Yanks stars give fan tour of NYC sites
Sierra Leone native Kamara tours NYSE, other landmarks
NEW YORK -- A morning's jaunt to the New York Stock Exchange, City Hall and the United Nations would be noteworthy enough in any tourist's album, but to be the guest of honor at all three locations, accompanied and toasted by an entourage of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Brian Cashman, Reggie Jackson, Curtis Granderson, Marcus Thames and the Sierra Leone ambassador to the U.N. is beyond anyone's dreams. Amazingly, that was what the Yankees had in store for Mohamed Kamara on Wednesday, a glorified episode in a life all too ravaged by unspeakable hardships.
Kamara was the third beneficiary of the Yankees' 2010 HOPE Week campaign, the second year of a program in which players surprise exemplary members of the community and treat them to whirlwind experiences. Kamara was especially deserving of this good fortune, considering what he has faced; he was born into civil war, was forced to leave his family and native Sierra Leone, and endured such poverty that he had to forego his mother's funeral. But rather than dwell in despondency, Kamara took it upon himself to do everything possible to support his family back in West Africa.
"I saw a lot of things," said Kamara. "I saw people getting killed, their hands getting cut off right in front of my face, pregnant women having their stomachs cut out. You had to step over dead bodies in the street.
"At a young age, my family depended on me to go into the forest for food. That's why I was able to grow up fast."
Kamara could spend his weekends socializing, but instead he travels several hours a day to earn a few extra dollars, working as a golf caddy in Alpine, N.J. He founded the Sierra Leone Gentleman, which raises church funds to give children in Sierra Leone an education. He treasures his schoolwork, performing in the top quarter of his class and earning a college scholarship. For an adolescent whose every move has been rooted in selflessness, it was only fair that the tides be turned for a day.
"Mohamed's whole story really struck me," Sabathia said. "That he does well in school, to be able to provide for his family -- it's a remarkable story that I read about and I wanted to do this event."
When asked what it meant to be there, Sabathia said, "It means a lot. To be able to get out in the community to give our time for a kid like this, it means a lot."
Sabathia was not the only one awestruck by Kamara's fortitude. Mayor Bloomberg gave him an official proclamation and Jackson emerged from the comforts of retirement to join the festivities. There was a universal swelling of admiration even among the media, who clamored through security checkpoints, strangled hallways and tight viewing places to observe the story. It may have been a spectacle, but Kamara deserved every minute of it.
"People haven't been away from home when they're away from home a couple of hours," said Granderson. "He left for another country. He went across the Atlantic Ocean to another country to provide for his family, thousands and thousands of miles away. They were in the middle of the war and he was at a very young age.
"So the fact that he had to do all those different things and still educate himself, to continue to put himself in a situation where hopefully he can take care of himself and his family as he continues to get older, speaks highly for the character of the individual."
Perhaps the most startling aspect of the affair was Kamara's composed demeanor. He fully grasped the significance of the occasion, approaching it all with an academic curiosity. And yet, he never lost control of himself. One might have expected -- even wanted -- him to show a little more emotion, but then few have ever undergone what he has in his short life. If anything, his stoicism reflected just how mature he is, and it will likely serve him well as he embarks on a bright future.
"He handled himself with dignity," Jeter said. "He was pretty happy."
These Yankees players are accustomed to the attention and idolized by fans worldwide, but they need to have role models, too. Kamara is just that for them, and though his one-day celebrity status might fade, his efforts will have a far more lasting impact than people realize, on his family, the Yankees and on those fortunate enough to observe him on his extraordinary day.
"It was a great day," Kamara said. "I had the chance to meet the Mayor, and Derek Jeter and all the Yankees. It was a great honor. HOPE Week means so much to me and I will never forget today."
Adam Spunberg is a contributor to MLB.com. Bryan Hoch, a reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.