Princess Aghayere Shares Her Love of Basketball to Inspire Young West African Women

by Diana Drake

Princess Aghayere has been called the “silent weapon” on the University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball team. In her position as forward, she had a great season this year, which happened to be her final year as a college senior. Aghayere, who lived in Nigeria, Africa, until she was 10, discovered basketball when she moved to the U.S. A shy child, she grew to develop a voice and strong leadership qualities through her years on the court.

She is now using the sport that has given her so much to make a difference in the world. Rebound Liberia, an initiative that she co-founded with her friend and Penn classmate, Summer Kollie, is working to empower young women in West Africa through basketball. KWHS interviewer Emmie Stratakis sat down recently with Aghayere, who just won the Penn President’s Engagement Prize for Rebound Liberia, to discuss the organization’s mission and vision.  

Knowledge@Wharton High School: Hey everyone, welcome back. We’re here with Princess Aghayere. Her project, Rebound Liberia, which she founded with two other Penn students, is using basketball to empower young women in her native West Africa. As winners of the President’s Engagement Prize, Princess and her two co-founders will be spending time developing their project after they graduate, and creating a positive change in this area of the world. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Princess Aghayere: Thank you for having me.

KWHS: Could you tell us a little bit about your background, and help us understand the history and political climate of West Africa?

Aghayere: I am originally from Nigeria. My family came here when I was eight, and I began playing basketball when I was around 10. But I partnered with my friend, Summer Kollie, she is from Liberia, and we decided to do the project in Liberia.

Liberia is an interesting country because it is one of those few countries that has never been colonized. And it has been through a lot. It’s been through a lot of hardships. They have had two civil wars, and the Ebola epidemic in 2014. But they have been able to rise from that and grow every day and develop. So going back as a junior, we really saw how far Liberia has come. And we see the potential of where it could be as well. And so we are just trying to do the little bit that we can to help out.

KWHS: Creating a social impact project is not a conventional career move. Could you talk a little bit about taking such an alternative path?

Aghayere: I am a public-health major here at Penn. But I have always wanted to help, and to go back to Nigeria at some point. And my brother has been a key part of that. He’s always told me to follow my passion as opposed to wanting to do a conventional path for security reasons, or whatever type of reasons. So it has always been following my passion, and I am so glad that has led me to where I am today. I really do feel like I am doing what I want to do. And that, I think, is the best thing.

KWHS: Describe Rebound Liberia and how you think it will benefit West Africa.

Aghayere: Rebound Liberia is an interesting program. There are a couple of programs that we have modeled it off of, but it has three major components. It has the workshop component, which includes literacy and personal-development workshops. We focused on literacy because there is a huge literacy gap between males and females in Liberia, and so we wanted to improve that. The program is specifically for women. The personal-development workshops are focused on challenges that adolescent females face, whether that is accessing new opportunities or sexual reproductive health.

The second component is the basketball piece, which we will use as a tool of learning. You know, to draw them in and keep them interested.

And then the third component is the resource center. And at the resource center, they will be able to access books, use the internet, and interact with different people in the same space. We think that this program is going to be great, because we want to be able to empower women to be leaders in their community. That is the ultimate mission and the goal.

“I see Rebound Liberia growing to be a great program, to be successful, to be sustainable, and to be able to be replicated in other places around the world.” — Princess Aghayere

KWHS: What inspired this idea, and why do you think that sports is a powerful engagement tool?

Aghayere: What inspired the idea is just my experience with sports. Sports has enabled me to hone in on my own leadership skills, and learn a lot of things, a lot of intangible things — discipline, teamwork, collaboration skills. And so those are the types of skills that I think sports can do across the board and across the world. Sports are a powerful engagement tool because they’re a powerful learning tool.

Learning is more effective when you are doing it in a collaborative setting. No one likes to learn alone. And so sports in that way, especially basketball, is a sport that you have to do with other people. If you are interacting with these different people and you are learning with these different people, I think learning is a lot more fun.

It’s not just: here’s a book, read it. You meet these girls, you interact with them, you want to see them improve. You want to improve yourself. And so by working together, you guys are learning new things and becoming better thinkers.

KWHS: Why is making a strong social impact so important to you? Do you think it is something that other people should definitely consider?

Aghayere: Making an impact is important to me because that is where my family is from, that is home to me. And so for me to see these things on the media about Liberia, or about Africa as a whole, it pains me a little bit. I know that there is so much potential there, there are so many resources there, there is so much talent there.

I want to be a part of that generation that makes that happen for us. I want to see us rise and I want to see us develop. And I think that is definitely something that other people should do. Definitely don’t give up, and don’t read into these stereotypes. I think that if this newer generation really invests in our country, the sky is the limit for us.

KWHS: What is your ultimate goal in growing Rebound Liberia, and how do you see it affecting those who participate and the country that it is located in?

Aghayere: I see Rebound Liberia growing to be a great program, to be successful, to be sustainable, and to be able to be replicated in other places around the world. I really want to build this program to recruit the best talent across West Africa. And I think that as we are seeing now with NBA [National Basketball Association] players coming from different parts of the world, there is a lot of talent everywhere, but it is just about honing in on that talent, crafting it, and really investing in it.

So that is what I want to see our girls be able to do. I want to see our girls be able to play in other places. We definitely can’t promise them that they will get a scholarship, or that they will be able to travel outside of Liberia, but we can give them the resources to access their own opportunities with whatever is presented in front of them. And if that is becoming an entrepreneur, then I think that is success.

KWHS: Thank you so much Princess. Best of luck in the future, and congratulations again on winning the President’s Engagement Prize.

Aghayere: Thank you so much for having me.

Related Links

Conversation Starters

Why is Princess Aghayere starting Rebound Liberia?

Using the related links, research Liberia. Discuss with a partner and your class why an initiative like Rebound Liberia could be effective for the country’s young women.

Does leadership always mean that you must be the loudest voice in the room? What is your leadership style? Building on the article, discuss, compare and contrast different leadership styles and whether you feel one is more effective than another. Ultimately, define what it means to be a leader. Watch the YouTube video in the Related Links with this article to better understand Princess’s leadership journey.

5 comments on “Princess Aghayere Shares Her Love of Basketball to Inspire Young West African Women

  1. Princess Aghayere mentioned “So it has always been following my passion, and I am so glad that has led me to where I am today. I really do feel like I am doing what I want to do. And that, I think, is the best thing.” I personally think that following the passion is the most effective motivation for the people who want to achieve their goals. People are probably willing to make more effort since they are enjoying the process which they are passionate about. This situation is very common to see on children at a young age. Adults can’t really force their children to do something they don’t like. This quote resonates with me because of my passion for basketball. When I was at a younger age, my parents forced me to join a soccer club. It turned out to be a waste of time and energy or even a suffering for me because I didn’t like that sport at all. I’m not saying they definitely will succeed in some aspects if they follow their passion. But better outcomes and bigger improvements can be expected. Passion can always be the most significant factor which effects the results directly.

  2. Firstly, I’m impressed by Princess Aghayere’s Rebound Liberia program and how she acted as a pioneer, showing the world about how such an educated woman from an underdeveloped region can nurture her home country from social impact projects. Personally, as a girl and a JV basketball player from an extremely patriarchal society(south-east Asia) where the female characters were assigned to be the submissive, confined, soft, “prey” character, I felt, even more, enlightened by Aghayere’s mission. Being a “strong” woman was evaluated as a deficit by my community, both mentally and physically; being an athlete was recognized as an “unstable” career path; being thoughtful and independent was criticized as not “girly enough”. A direct example was Weili Zhang, the current UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion, has to claim in front of hundreds of thousands of people in the camera “I won’t hit my boyfriends”, in response to the flood of questions towards her marriage “problem” on the internet. I believe programs like Rebound Libera will open a window for the girls who are desperate to accomplish their dreams, and the standing up of female entrepreneurs like Princess Aghayere will hugely encourage millions of other girls to wipe out the obstacles on the path along the way with their peers.”

    • Love your takeaways from this article, Xingyu! I’m not familiar with Weili Zhang’s story, but I will certainly check it out now. Thank you for your insights.

  3. As a woman’s advocate, Princess Aghayere is fiercely dedicated to following her passion in life. Moreover, she has the tenacity of an entrepreneur ,and she has an altruistic spirit in the sense that with her program Rebound Liberia. She hopes to give back to her community and all underrepresented girls. The message of Princess Aghayere has a very strong resonance for me today, especially in the modern world where young girls care more and more about their looks and want to maintain a girlish image while avoiding their true passions for fear of being labeled as “boyish.” Having Rebound Liberia will inspire young women to take responsibility for their personal development and allow them to pursue their true passions without worrying about others’ opinions, as well as provide them with the resources to be successful in their endeavors.

  4. Princess Aghayere’s story is one that is inspiring and it’s amazing to see how such a simple sport like basketball could have such a big positive impact. Sometimes it’s easy to forget a hobby as simple as knitting or even reading could bring people together. When I think about people who may not be living in the best conditions or may not have equal opportunities, I never really think about how a hobby could improve the lives of others. To me this podcast was somewhat of a window to the bigger picture in creating better opportunities for everyone.

    As an Asian American girl who shares Aghayere’s love for basketball, I truly believe that with her taking initiative in a program such as Rebound Liberia is one that is awesome. As a basketball player, I can’t help but laugh at the question I always get asked: “How tall are you?” It’s funny how people assume all basketball players must be super tall. When I tell them I’m the average 5’5 girl, they laugh and challenge me to a 1v1. Situations like these show the way people underestimate girls who play basketball and also leads to my next point which Aghayere brings up in the podcast, equal opportunities.

    In the sports realm, most sports are dominated by testosterone and masculinity. Females like myself, are often overlooked for their tiny size and stature compared to men. In the summer of my 8th grade, I decided to join a basketball team known as Lunar. Lunar is a nonprofit organization tailored to individuals like me. As stereotypical as it may sound, no, not all Asians are good at math (although I’m not terrible at it). I may lack height and may not be as strong as my opponents, but I have what it takes to be a good player with discipline. Lunar promotes diversity in sports like basketball, providing Asian basketball players an equal opportunity and to give them exposure to the sport they all love.

    Basketball can also show its ugly side, when it comes to equal opportunities. This may not only be prevalent in basketball but also a number of other sports. For some “unknown” reason, our bleachers are always empty. It’s like you could hear a pin drop from the lack of a crowd. But when it comes to the boy’s game, the bleachers are filled. Why is the student population attending games where we always lose instead of our girl’s team (who happens to have a better record)? That is a question I will never understand but besides the point, it just shows how when it comes to sports, we don’t get equal opportunities.

    This idea of equality and equal opportunities in basketball is one that can be shown at my school’s most recent homecoming. Every year, during homecoming my school hosts a basketball game. Alumni versus the current boys basketball team. As a member of my school’s varsity team, I’ve always wondered why girls were never allowed to play in these games. I find it really exciting to learn that people like Aghayere are helping to bridge the gap between the different gender norms in sports. Not only is she using her story and her passion for basketball to inspire young girls to become interested in basketball, she is offering them an opportunity and using a hobby to bring happiness to the betterment of their lives.

    Although my thinking may be shallow, I do believe that hobbies and organizations like Rebound Liberia can truly bring happiness to people’s lives. It got me thinking about an organization I am a part of. As the vice president of Tzu Shao, a non profit organization that provides for families who are less fortunate whether it be financially or family wise, we always do our best to make the kids smile. We often host events, where our members use their talent and love for things such as video editing and arts and crafts to give back to the community and make amazing memories with these kids. I feel like this is similar to Rebound Liberia’s mission where they are using a hobby such as basketball to inspire kids and offer them opportunities they may not have access to.

    Princess Aghayere’s story is one that I believe to be empowering and is one that will really make a difference in the lives of these young girls. To me, it’s like a reminder that we can all empower one another through our hobbies and bridge the gap between inequalities in this world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *