Taylor Sharp, a North Carolina class of 2016 graduate and former Morehead-Cain scholar, created the documentary "Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters," to explore the influence and impact of basketball on the continent.
On Wednesday night, the Varsity Theater is presenting a special screening for Sharp’s film at 7:30 p.m., with some special guests including UNC athletes and the Hoops 4 Hope Founder, Mark Crandall. Sports editor Chris Hilburn-Trenkle spoke with Sharp on Monday and discussed his process in putting together the documentary.
The Daily Tar Heel: I would just like to learn a little bit about you, your background from UNC and how that guided you along this process.
Taylor Sharp: I was here at UNC, and I graduated in May of 2016. While here, a couple things that were big factors, kind of getting me ready to make this film once I left UNC was I was a Morehead-Cain (scholar) here. As a part of their summer immersion program, I had some pretty unique summer opportunities, all of which kind of coalesced in this film. So after my first year at Carolina, I had the opportunity to go volunteer with Hoops 4 Hope, a basketball nonprofit in Zimbabwe. So I spent a summer in Zimbabwe coaching and teaching life skills. And then the next couple summers I spent at a sports agency in (Washington) D.C. and then at the NBA league office in New York. So all of that kind of increased my exposure in the basketball world and kind of set myself up to have the foundation to be able to make a film like this happen.
And also, while on campus, I led the Carolina Sport Business Club, so it gave me a lot of exposure to the industry. UNC was the perfect place for me. I was considering a bunch of different majors, but I ended up doing an interdisciplinary study that focused on the philosophy and business of sport. So, my entire course of study here at UNC was to look at how sports affect society, and this documentary project is only an extension of the focus of my education at UNC.
DTH: What stood out to you that you wanted to be able to share that story of your time in Zimbabwe?
TS: As someone who’s spent a lot of time in sports as a fan and as a participant and in the industry, the important thing about sports is to use it as a form for good. I’m really interested in how sports can be used for positive social impact, and Hoops 4 Hope in Zimbabwe was a great representation of how sports can be used for good. They use basketball as a way to teach life skills, (such as) HIV awareness and conflict resolution and gender equality and all of the like. So it was a powerful summer, seeing basketball used so meaningfully in the lives of so many Zimbabwean youth.
But also, I fell in love with Zimbabwe. I fell in love with the beauty of the country, of the people. Some of my favorite basketball courts in the world now are in Zimbabwe, and I left with the classic mentality of feeling as though they impacted me a lot more than I impacted them during my summer of service. I’ve always had kind of an itch to get back to be able to bring my stories to life. To be able to spread them more widely to hopefully bring more exposure to the nonprofit and also to spread this concept, this African philosophy of Ubuntu, which the film harps on and what was a big part of Hoops for Hope’s mission statement.
DTH: What is the overall message you want people to get from watching this film?
TS: I think it's a film that’s applicable to everyone, even non-sports fans, just because throughout the film, this concept of Ubuntu is threaded in, and I think the values that you can take from that message are kind of widespread applicable. So it's all about this message of Ubuntu, (which) by the way, is an African philosophy which its best translation is about empathy and about a common bond of humanity. It’s all about togetherness and less about the individual. So it's very community-focused and that message right now I feel like, we can all use a little bit more Ubuntu in our lives. So through the lens of this sports documentary, I hope that all viewers will leave with a much broader message.
DTH: Did you first learn about the term Ubuntu when you went to Zimbabwe in the summer of 2013?
TS: I was doing some research as to where I was going to stay that summer. It was going to be an international public service summer, so it was my first year in like fall break or winter break and I was trying to decide where I was going to be that summer, and I actually stumbled across an article about the Boston Celtics and Ubuntu so I clicked on it. And it was all about how the 2008 championship Boston Celtics team had this team mantra of Ubuntu, which was taught to them by this South African guy from this organization called Hoops 4 Hope, and it was in that moment where I was like, ‘Wow this is really cool.’ I had no idea the Celtics were connected to South African and Zimbabwean nonprofit, and this story line of them using this South African nonprofit to propel them to a championship was intriguing, so I called Hoops 4 Hope right then and that’s when I set up the volunteer/internship of sort. So I learned about Hoops 4 Hope through Ubuntu. Ubuntu really started it all. Ubuntu really started my entire sports journey. And then it was once I went to Zimbabwe, they have it as a part of their core curriculum. They have like the seven tools that they teach all their kids, and Ubuntu is chief among them.
DTH: Do you have plans to go back to Zimbabwe sometime soon and show the documentary over there?
TS: Yes, so it’s been showing in communities here and there, but I haven’t been able to go back and do an official Zimbabwe premiere. We had a very limited airing partnership with the NBA. So they aired it twice worldwide on their network back in December when we finished it. They had a couple airings on their network in exchange for a lot of footage we had back in December, and then we re-packaged our rights and are releasing now. We released this month. So now we’re starting to do these screenings in person and stuff. So it actually did air.
One of the most impactful moments for me throughout all of this was when I got pictures of people in Zimbabwe huddled around a TV watching the film on live television when it was aired first on NBA TV. A lot of them have seen it, but I have yet to be able to go back and do a big one. We hope to formalize an Ubuntu tour, going to different cities and actually, it’s more of like a school screening and speaking tour that we’re setting up to where I can take this film to a lot of different communities all over the country and hopefully internationally too, so we can get back to Zimbabwe and hold an event.
DTH: How does it mean to show the film in Chapel Hill and to be able to connect so much with the community here through this film?
TS: It means the world to me to be able to bring this film back to Chapel Hill because it was in Chapel Hill that I first had the idea for the film and in so many ways, Chapel Hill as a community prepared me for and enabled me to make this film. So it will be special to be able to bring it back to iconic Varsity Theater and have a lot of people in that room who were instrumental in helping me make the film possible.
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