Jahmani “Mani Love” Swanson, this is my story:
My story is one that embodies the notion that deep within us all there is an amazing light. A light that shines courage, strength and the will to overcome our fears and reach our life potential. My name is Jahmani Swanson and I am 26 years old. I was born in Bronx, New York. My name Jahmani fittingly means the “son of God”. If I were to take a guess I would have to say that my mother gave me this name because she somehow knew it would best describe the kind of person I would become. Not to sound arrogant or a bit cocky, but what I have learned over the years to truly be a son of god, one has to be able to think on a higher plain and to do things at greater levels than most around you believe you can do. I have also learned you cannot measure a person’s heart and a person’s spirit cannot be denied. This thinking has helped me overcome many of my childhood challenges. I have always been driven to deliver a message. That I or anyone can rise to every occasion as well as to think, act and dream big enough to make it! Being a little person in a great city like New York has definitely proven to be one of my greatest attributes.
Undoubtedly, New York City is the multicultural Mecca of the world filled with many rich experiences and diversity. However, in the Bronx where I am from, there is not alot of sympathy found. New York is one of them places where you got to develop thick skin quickly because it can get real rough. This is why Jay Z said, “if you can make it here (New York), you can make it anywhere”. So its either you play hard or you go home! And this has more or less been the attitude I have adopted since the first time I stepped on the court.
Playing basketball at high levels has been my dream since I was a little kid. If you ask my mother, she would tell you that while the rest of the young boys and girls were laying up with their teddy bears, I had a basketball tucked under my blanket. My mother use to catch me as a toddler wearing my uncle’s Jordan’s around the house dribbling the ball. It was just something about the game that electrified me at an early age. Especially after witnessing some of basketball greats like Michael Jordan who put on some of the most grand performances on the court. His drive, competitiveness and will to win fueled me to want to be “that dude”. So I would go to the parks and play every chance I got. However a lot of times my desire to play the game wasn’t always received well by my competitors. The world was not ready for a little person to play serious ball. Their stereotypes or ignorance regarding a person of my statue got in the way of accepting that I had skills. See the game of basketball is a sport where height is always a major plus. This is why most of the players in the NBA average over 6 feet tall. Unfortunately I don’t fit that mold, I’m not even five foot. Surprisingly I stand only four feet tall! So you can now imagine all the “David and Goliath’ bouts I had to relive over and over again whenever I stepped on the basketball court to face these “basketball giants”. It hasn’t always been easy but I refuse to back away from any challenge.
Adding to my struggles, I didn’t have the friendliest peers in high school. There were many times where I would be referred to both on and off the court as a midget, dwarf, munchkin or a leprechaun. That’s right…even a “leprechaun”! But the ignorance of many would not stop my determination and will to play the game that I love. I played junior varsity (JV) my freshman year an varsity the next three years. The competition and level of talent on varsity was absolutely amazing in New York. I knew from watching these other teenagers that if I wanted to stay relevant on the court, I would have to train and work harder than the rest. And that I did. Thanks to my mother and her relentless efforts to see her “lil son” achieve greatness, I was able to master and finesse the game. My mother played many roles leading up to my current success. Not only was she my biggest fan and supporter come game time, but she was also my personal trainer and life coach when no one was around. She would make sure I was awake by 8am and arrived at practice and try outs on time. More importantly, my mother was the one who kept me calm and level headed when I found myself breaking down. As a little person herself, and having already been through the fiery furnace of ignorance and the difficulties of being disadvantaged, she knew how to keep me mentally and emotionally grounded. She set the tone on how to be confident about my size and to rely solely on my God given talents and abilities. So I have to give my mother all the praise for raising me up not think “little”.
My father was also a shining light of inspiration during those dark moments where I found myself wanting to give up. Although he was not around all the time due to his personal battles with drug addiction and prison terms, He nonetheless never stopped loving or believing in me. I remember the very day he was set free from prison, he swung by my school and picked me up to let me know just how much he missed me and loved me. My father has made a complete 360 degree turn around with his life. He stopped using drugs. He has pursued an education and is still doing so. He landed a job as drug counselor helping addicts to overcome their addictions. What my father has shown me through his life’s challenges is that we don’t have to accept things as the way they are. We can change our circumstances and my fathers strength to change inspired me to do more! I went from a little shy kid too embarrassed to ask for help whenever I could not reach the barbecue sauce on the top shelf of the grocery aisle; the kid who was too ashamed to hang out with other little people because I didn’t want to be labeled as one of them to a fearless man who willing to step on the court with six footers. But I’m humble to play along the side of my fellow little people. I’m glad I have reconnected with little people because I now realize they are doctors, teachers, etc… This new knowledge inspires me that little people can live productive normal lives.
As of today, I am playing basketball for the New York Towers http://www.nytowersbasketball.com and in the VBL in summer time www.veniceball.com. My skill level has helped our team to win the national titles consecutively for 3 years. I can proudly say today that my courage to live out my dreams is helping the world change the views it has concerning little people. I also help raise awareness for little people by partaking in an “Above the Rim Tour”. The Above Rim Tour consists of LP’s (little people) teams and regular size teams playing against each other at local schools throughout the nation. Through media exposure and other public events, I have been able to show the world, both big and small, that handicaps, disabilities, hardships and other trying obstacles were not put in our way to hold us back rather help us maximize our inner strengths and potential. To add to my exciting world today I just recently found out I will be competing in the world games for LP (Little People) basketball helping us give even more awareness of little people.
Despite all my success on the basketball floor I still have haters; “ He Can’t play defense”, “he only plays scrubs” etc…. Well as always I’m here to send a clear message!
My message has remained the same since I was a kid, to little people and average size people you can either let your light shine on people or you can let people put out your light.
Me, my light shines bright on the court. Don’t take my word, seeing is believing so check out the video below.
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