George Boateng (Photo by Peter Julian)
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Majors: History and sociology; minor in African and African Diaspora Studies
Notable Activities/Achievements: Recipient of the 2018 Dr. Donald Brown Award; finalist for 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship; co-president, Black Student Forum; treasurer, United Front; director, Ella Baker Mentorship Program; Academic Advising Center student fellow; Jamaican Magis; McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program; Community Research Program; volunteer with Let's Get Ready, an SAT preparation program for area high school students.
Post-Graduation Plans: Teach at Bethlehem University, West Bank; pursue masterÕs degree in history; attend law school.
A native of Ghana who moved to the U.S. when he was 11, George Boateng came to Boston College with a passion for history. But for him, history is not merely some intellectual exercise fulfilled through perusing academic tomes; it should have, he believes, a personal dimension and an immediacy that fosters engagement. This desire to find and broaden connections has led Boateng to embrace opportunities for leadership, service and fellowship—and for deepening his appreciation of history—throughout his four years at BC.
How has your family life influenced your path?
My father and mother migrated to the United States in 1990s and have sacrificed a lot for their nuclear and extended family. They are big advocates for cultural and Western education, and they have already sent two children—my sister, who's a certified nurse, and my older brother, a chemist in a pharmaceutical company—as well as my cousin, whom we adopted; my younger brother is still in college, studying computer science. In my household, it was always an expectation that you would improve yourself through education, make the best of your abilities. I am so grateful to my parents and my family for all the support they've given me.
Why does studying history, along with sociology, appeal to you?
History suits my focus. I try to be thoughtful about what I see going on around me now. I think about the links between the past and present, and what they might say about the future. When I'm reading about something—a person, an event, a place—I find myself going off to read something else related to it, and then something else, and on and on.
Sociology complements my study because it offers another way to view history, and allows you to think beyond the accumulation of events. This is important to me because—as someone born in Ghana who immigrated to the U.S.—my interest is not only in African-American history but African history as a part of African-American history. I knew my privilege didn't speak for all people of African descent in America, so the sociological component was very useful.
What's important, though, is being able to make what you're learning seem real, to yourself and others—like the Making History Public class, in which you create a public exhibit, or going to Israel and Palestine as part of a sociology class. I think of it as sharing humanity: How can I use what I know, what I'm seeing and hearing? What stories can I tell?
Talk about some other key experiences you've had at BC.
A crucial experience has been developing a research project on segregation practices in Boston through the McNair Exploratory Program and the Community Research Program. Under the tutelage of Dr. [Priya] Lal and Dr. [Martin] Summers, I was able to link segregation practices to economic and education disparities in Boston. I enjoyed the processes of challenging how I think, how I write and analyze structural discrimination. I did not understand the intensity in academic research, but this experience enabled me to understand the focus and attention to details required in the world of academia.
Leading Black Student Forum has been important for me, too. The goal of Black Student Forum is about coordinating our activities and ideas, and how we can link our goals of promoting racial justice and harmony. I directed the Ella Baker Mentorship Program, which seeks to connect students of color. Most black students I've been in touch with are first-generation college students like me, and many of us have made the same mistakes or had the same problems in our transition to college life. We understand the value of mentorship, and it helps us hold one another accountable.
What impact have these four years at the Heights had on you?
I thought college would just be a fun ride, along with the academics that took up the rest of your time. I didn't expect to have such amazing conversations with my peers that opened up my eyes about race and other issues of society. My idea of "fun" changed to wanting to hear what this great visiting speaker had to say, or to talking with my professor. I came to see how much people care about equality in the world; I didn't expect to encounter such selflessness.
I learned that I shouldn't box myself out, that I should allow myself to be moved to learn and grow in different ways.
Like many others, I've been troubled by what the last four years have shown us about race in America, and yet my experience at BC would not have been the same without all this. I've thought about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, who were my age but never got to attend college. So I can't sit idle, because too many others aren't experiencing this opportunity.
I don't isolate BC from these problems, but I am proud of everything that BC has given me, just as I am proud of what America has given me. It motivates me in my daily life. I have a privilege that others do not, and I feel I need to bring their stories forward.
—Sean Smith | University Communications | May 2018