Kwame: Message from the Morning Man by Kojo Yankson

Kwame: Message from the Morning Man
by Kojo Yankson
22nd Feb 2016
Growing up on UCC Campus was quite an experience. We were a very close-knit community. Everybody knew everybody, and it was usually a big event when new people moved onto campus. Which is why I clearly remember the arrival of the Acheampongs and their two sons, Kwame and Kwaku. Kwaku was about my age, and, like most other campus kids, very smart. He fit in very well with the rest of us, and became one of the lads in no time whatsoever. But it was his older brother Kwame who fascinated us.
Kwame was different. He had some crazy ideas. Soon after he arrived, he announced he was organising a badminton club for campus kids. The only problem was, none of us played badminton. Then he tried a tennis club, a running club, a volleyball club – all flopped because nobody else thought they were good ideas. Let me be blunt: we thought the guy was crazy.
Campus kids don’t do sports. We just wanted to hang out with each other and sit on street corners drinking fanyogo and eating malt and milk biscuits. Nobody had time to organise ourselves and do sports. Vacations were for chilling, not stressing. In the end, he pursued all his interests by himself, or with some of the older University students, and ended up becoming quite a gifted all-round athlete.
Kwame was also a talented artist. He could draw and paint virtually anything to perfection. He always talked about selling his art. We all told him he was crazy. Artists don’t make money. Nobody we knew in Cape Coast was about to spend money on artwork. Kwame just kept painting. Eventually, the University commissioned him to produce a huge painting for the Science Faculty.
In University, Kwame decided one day that he wanted to produce a variety show for his hall week. Again, everyone thought he was crazy. Students don’t do variety shows. But somehow, he managed to infect his friends – including me – with enough enthusiasm to get us on board, and together, we created an amazing event that is still talked about and replicated to this day.
Kwame fell in love with a woman everyone disapproved of. She had a child with a man who didn’t want a relationship with her, and even though she was amazingly beautiful, intelligent and kind, most guys considered her “damaged goods” and stayed away from her romantically. Kwame saw past all that and pursued her vigorously, telling us how he intended to marry her. Brodders thought he was crazy. You don’t marry born-ones. But he stuck to his guns, and today, they have been married for over ten years.
After University, Kwame moved to the town of Milton Keynes in England with his family. He got a job at a huge indoor recreational centre, where one of the big attractions was a huge indoor ski slope. All year round, people would pay to try their hands at skiing down the artificial snow-covered indoor hill. One day, Kwame decided to try his hand at skiing too. Being a naturally gifted athlete, he took to it like a duck to water, and before anyone knew it, Kwame was skiing down the slope at astonishing speeds with unbelievable skill.
People found it a novelty to see an African who had no winter in his homeland doing so well at a winter sport. But Kwame did not consider his new skills a novelty at all. In 2005, before the people of Milton Keynes could get used to the idea of a skiing black man, Kwame decided to represent Ghana in the 2006 winter Olympics. In skiing. Of course, everyone thought he was crazy – especially when he didn’t qualify. Black men don’t ski!
Most people, on hearing the news of his failure, simply sniggered behind his back and wondered what other outcome he had expected. So you can imagine everyone’s surprise, when he made yet another attempt to qualify for the 2010 winter Olympics. This time, in spite of being 36 years old, Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong qualified and became the first ever Ghanaian to compete in the Winter Olympics.
Today, my childhood friend is known around the world as the Snow Leopard. BBC, ITV and other international news networks have made features about him. His impossible Olympic dream came true, to the shock and surprise of many who had defined his abilities by their own limitations. Kwame himself was a lot less surprised than others – after all, he had a lifetime of experience doing what everyone considered crazy.
My friends, many of us water down our dreams to suit the expectations of others. We tone down our ambitions to pursue goals that are more in line with what others are doing, or expect us to do. But nobody ever learnt to fly by walking with sheep. Soar above the herd. Surge ahead of the flock. Punch above your weight. Because, in the end, the only way to get ahead is to get ahead.
My name is Kojo Yankson and whenever they tell me what I cannot do, I just say, “yeah, and black men don’t ski”.