Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Football a focus for Frisco Heritage DE, but memories of Congo War linger
Memories of war’s gunshots still linger, but refugee from Africa has earned a bright future in football
FRISCO — At their home on Coolidge Street, the suburban dream blooms to life for the Nabushosi family, as it does for so many others.
The lawn has maintained a green tint through the summer heat, flowers and bushes wrap around the front yard, and the family room is dressed with pictures — pictures on the mantle, pictures on the wall and pictures bundled in piles.
One features the family’s mother, Gorethy, and father, Bona, with their six young children. They’ve all grown up now, and five are either in college or graduated. The youngest is Elie.
He is a star senior defensive end at Frisco Heritage. He plays the piano at his dad’s church. He speaks four languages. He was crowned the school’s junior homecoming king last year.
Bona and Gorethy quickly bring out more photos: Elie’s first time seeing snow, Elie unwrapping his first bicycle at Christmas.
They treasure the memories, the comfort, because this life didn’t start here, its roots beginning thousands of miles away at the center of the world’s bloodiest conflict since World War II.
“I remember the first time I heard a gunshot,” Elie said. “It was probably right in our backyard.”
Nation in turmoil
The Nabushosis had a beautiful home in Kinshasa, the capital city of the country then known as Zaire. Elie walked to school with his siblings. He played soccer and tag and jumped rope with his neighbors. As a young child, he liked to curl up with his aunt outside, resting between two large pillars on the porch.
He remembers doing this when a bullet crackled nearby. The sound forced him inside, his first memory of the Congo War.
Soon, a tank stood in the distance, close enough for the Nabushosis to see it from their backyard. The neighborhood was changing. The country was changing.
In 1997, longtime dictator Mobuto Sese Seko fled. Laurent-Desire Kabila proclaimed himself president and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwandan and Ugandan troops had also spilled into the country. Internal insurgent groups banded together. Congo was a boiling pot, and the key to power resided in Kinshasa.
“Anything could happen at any time,” Bona said.
The rebels gained control of the electricity in Kinshasa and cut the power, thinking this would force the government’s hand. The Nabushosis broke furniture and doors into firewood, the only way for them to boil the rainwater they collected to drink and to cook the old macaroni they had saved to eat. At night, the kids slept under tables or mattress frames in case bullets penetrated the walls.
Because of Gorethy’s law background, she connected with lawyers at Georgetown University, who helped her successfully seek asylum in America in 1998. The family followed a year later, catching one of the precious few planes exiting the war-ravaged country, which has experienced the loss of 5.4 million casualties, according to the International Rescue Committee. After stops in Cameroon and New York, they arrived in Dallas.
A fresh opportunity
How do you start over? How do you carve a new life from scratch?
The Nabushosis had no credit, low funds and no knowledge of the English language. When strangers said “hi,” Bona didn’t know how to respond.
A pharmacist (Bona) and a lawyer (Gorethy) in Congo, they now accepted jobs at Whole Foods. Gorethy worked in the deli. Bona was a cashier. Most nights when he returned from work, he lay on the floor, asking one of his kids to stand on his back to alleviate the pain.
Shortly after their arrival, he drove the kids through the city’s bright lights. He talked to them about their new lives.
“You come to this country to prosper and be smart,” he said. “Everything is here for you.”
New friends such as Bobbie Kerr helped counsel the Nabushosis on everything from buying groceries to later buying cars and houses. Bona and Gorethy picked up English.
Bona became a pastor at House of Restoration Church in McKinney. Gorethy founded a nonprofit that aids war orphans and victimized women in The Congo and provides support for food production and medical care. The kids thrived in school.
“Education is the only way out of poverty,” Elie said. “It’s the only way to get yourself out of bad situations.”
Elie was slightly different than his siblings. In addition to school, he would also turn his work ethic toward football.
Working for success
In middle school, Elie began playing football competitively, first as a quarterback and now as a defensive end. After Frisco Heritage went winless last year, Elie has helped lead the team to a 4-5 record and a small chance to make the playoffs.
He sacks the quarterback, tackles, throws passes on trick plays and lines up as a wide receiver in the red zone, but he also sets an example for the team. Elie is at Frisco Heritage more than the coaches. He often calls coach Che Hendrix to have him come up and open the weight room when it’s closed.
“He’s so special, and he has such an infectious personality that he makes everyone better, including me,” Hendrix said. “He could be the most special kid I’ve coached in 12 years.”
It’s also been 12 years since Elie and his family arrived in Dallas without any money, having endured a Greyhound bus ride from New York on empty stomachs. With the kids older and the hope of peaceful democratic elections in Congo later this month, Gorethy and Bona say they might move back soon. Elie and his siblings will stay.
On the mantle at the house on Coolidge Street, a framed letter rests in the middle of several of those pictures, addressed to Elie. It outlines his future, a full-ride scholarship to play football at SMU, one more reminder that Elie has found home.
What: A nonprofit started by Gorethy Nabushosi that aims to help victimized women and war orphans in the Congo.
How to help: Visit congorestoration.org
ABOUT THE CONGO
Is located in Central Africa
Is the second largest country in Africa by area, slightly less than one-fourth the size of the United States.
Has a population of over 71 million people.
School and class: Frisco Heritage Sr.
Position: Defensive end
Ht., Wt.: 6-4, 240 pounds
College commitment: SMU