Bill Rogers, a 34-year old Angelo State University graduate student from Liberia, has been selected to receive the 2020 Nelson Mandela Freedom Award from the Chicago-based We Dream in Color Foundation.
Named for the late Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Nelson Mandela Award honors exemplary leaders who serve as a vital force for positive change in their communities. Rogers is being honored for his efforts on behalf of disadvantaged youths in Liberia through his Bill Rogers Youth Foundation. He empowers the young people of his country by encouraging them to participate in athletics, organizing education and agriculture programs, and providing access to safe drinking water in rural communities. His foundation has also provided exposure for talented Liberian athletes by connecting them with various scholarship programs in the U.S.
“It has been my dream to go back and help my country,” Rogers said. “After 14 years of civil conflict, the young people of Liberia have not been incorporated back into society. 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.”
Currently enrolled in ASU’s coaching, sport, recreation and fitness administration (CSRF) master’s degree program, Rogers has also impressed his fellow students and professors.
“When Bill interviewed to join our program,” said Dr. Warren Simpson, CSRF program director, “I found him to be a unique individual with incredible experiences, impressive professionalism and a great desire to learn and help others. I knew right away he was a perfect fit for the CSRF grad program.”
How Rogers got to ASU is a remarkable story. Growing up during the 14-year Liberian Civil War, he was kidnapped when he was seven years old, beaten and stabbed, and had two of his toes cut off. He was taken to the hospital by strangers and barely survived the operations that saved his life.
Not long after, a group of professional track and field athletes ran through his town, with Rogers eagerly running alongside them. Encouraged by their coach to pursue athletics, Rogers excelled and eventually became a world-class distance runner. He placed at the 2001 World Youth Track and Field Championships in Hungary and was a double medal winner at the 2004 African Athletic Championships in Benin, West Africa. 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. At one time, he held the Liberian national record in the 1,500 meters.
“I believe that the power of sport has transformed my life,” Rogers said. “After they chopped me and left me in the bush to die, I used the power of sport to crush my barriers, and now here I am in a master’s degree program at ASU. I want the young people of my nation to see my story and be inspired to reconnect with their people and families.”
Meanwhile, Rogers has also continued pursuing his education. He became a certified athletic trainer in Kenya in 2003, and was later accepted to El Camino College in El Paso. 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.
Former Huston-Tillotson professor, Dr. Doris McCabe, now an associate professor of kinesiology at ASU, invited Rogers to speak to one of her ASU classes and encouraged him to apply to ASU’s CSRF program while he was on campus. He is scheduled to graduate with his Master of Education degree in December 2021.
Rogers was slated to receive his Nelson Mandela Freedom Award in July at the annual We Dream in Color Humanitarian Celebration in Chicago, but the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the We Dream in Color Foundation is now partnering with the Liberian government to plan a reception and award ceremony for Rogers in Liberia in November.