When he takes the time to think about it, Ntirenganyi Karamba never would have imagined that all this would be happening to him.
Terrific things, such as being a member of a state championship football team or learning a new language. Or things most take for granted, such as graduating high school.
But whether it’s the big things or the small ones, Karamba’s journey from his war-torn home country — where he was witness to the most horrible of tragedies — to Memphis and beyond is, to borrow from John F. Kennedy, a profile in courage.
“When I go to sleep, I always thank God for who I am and where I am going,” said Karamba, who graduated from East last month and was set to be honored with the Courage Award at Tuesday’s Commercial Appeal Sports Awards ceremonies at the Orpheum.
“I never realized that one day I would be in America. I never realized that one day I would graduate from high school. Sometimes, God has put me in certain troubles or certain situations but it’s not punishing me. It’s to show me how my future can look.”
Karamba’s faith is just one of the ways he’s coped over the past few years.
He was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a large country almost in the center of Africa. From 1998-2003, Karamba’s country was embroiled in a civil war, resulting at least in part from the genocide in neighboring Rwanda and the tribal tensions that arose as a result.
More than five million died, including Karamba’s father, a French teacher who was murdered by rebels while his mother was pregnant with him. Later, Karamba witnessed the savagery firsthand as neighbors also were killed.
Amazingly though, Karamba considers himself lucky. And he is; his mother and three brothers eventually found their way to a refugee camp in Uganda before beginning the interview process that eventually led them to the United States.
“We never thought about coming to America,” he said. “After five years, they told us we are ready to go. We thought, ‘Wow, this is a big deal.’ In that refugee camp, there were people who were there 15 or 20 years and never got the chance to come to America.”
And he’s made the most of his chance.
Karamba learned English by immersing himself in movies — “Black Panther” is his most recent favorite — and plans to attend Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., in the fall to study biology. He also plans to try out for the football team; Karamba spent the past two years as the Mustangs’ placekicker and was a part of the 2016 squad that captured the Class 4A state championship and finished with a 13-2 record.