The Sun: Raptors’ Ujiri urges La Loche kids to dream big

TORONTO – Dream big.

That was the message Raptors president Masai Ujiri and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave Friday to students from a northern Saskatchewan community that was rocked by violence last year.

Ujiri and his staff welcomed 10 students from La Loche to the team’s Toronto practice facility. He said he specifically selected them because they had never been outside their area.

“These 10 kids, I guarantee one thing … A couple of them are going to make it and they are going to help somebody else make it too,” Ujiri said, his voice cracking.

This all started last year, following the Jan. 22 shootings that left four people in La Loche dead, when CTV’s Marci Ien reached out to Ujiri to see if he wanted to help the community.

Greg Hatch, acting principal at La Loche Community School, one of the shooting sites, was getting a lot of phone calls — and not all of them were positive. The 64-year-old native of Dryden, Ont.’s message to Ien and Ujiri was simple: “If you are going to help, then come and see what our school looks like, see what our community is like. And then, if you want to help, then we can start from there,”

They took him up on the offer, visiting for a day, taking a tiny plane that wasn’t too high off of the ground for the ride from nearby Fort McMurray, and getting a sense of what life in La Loche was like. That set the stage for this week’s visit, which included a taping of The Social and a visit to Ryerson.

“I’m thankful for that incredible community in La Loche,” Ujiri said. “They are healing and I know they will heal.

“There is so much depression, so much suicide, abuse, addiction, all those things are very important issues that we need to help. I’m not a politician and I’m not claiming to be an expert on this, but I know I can be a voice — I want to be a voice in some sort of way,” he said.

Hatch said this trip will make a lasting impact.

“It widens the world view, to start with,” he said. “It will make a difference. I don’t know (what that will be), we have two young students that are talking to the media that I would never thought would talk to media. They are smiling, they are out here. They are having a great time.

“Then we had a closed meeting with the prime minister and we shared what we felt needed to be done and he was very sincere, he was very interested.”

The students were also going to take in a couple of Raptors games while in town, Friday against the Brooklyn Nets and Sunday against the New York Knicks.

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