From the Court to the Community: Pascal Siakam is a Catalyst for Change

Pascal Siakam © TierZero

By Raye Mocioiu

NBA All-Star Pascal Siakam is building a golden reputation in Toronto. In a career telling of hard work and dedication, the star player went from an off-the-radar draft to a sporting legend. He brought his dreams to life and is determined to show the world that they can do the same.

But Siakam is more than just a talented basketball player—he’s a philanthropist with a heart for giving back to his community and removing the barriers to education and opportunity that so many young people face.

Many children dream of following their passions and finding success in their chosen path, and Siakam is proof that it’s possible. The power forward, who was born in Cameroon, has always had a strong connection to his roots, and his long-standing desire to make a difference has led him to create a foundation that spreads those values across the globe, especially in his hometown.

“Cameroon is a special place,” said Siakam. “I know the struggle most kids go through because I was one of them. My presence next to them is a testimony that everything is possible in life, so they can dream even bigger than my dream was.”

Siakam’s dream, and that of his father, was to be drafted into the NBA, and he brought that dream to life in 2016 when he joined the Toronto Raptors. His impact and talent were cemented when he helped the team win the NBA Champions in 2019, earning him the All-Star title and a platform with which he could make a difference in the world.

Thus, the PS43 Foundation was born—a not-for-profit organization rooted in the values of family and inspiring dreamers. In fact, the Foundation is rooted in the family by its very name. Forty-three is Pascal’s jersey number, representing the four men (his father and three brothers) and three women (his mother and two sisters) of his family. The Foundation binds Siakam and his family while giving back to the community that made it possible.

© Reuters/USA TODAY Sports/Kim Klement

Bridging the Gap in Education

“My late father believed that education was a key aspect of life that no one could take away from you,” Siakam explained. “With that in mind, I knew I had to give back to the youth through education.”

Siakam’s father believed education could empower a person and enrich their life. His commitment to learning and empowerment inspired Siakam to honour that belief and pass on the gift of education and opportunity to children who face barriers, both in Canada and Cameroon. The PS43 Foundation seeks unique ways to make a difference in the lives of children through education, tying in financial literacy, sports, and life skills to inspire kids to dream big and, better yet, give them a chance to achieve their dreams.

“When it comes to education, we look for partners that are focusing on scalability, longevity, and innovation,” continued Siakam. “Many children learn in different ways, so ensuring that different programs are able to serve different learning styles is important to us and guides how we partner. Of course, success and results matter but outside of that, making sure the youth feel safe, comfortable, and have fun are equally as important.”

In 2021, the PS43 Foundation launched Coding for Champions, a program aiming to bridge the digital divide and encourage children to pursue technological education by providing students within the Greater Toronto Area with access to opportunities to learn and develop various computer science-focused skills such as coding and programming.

In a press release detailing the launch of the program, Siakam explained: “As a child, I didn’t think I could accomplish what I have today. My father was passionate about education and my parents put me in a position to be successful by providing me access to education and sport in my home country of Cameroon; a place where such opportunities are limited and hard to come by. I want to do the same for kids in Toronto and encourage them to dream big, no matter what limits they face.”

After seeing the immense success of the program, the PS43 Foundation set its sights on furthering its impact, with Siakam even handing out free laptops to 150 middle-school-aged girls in one of Toronto’s most underserved areas, Regent Park, last summer.

“The more we look at the changes in the world, the root is always technology,” Siakam continued. “I want to help young people see that they have a role to play in the advancement of technology no matter the barriers they face.”

That same motivation brought Siakam to the Toronto Metropolitan University, where the PS43 Foundation gifted a generous donation to the Lincoln Alexander School of Law, allowing the emerging law school to broaden the reach of its Summer Experience Projects initiative.

Through this program, 12 students gained meaningful, paid work experience with several organizations working towards positive social change, including frontline organizations that assist Indigenous, racialized, and other equity-deserving communities who face significant barriers to the legal system, education, and other services.

Siakam also spoke to students enrolled in the law program about pursuing a just society—the driving force of the program and one that PS43 aligns heavily with.

“Giving students the opportunity to contribute to and learn from organizations that have the public interest at heart is exactly the kind of empowering experience that can transform their futures,” Siakam said of the donation.

© Courtesy of PS43 Foundation

Walk in Pascal's Shoes

Furthering Siakam’s commitment to children and education, the PS43 Foundation launched a partnership with the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in 2021, complete with a donation of $100,000 to support the hospital’s efforts in creating a world of possibility for children and youth, no matter the barriers they face.

“The youth at Holland Bloorview are special,” Siakam shared. “Just knowing that they are so full of life, happy, and achieving greatness every day, regardless of their reality, inspires me daily. Being with them in person and feeling their pure energy is an experience I’ll never forget.”

The partnership between the PS43 Foundation and Holland Bloorview advances the Foundation’s vision of a generation of dreamers, empowering children to become anything they want to be through the power of education.

“We have an awesome relationship with the Holland Bloorview staff and the children,” Siakam continued. “We try to visit as much as time allows, and they are great at sending us pictures of the youth, providing us updates, and making sure we stay connected throughout the year.”

With a platform built on basketball stardom, it’s no wonder that the PS43 Foundation has made sports a focal point of its initiatives.

In 2022, PS43 partnered with The Kickback Foundation, a Toronto-based grassroots initiative that engages underserved communities through sneaker culture, creating unique educational experiences for young people of diverse backgrounds. The partnership provided the Kickback Foundation with funds for future initiatives and 30 pairs of sneakers.

Coming from humble beginnings, where sneakers were scarce and hard to find in Africa, I could not be happier to support a cause that exemplifies ambition at a high level,” Siakam said in a press release detailing the donation. “... this is what life is about; helping each other in as many ways as possible, especially our youth.

Photo © Courtesy of the PS43 Foundation

Siakam’s own career ambition started when he decided to attend a Basketball Without Borders camp in South Africa. The Basketball Without Borders program, run by the NBA and FIBA (the International Basketball Federation), brings together the top young basketball players worldwide to promote the sport and encourage cultural exchange. Giving back to the program that gave him his start, Siakam has since participated in several Basketball Without Borders events, and has even served as a mentor to some of the young players who have attended.

The camps also served as inspiration for Siakam to start his own basketball camp in Cameroon, Skills Académie. The Académie serves as a homecoming for Siakam, bringing joy and inspiration to kids like him in his hometown and nurturing a love of basketball for the next generation of players. Each summer, the Académie invites coaches and former NBA players to participate in basketball clinics, allowing participants to improve their skills by learning from their heroes.

As a Toronto icon, Siakam has made a home for himself and his Foundation here while still showing his pride and support for his home in Cameroon. Through it all, Siakam’s goal is to share that dreams are limitless. If he achieved his dreams, tomorrow, it could be anyone. At the heart of the PS43 Foundation is the notion that if you inspire children to dream big and chase after their passions with education, opportunity, and empowerment, you can change their lives.

“The kids’ happiness at the end of the day always reminds me why I created the foundation,” said Siakam. “I feel great knowing that I may have changed one kids mindset and allowed them to believe they can do anything.”

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