Yohannes Harish ‘18 started playing soccer around the same time he learned to walk. He developed a passion for the game on the streets of his neighborhood in Eritrea, East Africa. He played daily until he turned ten and was old enough to work on his family’s farm.
Owned by Yohannes’ father, the farm was a lifeline in a country ravaged by a thirty-year war, and the harsh dictatorship that followed. Yohannes believes that Eritreans will one day realize the true freedom they fought for, with presidential elections and an enacted constitution.
“For me, the number 91 is very significant. It honors the sacrifice my family made to earn independence for Eritrea in 1991,” said Yohannes. “A lot of people gave their lives for freedom. If not for them, I would not be here today. Remembering them pushes me to always do better. To never settle, and strive for greatness.”
Now a professional soccer player for the Oakland Roots, Yohannes wears the number 91 jersey to remember and honor his Eritrean roots. “You need to understand where you come from to move forward,” explained Yohannes.
Yohannes’ move forward began when his mother fled Eritrea to seek refuge in the US, settling in Oakland. Four years later, at age 14, Yohannes began his solo journey to join her. But he got stuck in Nairobi, Kenya for 18 months, due to paperwork processing delays. Unable to attend school during that time, he spent his days with a familiar childhood pastime: soccer.
Eventually, he reunited with his mother in Oakland. But the comfort he felt at home was a stark contrast to the unfamiliar world he found outside. Not knowing English or understanding the US lifestyle made Yohannes feel alone and out of place. It was soccer that ended up bridging the vast cultural divide.
After graduating in 2018, Yohannes played for the San Francisco Glens and later the Oakland Roots. “Playing at the pro level in front of family and friends is exciting for me. I’m happy to be where I am and I’m working to get even further,” said Yohannes.
A few years ago, Yohannes and a friend were inspired to start Golden Boots Academy, which offers private coaching services on a sliding payment scale. They also started soccer clinics in Ethiopia, where they provided cleats and other soccer equipment. In the future, Yohannes hopes to open a soccer academy in Eritrea.
Speaking about his drive and desire to give back, Yohannes said, “I want to help others like me and show them that if they put the work in, they can do it too.” He added,”Understanding my roots has helped me see the big picture and find my purpose in life.