The other night, I read something in the Bible (why are you laughing?). John Chapter 1. It was the story of how Jesus built his team. The part that struck me was about Nathaniel. He was not directly recruited by Jesus. It was Philip who came to him with stories of Jesus and encouraged him to join them in following the Rabbi from Nazareth. Nathaniel’s answer was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
For some odd reason, this made me think of my Dad.
Of all the men I know and admire, my father has always been a particular source of inspiration. He grew up in the small village of Gomoa Odina. Until his teenage years, when he left home to attend Apam Secondary School, my father knew nothing beyond the borders of his small village. He had never met any professors in his life. In fact, there was nobody in the village with a university degree. There were no role models to fuel his ambitions of higher learning and a career in academia.
For most young Gomoa Odina-ites in the fifties and sixties, career options were pretty limited. They would either become farmers or farmers’ wives. Some might become pupil teachers, and there would certainly be a trader or two, but that was it. It is still not clear to me when or why my father decided he was going to be different, but once the decision was made, everything he did was different.
His attitude changed, his priorities changed, his work ethic changed. His sights were set on something far beyond his humble surroundings, and once he was committed to that vision, his surroundings immediately became too small for him. His circumstances could no longer contain him, and so just as you’d expect in physics when the contents outgrow the container, he burst free and occupied new territory and continued to grow, until he became the man I know and admire today.
My friends, many of us come from humble origins. We were not surrounded by examples of the people we dream of becoming. This makes it very tough for us to achieve our full potential. It limits our reach and forces us sometimes to dream small.
Who owns the company you work for? I’m sure you see no comparison between them and yourself. I’m sure you imagine all sorts of perfect conditions in their childhood which led to their current success. Well, you may be surprised.
My father had no rich parents. He was the fourteenth child of an impoverished (but rather horny) farmer and his wife. He had no privileges or advantages growing up. He had to create every opportunity he got, and he made use of the same tools available to his compatriots.
To pay his secondary school fees, he would sell sugarcane. This was an option available to all his friends who dropped out of school, but my father’s sights were set on something bigger, and so he was prepared to do something extra to achieve it.
He faced obstacles that would have stopped his colleagues in their tracks. At age 19, he made my 16-year-old mother pregnant. For any other man in Gomoa Odina, that would have been the point when they’d give up on lofty dreams of attending University, settle into married life and have eight or nine more kids but not my Dad. Nothing could get between him and his goals. He simply took my mother and my older sister along with him on his quest for success.
Today, the sugar-cane-selling fourteenth child of a farmer from Gomoa Odina is one of the world’s leading experts in Marine Biology. Just last week, he had the ultimate honor of Professor Emeritus conferred on him by the University of Cape Coast. This is basically the absolute highest academic achievement available to man. There is nothing above it. Even in his retirement, he continues to achieve, and his knowledge is sought around the world. Today, the name of Professor Kobina Yankson is celebrated in parts of the world whose existence he could only have imagined as a boy, and he achieved this from beginnings that were far more humble than yours or mine.
So really, what’s our excuse? I don’t know where you come from, but, if it’s anything like Nazareth or Gomoa Odina, then something good can definitely come out of there. Why shouldn’t it be you?
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I refuse to share the limits of my compatriots, because my dreams are bigger than my circumstances.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!