Archdeacon: Former Belmont soccer player, once in refugee camps, finds his purpose

Three years past, he saw the future.

Bibebibyo “Bibe” Seko was in the audience at Eichelberger Hall inside Stivers School for the Arts in April of 2019, surrounded by some of his former Belmont High soccer teammates and their coach, Julie Raiff.

Up on the stage was newlyminted Dayton Police Officer Ndayisaba Ramadhan – just Ramadhan to those who had known him since he was a four-sport athlete at Belmont and then an assistant coach for Raiff.

Now part of the 108th Recruit Class of the Dayton Police Department, he had just finished the official part of his graduation ceremony and was the focus of many of the Bison players, especially Bibe, who was a semester into classes at Sinclair Community College, but now admits he didn’t “have a passion” for what he was studying.

“When I saw Ramadhan up there in his uniform, I was like ‘Wow! That’s a really good career. A noble career,’” Bibe recalled a few days ago. “He’s just a great guy and I saw his motivation and I started to think, ‘Maybe I could do that, too.’”

Although Ramahdan is eight years older, the two have a lot in common.

Both had lived a long time in refugee camps in Africa.

Ramadhan’s family fled civil war in Burundi – a small, landlocked country in East Africa where a decade of ethnic violence would kill 300,000 and displace seven times that many – and they ended up in the Mtabila Refugee Camp in Tanzania.

Ramadhan lived there 15 years before his family – thanks to the Catholic Social Services Resettlement Program – came to Dayton.

Bibe’s family fled war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where according to the International Rescue Committee, 5.4 million people from nine nations eventually would be killed. They stopped briefly in Tanzania and then were sent to the United Nations-run Maratane Refugee Camp in Mozambique.

That’s where Bibe was born and lived the first 14 years of his life. Eventually, the Catholic organization got them to the United States, as well, and after a brief stay an Austin, Texas, they relocated to Dayton.

Although he knew three other languages, Bibe hadn’t begun learning English until he got to Texas and, once in Dayton, he was assigned to Belmont High because of its English as a Second Language (ESL) program.

He met Ramadhan, who once played soccer for the Bison, was the football team’s place kicker, was on the track team and, as a wrestler, went 20-1 as a senior.

Bibe wasn’t nearly as immersed in sports and initially didn’t join any teams.

“I wanted to make sure I did well in my classes first,” he said.

Soon, he found a balance and starred both on the soccer field – where the Bison’s team featured players from 18 different nations and four continents – and in the classroom, where he got a 4.0 GPA one semester and a 3.8 in another.

When he graduated in 2018, he was one of eight students honored on stage for his academic efforts. Over his black gown, he wore a white stole signifying his membership in the National Honor Society. Around his neck were draped three academic honor cords.

He said he was the first in his family to graduate high school and just as his parents and seven sisters were proud of him, so was Raiff, who was in tears as she watched,

As she left him that day, she said softly: “Take care Bibe. Make the world a better place.”

And a year later, her message finally took root with Bibe as he watched Ramadhan at the police graduation ceremony.

“I was thinking, ‘This is what I should be doing. It all goes with my values as a person,’” Bibe explained.

“I grew up with people – both in the camp and here in Dayton – who helped me and sacrificed so we all can live like people. You learn from your experiences in life. You learn what your purpose is.

“For me, I like helping people. It’s a way you can give back.”

When Ramadhan told him he didn’t need a college degree to become a policeman, he was further enticed. But because you had to be 21 to graduate from the police academy, Bibe had to bide his time.

Three years ago, Ramadhan’s training supervisor told me that for every four people who applied to the Dayton Police Department, three were cast aside for one reason or another.

But Bibe – with his mix of academics, athletic prowess (he still plays adult soccer) and positive outlook – had the right stuff and last November began the rigorous seven months of training at the Dayton Police Academy.

Nine mornings ago, he became one of the 25 new officers of the 111th Recruit Class sworn into the Dayton Police Department. That night the ceremony was held again at Eichelberger Hall.

And this time Ramadhan, now an officer patrolling Dayton’s West Side, was in the crowd watching him.

“I wanted to come by and witness this,” he said. “I’ve always been a big fan of his. In high school, Bibe did what you told him. He never complained and he motivated all the others.

“He’s just a wonderful kid.

“And I think he’ll be a good policeman – big time!”

‘It’s for real’

A few evenings before his graduation, Bibe sat in his parents’ home off Hillcrest Avenue and talked about his life.

In the next room several of his young nieces and nephews played, squirmed, cried, laughed and played some more. A couple of times one of the children ventured in to ask him something or just look at him.

All the children seemed to look up to him.

He realizes that.

“For me, one of the biggest points why I thought this career would be good is that I could set a good example, not just for the kids in my family, but for any of them growing up in America,” he said. “I think kids need role models.”

His parents, Mbuto and Sela, helped fill that role when he was growing up in the Maratane Camp, which was crammed with over 5,000 people. There were constant food shortages, substandard living conditions and dysfunctional health and education systems.

He once told me how “we lived in a real bad house.” He said it was made of mud and clay and had a “tarp roof that let the rain in.”

He said it was crowded with immediate and extended family members.

Although he dreamed of coming to the United States, he had very few concrete ideas of how life really would be here.

His main images of America came from movies he’d seen in the camp – The Terminator, Big Momma’s House, Home Alone – and the music he’d head from artists like Beyonce, Rihanna and Michael Jackson.

When he first got here, he said he and his family had to make some real adjustments:

“It was a culture shock. A lot of the barrier at first was the language. You feel like you belong here, but you really don’t.

“But then you realize: how many nationalities does America have? People here are from all over the world and the way you can fit in and make it is if you really put in the work. That gives you a purpose and you can work to achieve what you want.

“America is a free land and, if you look for the positives, it can work for you. Then you realize it’s one of – if not the – greatest lands in the world.

“It’s for real.”

While that can be true, you can also face some stiff tests from those who don’t embrace such a noble outlook as Bibe.

Ramadhan and his siblings found some of that out when their family first settled in the Five Oaks neighborhood of Dayton.

He once told me a story how they had bicycles and, when they went to a nearby park, some of the American kids hanging out there asked if they could ride them.

The immigrant kids -- thinking this was a first step in making new friends -- innocently handed them over. But instead, the local toughs refused to give the bikes back and threatened them.

Ramadhan told how a neighborhood cop befriended him and made he and his siblings feel safe.

“The police became my heroes,” he said

Later, after he graduated from Belmont, Ramadhan did what he could to follow his dream of joining the Dayton Police Department.

He had no ins – no role model the way he was for Bibe – so he got a job as a janitor at the police department downtown and then at the police academy on Guthrie Road. Eventually he got accepted into the 108th Recruit Class.

Bibe had the same work ethic and every day that included a 45-minute RTA bus ride to school from his home and later, after soccer practice, a 45-minute ride back again.

When he joined the soccer team, he became an interpreter for Raiff, a former University of Dayton soccer player, who guided her players with a mix of protectiveness, love and high expectations.

Eventually – much of it through the efforts of Raiff, now an intervention specialist and coach at Northridge – the community got to know and appreciate her players, many of whom had similar or even more harrowing backstories than did Ramadhan and Bibe.

The Centerville High soccer team built a bond with the Belmont team. So did some area club teams.

And Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation organizers not only invited a few from the Belmont team – including Bibe and Ramadhan – to its $5,000-a-plate awards gala at the Schuster Center, but it found patrons to foot the bill for a new wardrobe (suits, shirts, ties, shoes) from a high-end men’s shop so they looked as good as (and better) than the people they joined at the function.

At his high school graduation, Bibe told me:

“I feel like Dayton is my home now. It’s a friendly city where immigrants are welcomed. And I see myself staying here so one day I can do good, too.”

‘I am proud of what I’ve done’

When he stepped off the graduation stage a few nights back, Bibe was surrounded by 15 family members.

His mom was dressed to the hilt with a bright orange dhuku (traditional African head scarf) and matching handbag and shoes, a long, brightly-colored dress and Versace earrings and pendant.

His dad, he said, wasn’t there because he couldn’t get off work.

As everyone jockeyed to get next to him for a photo, Bibe quietly admitted: “I am proud of what I’ve done.”

And the Dayton Police Department – which has lost several officers in the past year due to retirement, switching to higher-paying departments in the area or getting out of the profession completely – appreciates him, as well.

Being a police officer in Dayton has come with a roller-coaster embrace the past few years.

In 2019 – when Ramadhan joined the force – the Dayton police were praised by the community for the way they handled everything from the Ku Klux Klan-related hate rally downtown to the Memorial Day tornados and especially for the way they stopped the mass murderer who killed nine and injured another 37 in a shooting rampage in the Oregon District.

A year later the high-profile police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and other people of color around the country brought nationwide protests and loosened some of the local embrace.

The Dayton Police Department has worked to address areas of concern, including adding minority officers to a department that recently was 90 percent white and 88 percent male.

As for Bibe, he wasn’t looking to fill a quota, but instead answer his heart.

This past week he began working nights on Dayton’s West Side. For several months – a probation period – he’ll ride with a training officer and then he’ll be on his own.

“I’m very proud he’s stepping up in a time that’s so tumultuous,” said Raiff. “Many say they will, but few do. But he’s a young man who’s always wanted to make things better for everyone around him.

“I just pray for his safety.

“He’s such a beautiful human being and he has a lot to give.

“When he graduated from high school, I remember telling him, ‘Bibe, go make the world a better place.’

“And now, that’s exactly what he is doing.”

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