By Kate Brennan | email@example.com
As they sit in their living room, surrounded by half-empty water bottles and a brown labrador retriever, Samba Diop, Jack Sladick and Mason Solari couldn’t be any more different from each other.
They’re three roommates with three completely different backgrounds, yet they all have one thing in common: they all know Rostand Essomba, a victim of human trafficking, and they’re all committed to telling his story.
Essomba is from Cameroon, a country in Central Africa. He played soccer his entire life, until his sister died, when due to bouts of depression and sadness, he gave up the sport all together.
However, he picked up basketball, his sister’s favorite sport. Within two years, he became one of the best basketball players in Africa for his age group.
As a result, he got the opportunity to come to the United States to play basketball at a private high school in Georgia on a full scholarship. But what he didn’t know was that his F1 student visa was fake, the private high school and scholarship didn’t exist, and he would spend the next three months living as a victim of human trafficking.
In Jan. 2015, Essomba escaped the human trafficking site and fled to Florida. He came to Flagler in 2017 to play men’s soccer, where he met Diop, Sladick and Solari, who were all affiliated with the men’s soccer team.
After learning Essomba’s story, the three decided the world needed to hear it. Thus, they created their non-profit business, UNTOLD Stories, to make documentary videos about people’s untold challenges and life stories.
“We thought film was the best way to tell somebody’s story. As much as you can write it and read it, you have to see the person’s face and the emotions and all that,” Diop said.
According to the UNTOLD Stories Kickstarter page, their goal “is to share these individuals’ life challenges and how they were able to overcome them.”
Diop, Sladick and Solari had discussed creating a business since their sophomore year.
“Even before [we met] Rostand, we were sitting down and were like ‘hey, we want to start a business.’ And we learned his story and it just had to be heard,” Diop said. “We thought that us three, coming from three drastically different backgrounds, could use something from that to build a business.”
Diop hails from Dakar, Senegal and came to the United States in 2000. He studies business.
Sladick was born and raised in Naples, Florida, is the only child of two entrepreneurial parents and came to college to study sport management. Solari was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida and plays soccer and is involved with his church.
Their first business idea was an apparel company. Then, it became a smoothie vending machine.
“At first it was just business, but then it became ‘let’s look at who we are, our stories, what our beliefs are, and we could actually make something from our beliefs, instead of a smoothie vending machine,’” Solari said.
Despite their lack of video experience, they decided on a video company.
“We’re teaching ourselves everything from camera work to software to editing,” Diop said. “We’ve been learning a lot.”
Overall, Essomba’s UNTOLD Story took just three months to complete, with filming only taking a few weeks. Essomba is now back in Cameroon with his family. During the filming process, he still had not informed his family about what happened to him. He did, however, trust Diop, Sladick and Solari to inform the world.
“We’re his friends. Rostand [Essomba] trusts us, he believes in what we’re doing. He said he’s ready to share his story. I mean, he’s been holding it in for so long,” Solari said. “Holding in something like that is like poison to yourself.”
Like any major project, UNTOLD Stories has had its challenges.
“We’ve had gaps where we stop working for awhile. That’s been a challenge. We’re also still in school, trying to match everybody’s schedule. Websites and design, that takes time. A big challenge is balancing it with our lives and also trying to respect Rostand, too. It’s his life story, we’re not just trying to toss it around,” Diop said.
Financial expenses have been a setback as well.
“It’s not that we’re not creative or don’t have the brain for it, it’s that right now we’re college students and it’s expensive for us so funding is really difficult. We can’t be fully dedicated if we don’t have the funding,” Solari said.
The three created a Kickstarter page, with a $4,786 goal, to fund their future videos.
“We’re in the process of getting funded so we can have the right equipment to continue this, make more stories. The big plan is to launch a website which will host all these videos and these stories and through our videos we raise awareness, support for a charity of our storyteller’s choosing and support for our business so we can keep doing it,” Solari said.
Overall, UNTOLD Stories has been well received.
“I didn’t know [Rostand’s] story completely. I only heard bits and pieces, but after watching that video, it brought tears to my eyes. If that video touches someone older, it might spur them to help donate or adopt and help someone like Rostand who was lucky enough to make it out,” Eoin Hyland, former Flagler College Men’s Soccer player, said.
Friends of Diop, Sladick and Solari find UNTOLD Stories to be a testament to who they are.
“It’s really cool that some of my best friends are raising awareness to issues. I’m not surprised either. Jack, Samba and Mason are great individuals who love giving back,” their roommate Mike Keller said.
Essomba’s story is the first of many UNTOLD Stories they plan to release. The next video features Solari’s grandmother, who grew up in Colombia and was exiled from her town for marrying her now-husband.
Diop, Sladick and Solari plan for UNTOLD Stories to succeed long term.
“If we execute it right, it could really be something. We wanted to go past just the videos and do follow-up videos, check where Rostand is now, do behind the scenes of what we’re doing. A podcast of us or a social media platform where people tell each other their stories and help each other and whatnot,” Diop said.
Through UNTOLD Stories, Diop, Sladick and Solari’s main goal is to encourage people to put their differences aside and come together.
“Regardless of who you are or where you come from, it doesn’t matter, we’re all really good friends and none of that matters,” Solari said. “We built a business off of that testimony.”
Have an untold story? Visit the UNTOLD Stories Kickstarter page at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/untold/untold-stories-1.