsmanship and spirit of both teams remained high.

The score didn’t matter much. We all felt fortunate for the opportunity to play a beautiful game on a beautiful day with beautiful people. After the final whistle, both teams congratulated each other and shared a combined team photo.

The differences in backgrounds and cultures didn’t mean anything on the field. We were simply human beings connecting through the sport of soccer on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the South Bronx. It was a good day.

(Matthew Laffer recently joined South Bronx United as a coach for the Boys Under-10 Select team.)

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Growing Through Teaching

Adam Priest with his class over the Summer

This past summer I interned at South Bronx United teaching math, physics, and engineering to 7th, 8th and 9th grade students. Well, that is what I technically did, but there was a lot more to it than that. As a rising senior at Binghamton University, I was contemplating going into teaching as a career, and I figured the best way to see if it was for me was to actually do it. South Bronx United provided this opportunity that I was looking for and so much more. From playing icebreakers on the first day in training to rapping to a bus full of students after Six Flags on our last day, it was one of the most formative experiences of my life so far.

My internship gave me opportunities that a classroom could never provide. The biggest opportunity I received was a challenge. At college, and even in the training provided by South Bronx United, I was always able to do things in a rather controlled environment. When I stepped into the classroom at Bronx Leadership Academy 2, it was a different animal. It was a real experience of teaching real kids. That meant things were at stake, and it forced me and the other interns to put in 100% effort every day so we wouldn’t let the kids down. The kids were the best part by far.

Of course staying up late every night for five weeks trying to figure out what I would say in class was frustrating. Of course having to commute an hour to work everyday made me want to scream. Of course having to deal with kids being kids made me lose a lot of hair. Of course standing in the sun for two and a half hours on the soccer field was brutal. Of course after ending work one day to realize that my car was towed made me want to punch a hole in a wall. Don’t worry, only one more. Of course it was worth it. Every single time I finished my back-to-back classes I felt this sense of achievement. Whether it was seeing a class full of students really interested in a physics lesson or challenging students on some difficult math problems, I felt there was real growth happening in the classroom. This alone made it all worth it.

On the soccer field and field trips I had some of the most enjoyable moments of my summer. Really getting to know the kids and how they are such real and genuine people was amazing. I formed connections and, hopefully, impacted the kids for the rest of their lives because I know their impact will last the rest of mine.

I just wanted to end with a shout out to all of the staff at SBU who have formed and continue to grow a community of student-athletes by putting in so much work everyday of their lives. The people in this organization make me have hope for the social change that many places need.

Adam Priest is currently a senior at Binghamton University.

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South Bronx United Works to Promote Health and Wellness

LIFT volunteers offer information on legal services and community opportunities.

BRONX, NY — September 12th, hundreds of South Bronx families had the opportunity to learn about health and community programs at the South Bronx Health and Wellness Day at Macombs Dam Park.  The event coincided with the opening day of the organization’s Recreational Program for 2015-2016 where young athletes not only had their first day of games, but were also invited to pick up gently used soccer cleats that were donated back by outside individuals and past program participants. South Bronx United’s recreational soccer programs serve more than 600 boys and girls, ages 4-19, at  Macombs Field and two other sites, Mullaly Park and South Bronx High School.

The annual health fair added a vital educational and awareness component to the day.  Children and families gained information on topics ranging from affordable health care to healthy lifestyle practices to athletic programs and physical therapy.  Participating agencies included Morris Heights Health Center, Bronx Works, LIFT NYC, Harlem RBI, New York Road Runners, Liberty Sports, Westchester Square Physical Therapy, New York Family Justice Center, Bronx Health People, Boom!Health, and Bronx Community Health Network.  The event was sponsored by Health Plus AmeriGroup and the Claudio Reyna Foundation.

These events are extremely important for the community and its families.  Said an outreach coordinator from BOOM! Health, a nonprofit that supports the health and wellness of Bronxites: “I appreciate events like these for getting the community together and getting them excited about health!”

A member of Harlem RBI teaches a student-athlete how to swing a baseball bat.






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