Last month, the Gazette featured the story of Timmance McKinney, Boston-born basketball player-turned-coach who now mentors at-risk youth in his hometown. This month we turn the spotlight on McKinney’s friend Ikenna Ndugba, a Boston native and college basketball player who spends his free time mentoring youth in Jamaica Plain and elsewhere.
Ndugba is a celebrated point guard for the Bulldogs at Bryant University in Rhode Island. In addition to his many achievements on the court, he has also made the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) President’s Honor Roll for his outstanding grades. Like many college basketball players, he dreams of one day going pro. But this accomplished athlete has not forgotten his humble roots, nor the city that raised him.
Ndugba grew up in a house on the Roslindale/Hyde Park line, but spent most of his time in Roxbury and the South End and was a student at Mission Grammar School in Mission Hill. He went on to attend Boston Latin Academy in Dorchester from seventh to ninth grade. While growing up, some of his closest friends lived in the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain.
Formerly known as Bromley Heath, the low-income housing development on the JP/Roxbury line is a notorious hotbed for violence, gang activity and drug dealing. Just two weeks ago a man was beaten and robbed when he was lured there under the pretense of purchasing headphones. Ndugba witnessed firsthand how easy it was for young men of color in the projects to get caught up in criminal activity.
“I was tired of seeing friends and people I grew up with led down a path that was not beneficial for them,” he told the Gazette. “That’s why I left the city.”
Ndugba transferred to Brooks School, a co-ed prep school in North Andover where his performance as both a student and an athlete earned him a free ride to Bryant.
However, Ndugba never forgot where he came from. As he embarked on his college career, he asked his friend McKinney how he could give back to the youth of his city. McKinney recommended that Ndugba do a speaking tour as he had done, to get into the schools and into the lives of young people in Boston.
“Timmance was the real push, the main person who encouraged me to do it,” he said. “You can get too wrapped up in playing.”
Taking McKinney’s advice, Ndugba began spending his summers giving talks to local youths and engaging student athletes both on and off the courts. While speaking at his old elementary school during his freshman year, he caught the eye of former state representative Jeffrey Sanchez.
Sanchez recognized Ndugba’s natural talent for inspiring young people and invited him to do outreach work in Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill and Brookline. Their youth engagement work even brought Ndugba back to the familiar walkways of Mildred Hailey.
“Jeff wanted me to come share my story and meet the kids,” he said.
Sanchez introduced Ndugba to Allison Cruz, the founder of Real Kidz Boston, a non-profit Christian ministry that aims to help at-risk youth in the city. Between workouts, Ndugba volunteered at their events, including backpack giveaways and basketball games. Every year, he brings teens from the Real Kidz program to tour Bryant University and watch the Bulldogs play.
“It’s nice to see the looks on their faces when they are up at Bryant, to see them take a deep breath,” he said. “They can relax and just be kids.”
Ndugba also mentors college-bound high school seniors during the application process.
In 2018, Ndugba founded a non-profit called 617Peak, which organizes open mic events for teens and young adults in Boston. The non-profit encourages young people to share their personal stories through writing and spoken word.
“This platform provides members of the community with an outlet to voice their concerns, thoughts and feelings in a safe and comfortable environment,” reads the mission statement.
Ndugba has a vision for the youth of Mildred Hailey and the other communities where he volunteers.
“I want them to find what they love to do and pursue it,” he said. “There’s a lot in the city that can be discouraging and sometimes that lowers a kid’s drive to want to achieve their goals.”
Ndugba received his bachelor’s degree in business marketing from Bryant in 2019 and is currently working on his MBA there. He holds onto his dream of playing professional ball, but affirmed that the MBA will help him to grow his non-profit.
“It’s my way of being an example of taking full advantage of an opportunity,” he said.
Follow Ndugba’s non-profit on Twitter @617Peak.