Community Spotlight: Against All Odds (part 1)

Samuel Boakye was on a downward trajectory in his middle and early high school years.  Today, he attends the University of Toronto and runs a non-profit program that exposes marginalized youth to experiences in the field of construction.

Samuel moved into local community housing at age 10, his mother struggling to raise three children after her husband had left her some years ago.

“At my old school, I was a popular, energetic and playful kid.” says Samuel, “When I moved, it was like I dropped rank and had to ascend again.  There were many terms like ‘teacher’s pet’ that would deter you from taking a positive role and become a target of bullying.”

Samuel reflected on his feelings of isolation and being bullied when he first arrived.  His priority in school was his social status and he reached the top of that food chain as a tough kid with little interest in his studies.

The transition to high school meant starting from the bottom once more.  Samuel had few thoughts of the future and his focus was on fun and the respect of his peers.  It was a time of frequent fights, trips to the principal’s office and school suspensions.

Samuel speaks of his mother’s feelings about him during those years, “I think she had accepted I would never be the smart kid at school.  At best, she hoped I would make it through school and find any job I could.”  By grade 10, Samuel’s mother came to believe that her son’s only chance of redemption might lie elsewhere; she made the hard decision to send her son to live with his father in Ghana.

At the time, Samuel was extremely resentful of her plan to send him to his father.  He plotted mischief he would unleash upon his arrival but when he faced his father once more in the flesh, all his plans melted away.  “The moment I saw him again it was back to the drill sergeant and cadet.” says Samuel with a grin.

Samuel’s father was a successful businessman back in Ghana, managing and owning over a dozen pharmacies.  His father demanded discipline of his son but had no time to administer it so he sent Samuel to a boarding school where he would live on campus and under strict rules and supervision. At this new school, Samuel observed something that was incredibly surprising: some of the coolest and toughest kids also were the most academically involved.  This was in stark contrast to the youth culture he was used to, which he described as idolizing mediocrity and apathy towards studies.

Despite this realization, Samuel continued feeling resentment and disinterest in his studies.  Half a year passed and Samuel’s grades continued to be poor, so his exasperated father took him out of school and sent him to live with his two uncles.  It was during this time with his uncles that two defining moments happened in Samuel’s life, setting him on a path of reflection and ultimately redemption…

to be continued next month

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