WARNING: This story discusses suicide.
Taban Uko had to bury the better man — his son.
For 20 years he watched Samwel Uko grow up and show the world as much love as he shared with his own family.
“Everyone in the community loved him. He was a good person. People always came to the house just to talk to him, not me, because he had that presence that will fill a room,” his father said through an Arabic interpreter.
“We need people to know that they took something from me that I cannot replace.”
In May 2020, Samwel drowned himself after being removed from a Regina hospital as he was seeking mental help for hearing voices.
It was the second time he sought help that day.
Instead, the city where he once chased his football dreams became the place where they died.
“They robbed me of a son who did everything right,” his mother, Joice Guya Issa Bankando, said through a an interpreter. “He went to the hospital, but because they did not see him like them, they kicked him out.”
At five years old, Samwel Uko and his family became refugees of war in Sudan. They came to Abbotsford, which became their new home, and football later became Samwel’s love.
By Grade 8 he was already a provincial AA champion playing for the Abbotsford Falcons.
In 2018, after graduating high school, he played with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for a year. When he died, he was in his second season with the Langley Rams.
Trophies and memorabilia kept by his family celebrate his life and his achievements as a running back.
A graduation cap is displayed to remember his smarts. Most valuable player rings are to remember his work ethic. Team medals are to remember his ease at making new friends.
“He’s a son every dad wished they had,” Taban Uko said.
When he wasn’t joking around with friends or his sister, Samwel Uko was taking care of his nieces, His love for his mother was also unparalleled.
“He grew up to be a better man than who I am,” his father said.
Samwel’s parents are in Regina this week for a public inquest into the death of their son.
The fact-finding investigation aims to prevent similar deaths in the future. On Friday, a jury of six people is expected to make recommendations to the Saskatchewan Health Authority on ways it can improve care.
For Samwel’s parents, the issue comes down to addressing systemic racism within health-care systems and why their son, a Black man, wasn’t helped.
A spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Health Authority said they are reserving comments until after the inquest.
Samwel’s mother said that they tried to assimilate to the community after arriving in Canada.
“We tried to be part of Canada. And usually when it comes to racism people don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “It’s there. It’s an elephant in the room. We as immigrants face it every day — at work, in the street, our kids in the school, the hospital.”
His mother said she hasn’t slept since the inquest started and is struggling to come to terms with what she’s hearing.
“I’m wondering, ‘Do these people have kids? Do they have family?’ If something like this happened, how do they go to sleep at night?”
—Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press