The UNITE stories go deeper on Jordan Brand’s new film series celebrating the power of basketball. UNITE is a rallying cry for inspiring and empowering the next generation to never fly alone.

Photographer and filmmaker, Kevin Couliau, spent a week with the Bismack Biyombo Foundation in the cities of Kinshasa, Goma and Lubumbashi. During the trip, Bismack and his team provided hospital equipment donations, attended the Biz League finals in Kinshasha and visited the construction site of a future school in his hometown, Lubumbashi.

When 27-year-old Bismack Biyombo was growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he remembers basketballs being rare commodities. They were coveted objects that brought children together in tight-knit squads, patiently sharing and waiting their turns, often while wearing mismatching sneakers or dress shoes like he did. Finding someone who had a ball, or getting invited to play in a game, was a big deal.

Kids in Lubumbashi playing on the same court where Bismack played during middle school and high school

Though this is how Bismack remembers the early days, he spends most of the off-season doing philanthropy back home through the Bismack Biyombo Foundation. As soon as he had the means, he started traveling back to the DRC to spread the game by providing any tools needed, including balls and shoes. Knowing firsthand how much basketball changes lives and brings people together, he hopes to give more chances to the next generation.

“If I don’t do it, who’s going to do it?,” says Bismack, now in the NBA and Jordan Brand family. “The goal for me was always to reach as many kids as possible and give them the best opportunities, because I didn’t have that. All of my past struggles led to a point where I have to do something, so that this generation and the next don’t have to suffer what I suffered.”

Bismack and his parents at home in Lubumbashi next to a case of memorabilia

Bismack left the DRC at age 16 to pursue his dream of playing pro ball. He originally set out for Qatar, but after a brief stop playing in Yemen, was discovered by Portuguese basketball coach, Mario Palma, who ushered Bismack into a competitive Spanish pro league. Roughly three years later, having grown into the role of a stout rim protector, Bismack stepped onto the stage as the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.

Despite his fast ascent, new wealth and busy schedule, Bismack’s ties to his home country have only grown stronger. The lack of a b-ball role model when he was growing up inspired him to become one for others. At 19 years old, the summer after his rookie year, Bismack created a basketball camp. That initial idea grew into a multi-city affair with equipment sponsorships that provide gear for kids who have often never owned a new pair of kicks.

Bismack at his high school court in Lubumbashi, where he dunked for the first time

It might seem serendipitous, but Bismack always had a greater plan. “Once we provide a good infrastructure, we can raise the level of the league,” he explains. “Because then, you’re not so concerned about the [quality of the] court, about people getting hurt or about the basics, like having shoes or a basketball.”

Furthermore, Bismack knows that basketball is a gateway to education and other sports — a way to improve quality of life. “From there, we move bigger,” he adds. “We start building schools and sports facilities. We need to help these kids dream while being at home with their families. We need to be part of the solution.”

The site of a future school in Lubumbashi, which is being funded by the Bismack Biyombo foundation.

Through the Bismack Biyombo Foundation, the Hornets center has also helped with humanitarian aid, particularly healthcare and hospital equipment, in his home country and surrounding areas. Bismack has become a beacon of hope for many and an example of never forgetting your roots.

“The closer I can get to the kids, and the more I can help them realize that this is real, the better,” says Bismack, who’s the eldest of six siblings. “They have to look me in the eyes, they have to talk to me, they have to feel the positive energy that I have. You can do it, too. It’s not impossible. If you put the time into it, and you believe in your dreams, the universe will find a way to put all the pieces together. The kids are my motivation. I’m not just working out for me, I’m working out for a lot of kids.”

Learn more about UNITE here and look forward to more stories in the coming months.