Courage Okungbowa and his family were driving to North Carolina on their way back to Florida from a tennis match in Virginia Beach when it happened. A car going 75 mph illegally shifted lanes, cutting off the family’s van and sending it into a whirlwind. The driver was drunk.
It was 6 a.m. when the 2010 silver Honda Odyssey flew off of a bridge. The van spun into the air, and family members found themselves in the Atlantic Ocean, drowning.
Courage knew he had to save his family. It was time for him to live up to his name, and he did.
“Luckily we were in a minivan,” said Courage, now a first-year tennis player at Florida A&M. “I was able to get out, get my youngest sibling first and swim over to the shore. I was going back and forth until I got all my siblings out.”
The last person remaining in the water was Courage’s father, Stanley Okungbowa. When the ambulance arrived to the scene, Courage was told not to worry about his father because they assumed he was going down with the van.
They assumed Stanley had gone down with the car. But Courage did not. He kept telling everyone he would not leave until his father came out alive.
As the car sank, Stanley saw a palm tree next to the bank. He climbed it as the van sank faster, and he shouting, trying to get attention while almost drowning as the same time.
“Courage said, ‘I told you that’s my father,’ ” Stanley recalled. “So everybody came for my rescue. The ambulance was there. The fire trucks were there. They rescued me from the palm tree.”
Courage felt nervous, but during the accident he thought about why his father named him “Courage.”
“I was just thinking I got to get everyone to safety,” he said. “That was my main concern.”
The accident reinforced to Courage the value of life. But the quiet, humble tennis player knew his purpose on earth at a young age. After the accident, he had to become the leader of his house.
Taking care of his family
Minutes after the accident, Stanley thought he was fine.
“I told them I was fine; there’s nothing wrong with me,” Stanley said. “Meanwhile, I was dying. I didn’t know. I hit my head … blood was crushing in my brain, but you could not see it from the outside.”
Stanley promised his wife, Mabel, he would bring the kids back to Florida safely. He kept his promise and got a rental car so he could let his wife see the kids.
“When we got here, I seen my lady,” Stanley said. “I said, ‘Mommy, the kids are here.’ “
Then he collapsed. Everything went black, and everyone looked at him. But his kids were together in one piece, just like he promised.
Unaware of his injuries, Stanley was rushed to the hospital. There was hemorrhaging in his brain. Blood was flowing everywhere, causing him to go into a coma.
When Stanley was recovering, Courage grew up and became the man of the house. He took charge of everything his father did, but the 16-year-old had slight apprehension.
Courage said his dreams would never die. He cried to his father in the hospital. He needed him to help him achieve his dreams. But as his father recovered, Courage had to fill his role.
“I took the time out of my day to help my little brother out with my homework,” Courage said. “I started taking a driver’s ed. class really quickly … I started doing most of the driving until my dad was able to get back into things.”
He took his siblings to school and to tennis practice. He had cook and clean. He learned about finances and banking to help pay the bills. His mother guided him and showed him how to get his siblings registered for school.
“A lot of the information about the paperwork that my dad usually did … I helped out with that with my mom’s help,” Courage said. “My mom and I both worked on getting the hospital records and paperwork situated.”
When his dad finally recovered, he was not the same.
“When I came back home, I had to learn how to read and to know my name,” Stanley said. “Everything was washed out of my head.”
Courage had to teach Stanley most things over again. But his journey to manhood was not the only journey among his family. Stanley and Mabel’s journey heavily impacted Courage and helped him become the man he is today.
Courage’s name from the journey
Courage’s parents went through a journey, which gave Courage his name.
In 1974, Stanley was in America on a school visa at Arkansas State University. He was in America for 20 years but went back to Nigeria to find a wife. His plan was to find a wife and hurry back to America.
When Stanley and Mabel were on their way to America, the paperwork was not complete, and he had to go to Sierra Leone to finish it. But that is where a civil war began. Stanley and Mabel had no choice but to travel by road.
They fought to stay positive during the journey, and Stanley remained courageous. He married Mabel in the U.S. Embassy of Nigeria. A man from the embassy told him if he went to America, he could never come back. Stanley questioned him.
“He just shut me off,” Stanley said. “I told him, ‘I’m going to have the courage to go back to the United States.’ I said, ‘When I get here, I will call you,’ “
When Stanley was in Sierra Leone, courage was there for him. So when Stanley made it back to America, he called the man from the embassy.
“The name Courage started coming in my life,” Stanley said. “So when my first son came, I just named him Courage.”
But other issues started to occur. When Stanley and Mabel made it to the immigration office in Ellis Island, N.Y., the officers looked at Mabel’s visa.
“They were a little bit skeptical about it,” Courage said. “They didn’t seem too genuine. They didn’t feel like it was a real visa.”
For eight hours, Courage’s mother was interrogated before she was finally let go. Then they went to Virginia, and that is where Courage was born.
“That’s why they named me Courage,” he said. “It was because of that journey.”
The baptism of Courage
In the summer of 2008, Stanley took Courage to Benin City, Nigeria, so he could learn where his roots are. When Courage came back from Nigeria, he was baptized. But not physically baptized, more or less spiritually cleansed. For the first time in his short life, he understood parts of his father better than before.
“He found out my background,” Stanley said. “After that, he became a perfect son. He’s been a good son ever since then.”
Going to Nigeria showed Courage why his father always saved money. He also noticed people rarely went out to eat.
“Most of the time they are at home cooking meals and being together as families, rather than going out, eating at restaurants,” Courage said. “It’s more of a family thing to be cooking and eating at home with people.”
The little things that made Courage mad about his father were answered when he met the people in Nigeria.
“When I talked to him, I would be so loud,” Stanley recalled. “He didn’t know why. You know when you talk to people from other countries they think you are so loud, like you’re getting on their nerves. But in my country, he found out if you don’t talk loud, nobody will hear you.”
Stanley took Courage to a farm day and night. There was no electricity because only the rich could afford a generator. In America, Stanley said, many people take the little things for granted. But he did not want his son growing up in that way. He wanted him to know there are people who struggle.
“He was enjoying it because it was temporary,” Stanley said. “If he grew up there, he wouldn’t have enjoyed it.
Stanley had taken Courage to Nigeria because he wanted him to understand how the family managed to survive. But he knew one thing could help Courage live a better lifestyle – higher education.
Academics are everything
Stanley understood the value of education and wanted to instill the same values in Courage. Stanley was denied many opportunities in America and did not want his children to be denied, too.
“I went through discrimination, but I wouldn’t let it bring me down,” Stanley said. “It made me stronger.”
After Stanley got married, Mabel went back to school to become a nurse anesthetist. He decided he would take care of his kids.
“I took [Courage] to school,” Stanley said. “The first school we went to, they said he had to go to a special class. I said ‘Why?’ They said he couldn’t spell his name; therefore, he’s dumb. I said, ‘No way.’ “
Stanley ignored the teacher’s thoughts and told the principal he wanted Courage in an honors class. The principal rejected his request, but Stanley knew what his son was capable of achieving.
“After the teacher gave everyone the test, he got an A.” Stanley said. “They called me and said, ‘I’m sorry, your son belongs to that A class.’ Those are the things I experienced when I was in Arkansas, too. So it wasn’t new to me. But I knew I was ready for it.'”
Courage continued his academic excellence through high school, which earned him both an academic and athletic scholarship at FAMU.
Picking up the tennis racket
Academics were only part of Stanley’s plan for his children. He wanted them to be active to avoid trouble.
Excelling at tennis and in class became Courage’s focus.
Stanley taught Courage how to play tennis. However, juggling school, work and sports became a handful.
“I gave up tennis,” Stanley said. “But I made sure if my children liked it, I’ll be there for them.”
Courage started playing tennis when he was 10. His parents saw it as a way for him and his siblings to avoid the pitfalls of their neighborhood.
Every day his family went to the park to swim and play tennis.
“We loved to play more,” Courage recalled. “We found it to be more fun. My brother and I really liked it. We begged our dad to go every day, even when it was cold.”
Eventually, Courage and his family were able to get a private coach and play in tournaments. He and his brother began to move up in the rankings. Later, they decided to move on to Florida. Stanley likes to call the state the mecca of tennis and believes Florida is the best state to play tennis.
Every weekend Courage competed, leading him to play in a tournament near FAMU.
“FAMU’s men’s head tennis coach, (Carl) Goodman, saw me,” Courage said. “He was able to watch me play at that tournament.”
Becoming a Rattler
Goodman knew Courage was a four-star recruit. He attended the same high school as one of his former players. Goodman watched Courage play at the match and told Stanley he liked his son’s play.
“He approached me,” Stanley said. ” ‘Your son, Courage, I would like him to be at my school if he can maintain his grades.’ I said, OK.’ “
Courage talked with Goodman and unofficially toured the school. He came back a few weeks later for an official visit during homecoming. That Rattler experience made Courage feel great about FAMU.
“Courage was won over,” Stanley said. “He didn’t want to go to any other school.”
Not only did Courage fall in love with the Rattler culture, but so did Stanley. He knew from the start FAMU would treat him and his son like family.
Goodman described Courage as a reserved and quiet young man. He heard about Courage’s car accident and understood why he was so mature.
“With the situation that happened to his dad, he had to become a grown man at an early age by taking care of his siblings,” Goodman said. “He’s very mature compared to most of the people coming in.”
Goodman said he is impressed that Courage knows what he wants out of life so early. Stanley always knew Courage would attend college, so he raised him to focus on that and tennis.
Stanley said Courage and his siblings did not have time to associate with other people. On the weekends, Stanley took his kids out for a walk instead of having them watch TV.
Admire Mushonga, a fourth-year tennis player from Mutia, Zimbabwe, had a connection with Courage as soon as they met. When Courage came to FAMU during his recruiting visit, Mushonga felt as if part of him was home.
“We just relate, maybe because the way we are,” Mushonga said. “We relate, in terms of how we speak to each other. How we get to know each other is different from how we get to know one another here.”
Living through his name
Courage is not the only person in his family with the powerful name. All of his siblings’ names have meanings and purposes. Courage’s younger brother’s name is Foresight. His parents “foresaw” the kind of future they wanted for the family.
“Whatever you do, you must have a foresight,” Stanley said. “You have to have an idea of what you are looking at. You have to have a foresight of what you’re looking at before you start.”
Courage’s parents knew the children they had would be precious. Stanley never had a sister, so when he found out he would have a girl, he named her Precious.
Courage said his parents knew it was their destiny to come to America. When Stanley says the name “Destiny,” people think it’s a girl. But in Nigeria, it’s a universal name.
“When my wife was carrying him, the doctor said it’s going to be a girl,” Stanley said. “So we started buying girl clothes. When he came, he was a boy. I called him ‘Destiny’ because destiny never changes.”
Courage knows how his siblings look up to him. He also knows his parents put lots of time and energy into his career.
“Tennis isn’t cheap,” Courage said. “The time and effort that they spent on me and my siblings – all four of us play – that really is a motivational factor for me.”
Stanley said Courage is a shining light for his younger siblings. It makes his heart bleed every time he thinks about it.
Courage, a computer information science student, has three years left to prove why he has worked so hard to get to the college tennis level. He always plays with the dreams of his father and family behind him, and he relishes it.
“I want to be able to take it to the pro level and to be able to make it up there,” Courage said. “Play college tennis. Play professional tennis. Hopefully down the road, I’ll be able to pay my parents back.”