In five short years since graduating from Blair, Batouly Camara ’15 has played in the NCAA women’s basketball Sweet 16 with the University of Kentucky, made three trips to the Final Four with the University of Connecticut, earned a master’s degree in sports management and founded a nonprofit with international reach. This summer, she added “author” to her resume with the publication of her delightful and touching children’s book, A Basketball Game on Wake Street. And even with all of the dream-come-true moments she has experienced to date, it’s clear she is just getting started.
Currently playing for team Benbire in Spain’s professional women’s basketball league, Batouly is also working full time for Women and Kids Empowerment (WAKE), the nonprofit she established in 2017. That year, she traveled with her parents to their native Guinea in West Africa, where she ran basketball clinics for youngsters that inspired her to do even more to share her belief in the power of education and sports to transform lives. Thus, WAKE was born with a mission to empower girls through education, sport and social entrepreneurship.
Batouly, then a student at the University of Connecticut, wanted to impact as many people as possible around the world through WAKE. In 2018 and 2019, she organized basketball clinics, professional development workshops, and health and safety classes that touched the lives of hundreds of women and girls in Europe, Africa, Asia and the U.S. As she got deeper into her graduate studies, however, she realized that she needed to narrow her focus to make WAKE’s program sustainable.
“Today, we are working to create a mini-Blair in Guinea’s capital city of Conakry,” she said. There, 25 girls, ages 12 to 15, will receive basketball training and an education in partnership with local schools to prepare and equip them for prosperous and fulfilling adult lives. “School and basketball are the passions that drive us.”
Batouly & Blair
The fact that Batouly describes the soon-to-be Wake Academy as a mini-Blair speaks volumes to her love for her alma mater. “I always tell people Blair transformed my life,” she said. “Blair taught me that everything is possible.”
She recalled a moment when, as a new sophomore, she doubted her ability to succeed at Blair. “I told [varsity boys’ basketball coach] Joe Mantegna, ‘I’m nothing but a basketball player!’ and he assured me that I never would have been accepted at Blair if that were the case,” she said. When she brought up the same worries to varsity girls’ basketball coach Quinten Clarke ’87, he shared advice that still rings in her ears: “Batouly, I want you to try everything that scares you.”
“That was a perfect moment of freedom,” said Batouly, who went on to become a prefect, an admission tour guide, a soccer player and a cast member (a tree!) in the Blair Academy Players’ production of Radium Girls. “Blair provides space where it is safe to fail—you have lots of structure, but you also have many challenges that give you the opportunity to step up and step into who you are. I learned how to manage my time and balance sports and life, and that helped me to be successful in college, where I had to do the same thing at a higher level. Blair taught me that I could confidently fail and continue dreaming.”
Writing A Basketball Game on Wake Street over the past year was something of a manifestation of one of Batouly’s many dreams as it exemplifies the kind of world in which she would like to live and demonstrates the power of sport and unity. The charmingly illustrated 24-page book tells the tale of a pick-up basketball game that brings girls of many different backgrounds and unique abilities together for friendship and fun. It’s a story, Batouly says, inspired by her global travels and Blair basketball.
“I loved every bit of writing it—processes like these make you do some soul searching,” she reflected. “I had to go back to my childhood to remember what it was like to be a kid.” Her first draft of the script came together quickly last October, but she acknowledged that it took a lot of work to bring it to life. She consulted with 20 educators and nearly as many athletes, including Paralympic athletes, to ensure that the book was sensitive to all the details. Finding an illustrator and a publisher were also part of the process, and 10 drafts later, the book was published in July.
Sales have been going well so far, Batouly reported, and all proceeds go directly to WAKE programs in Guinea and across the U.S. The book was recently released in Spanish, and a French version is in the works, along with a social-emotional learning curriculum to accompany it.
While Batouly is excited about the funds A Basketball Game on Wake Street have already generated for WAKE, she is especially thrilled—and deeply moved—by the response she has received from readers. “So many people have said the book makes them feel connected and makes them feel seen,” she said. “They say ‘thank you for telling my story and sharing this message’ and ‘I feel empowered to play sports now—it’s not out of my reach.’ It has been great to get this kind of feedback. Being seen is an unmatched feeling. It’s amazing—like, wow!”
Dream to Reality
As she continues her work to make the school in Guinea a reality, it’s not surprising that most of Batouly’s short- and long-term goals surround WAKE. The organization has secured the land for Wake Academy and has entered the building phase, with an outdoor basketball court slated for completion by the end of the year and plans for an indoor court already in place. Fundraising is well underway, bolstered in July when Batouly was named one of seven recipients nationwide of the prestigious Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award, an honor that recognizes her work using sport to improve her community—and includes a $10,000 grant.
“Of course I want to continue playing basketball, too,” she said, “but my long term goal—maybe someday—is to work for the UN or UNESCO doing the same kind of work I am doing now, empowering women and girls through sport. That’s a big goal, but you have to give voice to your goals if you want them to happen. Ultimately, I want to keep hearing stories and sharing stories the best I can in any space I can.”
Asked what advice she would share with young people who have dreams and goals but no idea how to achieve them, Batouly offered three steps: First, write down everything about your dream—what does it feel like and look like when you accomplish it? Second, what are your immediate resources—who is doing work in that space and who can cheer you on? Finally, what is your plan? Figure out the next step that is immediately actionable and go from there.
“This generation has hearts full of fire!” Batouly enthused. “They can do anything, but they need to know how to go about it. These steps have helped me make my dreams reality, and they just may be a formula for success for others, too.”
Finally, speaking of dreams, she shared words of gratitude and encouragement and a special invitation with the Blair community. “I am so thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of Blair. Everyone at the academy should know that his or her work is appreciated. Day in/day out it may not seem that students appreciate it, but it takes time for seeds to grow, so keep on planting, continue to dream. And, if anyone in the Blair family would like to be a part of WAKE, I would love to know! We welcome the support and interest of Blair!”
Learn more about WAKE here.