Gee Bwinika is a star. His million-dollar smile, outgoing personality, eccentric fashion sense and flashy dance moves warrant that title. However, his most endearing quality resides in a humility and sense of purpose that are beyond his years. While the Congo native has accomplished a lot during his time as a film, television and new media major at San Diego State, his life could have taken a horrible turn at an early age.
Bwinika’s life in the Congo was full of privilege and opportunity. His father was a successful business man and also excelled in the political arena. Bwinika, however, showed little interest in pursuing a traditional career path despite pressure from his parents.
“My parents wanted me to be become a lawyer, doctor or a business man but I loved to dance,” he said. “In our culture, dancing was considered street stuff because there was no future in it.”
When Bwinika was 10, he ran away from home to become a child soldier for Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime during his rise to presidential power in the Congo.
“I thought it was cool because they paid 50 dollars a month, I got a gun and having a gun meant you had power.”
Bwinika’s father eventually found out and used his political influence to remove him from the regime just before he was sent off for training. His parents decided it was best to send him to the U.S. to live with one of his sisters who was residing in San Diego.
When Bwinika arrived, he didn’t speak English and kept to himself.
“I was very shy. I was friendly whenever people approached me, but I missed my family a lot.”
That all changed when Bwinika attended high school. He eventually found an outlet to display his dancing talent with a local team called “Elevate.” The team choreographed and performed dances for homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and other nonprofit organizations across the country.
Bwinika also excelled in sports and, as his English improved, he got involved in student government and became very popular around campus.
“I learned English by watching a lot of movies with subtitles. It really sparked my passion for multimedia and film.”
Bwinika took that passion and enrolled in multimedia and video-editing classes. He quickly caught on to the editing programs and was promoted to the advanced course. While on a campus visit to SDSU during his senior year, Bwinika met a reporter from ABC Channel 10 and helped edit a story he was working on. That encounter eventually led to a job offer from Fox 5 San Diego.
Through hard work, he gained the respect of his colleagues. Emmy Award-winning news anchor Kathleen Bade was among those colleagues. “He’s such a good editor and has a talent like I’ve never seen,” Bade said. “His journey is so fascinating that editing is only one facet in the diamond that he his.”
Bade wasn’t the only one who noticed his talent. Troy Hirsch, host of Fox 5’s weekend night sports show “Game On,” utilized Bwinika’s dancing talent to help fill time on the program.
“I saw Gee editing film of someone freestyle dancing and I thought it was pretty incredible,” Hirsch said. “When I asked if it was him he said, ‘Yeah man, dancing is a sport.’”
Hirsch gave Bwinika a spot on his show and titled the segment “Dancing is a Sport.”
“When you see the segment, he’s not just showcasing his dancing ability, but his editing ability as well,” Hirsch said. “He is such a hard worker and we’re going to miss him when he graduates and moves on to bigger things.”
Bwinika is currently developing a documentary through his McNair Fellowship on children living in the Mugunga Refugee Camp is his native Congo. “These children have lost everything,” Bwinika said. “I wanted to tell this story not only to raise funds to help these children, but to develop programs that will teach them trades so they can support themselves once they grow up.”