When you inspire, you will never be forgotten

ASU graduate student wins a prestigious award and continues to change lives

By Kionna Brown
On October 12, 2020

Photo courtesy of Bill Rogers:
Rogers is photographed with ASU President Lt Gen. Ronnie Hawkins Jr. and Vice President Dr. Donald Topliff

 

Coaching, sport, recreation and fitness administration student Bill Rogers on Sept 22 was the recipient of the We Dream in Color Foundation’s 2020 Nelson Mandela Freedom Award for his leadership and positive influence in his home country of Liberia and beyond.

Rogers has impressed his fellow students and professors with his remarkable background. Growing up in the place and time of the 14-year Liberian Civil War from 1989-2003, Rogers was sent to live with his aunt at about the age of six or seven because his parents were struggling to make ends meet. During this time, he helped his family around the house by babysitting. Not long after, he was kidnapped at the age of seven, beaten, stabbed and had two of his toes cut off to make “juju” for the Liberian soldiers. Rogers barely survived the incident, but that did not stop him from moving forward.

“My spirit is what motivated me to continue,” Rogers said. “I knew I couldn’t just give up.”

At the age of 11, Rogers attended his first day of school where he struggled with a communication barrier. On his first day, the teacher called his name during attendance, and he responded with “absent.” The teacher saw this as Roger acting out in class and then proceeded to give him 25 lashes as a disciplinary measure. The punishment confused Rogers, but he later found a teacher who was willing to help with his communication barrier.

Not long after, a group of professional track and field athletes ran through his town and Rogers decided to follow their lead and began running. Encouraged by their coach to pursue track, Rogers excelled and eventually became a world-class distance runner. 

At 16 years old, he was placed at the 2001 World Youth Track and Field Championships in Hungary, then received a double medal award at the 2004 African Championships in Athletics Benin, West Africa. In that same year, he was selected for the Liberian Olympic Team, and he later competed at the 2007 IAAF World Cross Country Running Championship in Kenya. 

While his athleticism prevailed, Rogers also continued pursuing his education. He became a certified athletic trainer in Kenya in 2003 and was later accepted to El Camino College in California on a full scholarship prior to going to El Paso Community College. He went on to earn an athletic scholarship to Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, where he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology-human performance in 2009. Rogers currently enrolled in graduate studies in ASU’s coaching, sport, recreation and fitness administration master’s degree program.

Rogers not only encourages the youth to participate in athletics, but he has built wells to provide access to safe drinking water for people across Liberia and said he hopes to inspire kids in his home country to prevail with his very own education and agriculture programs. Rogers is now being honored for his efforts in Liberia through his Bill Rogers Youth Foundation, and simultaneously provided exposure for talented Liberian athletes across the U.S. 

“I want to use my story to transform the world,” Rogers said. “Without all the support and opportunities that have been given to me, I would not have succeeded.”

His efforts led him to become an inspiration for his country, and he inevitably started inspiring other kids to do the same.

“After 14 years of civil conflict, the young people of Liberia have not been incorporated back into society,” Rogers said. “I feel like it’s the responsibility for someone to oversee strategic programs to help them. Many people helped me along the way, and now it’s my goal to return it to the next generation through sport.”

Rogers is now waiting to receive his Nelson Mandela Freedom Award, which was supposed to be awarded to him in July at the annual We Dream in Color Humanitarian Celebration in Chicago, but the event was cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions. Instead, the foundation is now partnering with the Liberian government to plan a reception and award ceremony for Rogers in Liberia in November. 

“The former President Nelson Mandela said sports is the power that transforms the universe and brings young people together,” Rogers said. “I have believed in the power of sports because you can see what I can show you as a perfect example. They chopped my toes, but I never stopped and I continued to run.”

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