Play for Equality
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WHAT I'VE LEARNED
Insights from the beloved BC librarian and adjunct professor.
Born into a home full of books in Ejisu, a small city in southern Ghana, Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah’s love of languages and people led him all the way to BC. As the instructional services manager for Boston College Libraries for the past three decades, he’s taught generations of Eagles how to conduct research. He’s also published studies on how libraries can support international and adult students and served as a court interpreter. We spoke with Sarkodie-Mensah about his journey from Ghana to Chestnut Hill, his life’s work, and his children—one of whom is the WWE wrestling superstar Kofi Kingston.
When I tell my life’s story, I always start with the Brothers of the Holy Cross. Between the ages of 11 and 18, I traveled 200 miles on public transportation to attend St. John’s, a boarding school that the brothers operated in the city of Takoradi. The brothers there took care of a school full of crazy teenage boys, and they were excited every day. As I observed them, I started thinking about service leadership, and about how big the world is.
When I came to Clarion University in Pennsylvania to study library science, I was the only student in my master’s program without library experience. In the ’80s, the Ghanaian government was able to support a few students to pursue professional degrees abroad, and the opportunity came up. When my professors talked about “circulation,” I thought they meant blood. Luckily, I’ve never been afraid to ask questions. If I didn’t understand a system or a printer, I would just ask every person in the room until I figured it out.
In graduate school, I noticed many of my international peers weren’t benefitting from library resources, because they were afraid to ask questions. I had library directors from Kuwait and department heads from Jordan coming to me for advice, simply because I was willing to approach American librarians. These were respected professionals in their countries—for them, to have an American librarian address them condescendingly was deeply frustrating. This was 1988, and some librarians would take one look at us and hand us a piece of paper to write down our question, assuming we couldn’t speak English. In my writing and research, I’ve advocated for more patience. How come many people in the U.S. don’t feel the need to learn a second language, yet we expect 18-year-olds from China and Ghana to speak like Nobel Prize winners?
I love the social justice aspect of being Catholic. In 1992, when I got hired at BC, Father William Neenan spoke these words at my orientation: “At BC, we never say I. We say we.” I recognized that sentiment immediately, because I’d heard it from the Brothers of the Holy Cross. For the first time, I realized BC might be home. And it has been—I’ve gotten to teach, to learn from students, and to start the Boston College-Ejisu Computer Literacy Camp volunteer program. It has been deeply meaningful to introduce BC students to children in my hometown.
When people say, “You’re Kofi Kingston’s father,” I always say, “Yes, but I also have other children.” The whole family went to WrestleMania together in 2019, when Kofi won the WWE Championship. They put us two inches from the ring, and I screamed the whole time. My younger son, Kwame, kept saying, “Dad, please stop.” But I was so afraid Kofi was going to get hurt—and so excited—that I couldn’t. We spend so much time talking about our differences these days, but when you hear thousands of voices cheering for your son, it’s hard not to see the ways in which people are also capable of recognizing each another’s humanity and worthiness. It felt like a message for everyone.