E-News Sign Up RSS Feeds Print Share

Front Office Focus: Junior Moyo

by Max Rappaport

Junior Moyo is the first subject in a series of stories highlighting the often unsung individuals of the Sixers organization. Moyo, a Client Experience Account Manager in his first season with the team, recently became a United States citizen nearly two decades after emigrating from Zimbabwe. Here is his story:

•••

On a cold weekday morning in early February, Junior Moyo sat in the sterile waiting room of a government office in Norfolk, Virginia. On the surface, the scene was underwhelming, but for Moyo it was the culmination of 18 years of hard work and determination – it was the day he would finally complete the final requirements of becoming a citizen.

Moyo, who joined the Sixers as a Client Experience Account Manager in August of 2013, moved to the United States from Zimbabwe in 1995 with his mother, Isabel. At first, the adjustment was difficult, and money was short, with Isabel working part time while attending community college and five-year-old Junior trying to learn English while attending grade school in the Maryland suburb that had become his family’s new home.

“It was a difficult journey starting from scratch in a foreign country with limited finances and resources; adjusting to new culture, learning to communicate in a new language(in my case) and trying to take advantage of any opportunity we could get to improve our lives,” said Junior. “There were times that were harder than others – times when we had to move from place to place, looking for affordable places to stay while my mom was trying to complete her college education. But my mom was incredibly persistent through it all and she managed to earn two advanced degrees in the process.”

Like many who come to America, Isabel did so to seek a better life for her young son. It’s something that Junior, who turned 22 years old this year, can now fully appreciate. 

“There’s a quote that I think sums my mom and everything she’s done – ‘There’s no greater love than to lay down your life for one’s friends.”

“My mom made so many sacrifices so that I would have opportunities that she didn’t have.”

•••

For most, citizenship is something that is taken for granted. But for those working to attain it, a host of obstacles serve as constant reminders. Living from visa to visa with associated restrictions & limitations, Isabel knew that at any moment a change in employment or even a change in government policy could leave her and Junior without appropriate immigration status and therefore unable to remain in the country. 

“Traveling outside the US (even for pressing family obligations) presented the most challenges over the years, because there was always fear of not being allowed to return to the US. Without citizenship or permanent residency, we had to keep our documentation current and that often required re-applying for a visa before we returned to the US. A visa did not guarantee reentry and so we could have been easily denied,” Junior said 

“My mom hid a lot of the details from me when I was younger – all the stress, all the worry. She protected me from a lot of concerns.”

In 2008, a then 17-year-old Junior traveled with his mother to Zimbabwe for the first time since arriving in the US. Despite having spent three-quarters of his life in the D.C. area, despite speaking English without the slightest hint of a foreign accent, and despite being, for all intents and purposes, as American as any of his high school classmates, the day he boarded that plane could have been his last on U.S. soil.  

“I had an idea that the situation was tenuous, but I don’t think I really understood the gravity of it all,” he said.

•••

Fast forward to spring 2009 and Junior was again faced with a troublesome situation – he was set to graduate high school and leave for college the following fall, but he was ineligible for many scholarships and grants without permanent residency. 

Luckily, it all came together thanks again to the tireless work of his mother.

“If I hadn’t gotten a green card by the time I left for college, I would have been in a completely different classification,” said Junior. “I wouldn’t have gotten any of the scholarships that I got, and we wouldn’t have been able to afford college tuition & related expenses.

He enrolled at Liberty University (VA) in the fall 2009, majoring in Sports Management and graduating in three and a half semesters. After graduation, Moyo got his start with the Lynchburg Hillcats, a minor league baseball team that plays just down the road from Liberty. 

“It was a lot of fun… grunt work, but fun,” he said of that first job.

The following winter, the Atlanta Hawks hired Junior to work Inside Sales. Seven months later, he was brought on by the Sixers to serve as one of two Client Experience Account Managers.

“If I hadn’t gotten my permanent residency, I wouldn’t be with the Sixers right now,” he said. “My education would have been a lot different, and my whole post-high school path would have changed.”

But even with permanent residency, there are limitations. The threat of change to immigration policy is ever-present, and permanent residents are not allowed to vote, hold office, hold certain government jobs, or in some cases travel freely outside the United States. 

Simply put, without citizenship, there is always uncertainty. 

•••

On February 7, 2014, Junior Moyo took, and passed, his citizenship test, becoming a U.S. citizen one day after his mother, Isabel, did so.

“My mom is in the software development field. Most of the opportunities in her field are within the government or contracting sector, and a lot more opportunities require US citizenship. So for her the path to citizenship would open a lot of doors.” Junior said. “Things are also just more secure knowing that you’re a citizen and you can live more freely and contribute and participate in the democratic process without worrying about policy changes that could force you to leave the country you have known as home for most of your life.”

February 7 fell on a Friday, a day on which the Sixers were scheduled to host the Los Angeles Lakers. Knowing this, Moyo approached his manager, Jill Snodgrass, in late January to request the day off. She happily consented and wished him luck.

When Junior returned to work on February 10, he was greeted with red, white, and blue balloons, streamers, confetti… even a citizenship-themed cake. It was an emotional experience for Moyo, who had been with the Sixers for just under half a year, but it soon became even more overwhelming.

Later that day, he was approached by Chief Revenue Officer Chris Heck, who asked Moyo to step into his office.

Junior nervously followed Heck, who ushered him into a room where Chief Marketing Officer Tim McDermott and Executive Vice President of Business Operations Lara Price were already seated.

“My first reaction is a bit of panic,” said Moyo of being confronted by some of the organization’s top executives. “But then Chris said, ‘Junior, we want you to ring the bell Monday against Milwaukee.”

The bell has become a major part of Sixers pregame tradition this season. Every game, the team selects one honorary bell-ringer to strike the large bronze bell six times to signal the beginning of the contest. 

Moyo graciously accepted.

•••

With four minutes to go until tip-off against the Bucks, Junior stood beside the court at a darkened Wells Fargo Center. Suddenly, he was flooded by two spotlights shining down upon him from the rafters. He raised the mallet that had been given to him moments earlier and struck the bronze bell before him six times as the crowd cheered him on.

It was a powerful moment for Junior and one that humbled him greatly.

“It really was an honor to the ring bell, and I felt completely undeserving if such a privilege and opportunity,” he said. “Most of the people who’ve rung the bell are heroes or leaders in their professions. I’m just a 22-year-old regular guy from Zimbabwe who’s been extremely blessed to even be in this country and have so many doors open for me.”