This was not an ordinary summer camp. It was, Pali-Pali Sikisi says, a life-changer.
Sikisi says he went to Bring It On, sponsored by the Charlotte Coalition of Social Justice, as an ordinary kid.
I didnt even want to go, he says of the summer before his freshman year in high school, but his family encouraged him to go.
But it impacted my life in a way that is still strong today.
At noon Monday, Sikisi will be part of the first graduating class at Rocky River High School in ceremonies at Bojangles Coliseum. Thanks to that 2009 camp, and another like it a year afterward, he will graduate as a campus leader.
That man has the potential to do and to be whatever he wants, says Robert Wingate, Sikisis senior English teacher. It could be business, politics ... whatever. He can get there.
It was a medical problem that brought Sikisis family to the United States when he was 2 years old. The family was able to emigrate from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo so Sikisi could be treated for a malady that has since been cured.
The family struggled at times to adjust in the United States to learn the language, find work and cope with the cultural differences.
They came to Charlotte from New York City but moved several times. Through it all, Pali-Pali just Pali (pronounced Powly) to his friends adjusted to making new friends and adopting U.S. culture as his own. He enjoyed sports and music and he did well in school. But he was ordinary, he says.
Then came Bring It On, a camp in Banner Elk designed to nurture leadership qualities in youths.
Sikisi, now 17, says he learned a lot about the problems of racism, bullying, homophobia and gangs.
It was an eye-opener, he says. It gave me a passion to be involved.
He attended a similar camp after his sophomore year, and he was hooked. Leadership and caring for others that was his new mission in life.
Im a passionate guy, but I never cried in front of people, Sikisi says. But at that camp, I cried in front of people. I learned a lot.
Sikisi attended East Mecklenburg High his sophomore year but was part of the Rocky River High district when that school opened in August 2010. For much of the first year, Sikisi says, Rocky River was a mix of students old schools a little of Independence, a little of Butler, a little of Garinger.
But then things changed, he says. Especially at the start of my senior year, I decided things would be different.
Several students, including Sikisi, became leaders Rocky River leaders. He started a student activist group, United for the Dream, to promote social justice. He became president of the NAACP Club. A knee injury his junior year ended his football career, but Sikisi says he managed to cope.
I found a new passion, he says.
Sikisi isnt sure whats next. He is moving to Los Angeles to live with a brother and pursue a possible music career. If that doesnt work, there are other options college or perhaps the Navy.
I havent thought that far yet, says Sikisi, who plays piano and guitar and is a vocalist. Lets see what happens with the music first.
But he has a long-term goal. For his senior exit essay topic, he studied and researched the civil war that has killed a reported 8 million people in the Congo. Sikisi is fully immersed in his U.S. life, but a part of him is African, he says.
This might sound crazy, but one day Id like to be president of the Congo and bring peace to that country, he says.
His counselor at Rocky River, Rachel Brand, says Sikisi has a huge, open heart. He bleeds passion for life, for friends, to do good.
Pali-Pali is very focused, very goal-driven, says Wingate, his English teacher. He always goes above and beyond.
Sikisi sees graduation as opening the door to countless possibilities.
Just think of all the things I can do, he says. I cant wait.