The children who attended a basketball camp in Union City received a pleasant surprise when a special guest stepped into the gym: NBA center Enes Kanter.

Kanter and Union City officials partnered to host a one-day basketball camp as a part of the city’s annual Back-To-School celebration. Vince Williams, the mayor of Union City, was in attendance and saw the kids’ reaction to seeing an NBA player in person.

“It shows that people like Enes Kanter, but also the parents of the community, care enough about their kids to make sure they are exposed to individuals who come from similar circumstances,” Williams said. “This amazing day that took place, those kids will never forget.”

The event was put together by Willie “Bo” Barber II, the pastor of Prospect AME Church in Fortson, Georgia. The goal of the camp was to show how the community supports and encourages the youth.

“Community starts with investing in our young people,” Barber stated. “It starts with being relevant in their lives, and showing them not only do we know they exist, but we actually see them and not just hear them but we’re listening. By showing young people that trusted voices are happy to come and engage with them, it says ‘we believe in you.’”

When asked about how Kanter ended up in Union City, Baber said that it started with a mutual friend he met in Washington D.C. “While we were in Washington, I connected with this guy, we became fast friends. We did a bunch of podcasts and other social justice things,” Barber explained. “And he called me up about a month ago and said ‘Hey brother, would you like to have Enes come in and do some work with you?’”

Barber couldn’t believe what he heard, but his friend explained how Kanter had never been to the state of Georgia, and it was becoming a bellwether. Barber said yes, and a month later the Turkish NBA center made it to Union City.

“No meeting is by coincidence,” Barber said about the events that started with the mutual friend. “There is always divine intervention, I believe, that says you’re meeting this person for a reason, and that person matters in your life.”

In addition to the basketball camp, the youth also received backpacks as they prepare to go back to school, along with a game truck, pizza and other outdoor activities. Kanter, who was traveling throughout the state of Georgia, said he was happy to give back.

“Putting a smile on kids’ faces is priceless, Kanter said. “We’re not just talking about basketball, we’re talking about healthy lifestyles, respecting others, education, and how to be a good teammate. I think it’s important to just come in here and try to inspire as many people as we can, especially kids because they’re going to be our future.”

Barber shared those same thoughts as he emphasized the importance of putting time and effort into the children.

“I encourage any and every organization to make sure that we carve out spaces to invest in our young people, and be patient with them,” Barber exclaimed. “And in the next 10 to 15 years, we won’t have to worry about leadership, because it’ll already be in place.”

Enes Kanter with the Community Basketball Camp. (Photo Credit: Mason Smith)