“Many years ago, Martin Luther King started something and said, ‘I have a dream.’ I believe that everyone here in this room is a dreamer,” said paracyclist and activist for the disabled Emmanuel Osofu Yeboa to a crowd gathered at Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall on Saturday night.
Yeboah delivered the keynote address at Intercollegiate Cultural Night, one of Africa Week 2017’s final events. This year’s Africa Week, which was hosted by the Yale African Students Association, took place between Nov. 6 and Nov. 12. The week-long program included a series of events in which African students celebrated their home countries and shared their enthusiasm for the continent with the Yale community. Moderated by Jesse Kimotho ’20 and Faith Chumo ’21, Intercollegiate Cultural Night also featured a fashion show and performances from student groups affiliated with Yale, Duke University, Brown University, Wesleyan University and Trinity College.
When Yeboah was born in Ghana in the 1970s with a missing tibia bone, his mother was advised to either poison or abandon him, as disabled children were considered a curse. His mother refused to do so, instead supporting him as he grew up and carrying him three miles to school until he was too heavy to lift.
After his mother’s death, Yeboah sought to raise awareness for the disabled in Ghana by biking around the country and wrote to the Challenged Athletes Foundation in California to get funding for a bicycle. His 400-mile ride is chronicled in “Emmanuel’s Gift,” a 2005 documentary narrated by Oprah Winfrey, which YASA screened in Silliman College on Friday night.
In his speech Saturday, Yeboah told the story of his upbringing and discussed his first trip to the United States during which he received a $25,000 award from Nike. Yeboah used the money to sponsor schooling for 15 disabled Ghanan children every year.
Throughout his speech, Yeboah highlighted the power in giving back to one’s community and underscored the importance of taking advantage of opportunities in life.
“A few presidents from this country attended this University,” he said. “So if you’re lucky and you’re here today to attend this University, you ought to know that in the near future, you’re going to stand out for your people.”
Mohamed Osman Eltoum ’19, an attendee at the event, called Yeboah’s speech “jolly” and “charismatic,” adding that it was “refreshing to see individuals that not only acknowledge the accomplishments that they’ve made, but also the challenges.” Eltoum said he was encouraged by Yeboah’s example of starting small and still being able to achieve important things.
Othmane Fourtassi ’19, vice president of YASA and chair of Africa Week, said the choice of Yeboah as a speaker for the program reflected this year’s theme, “Tomorrow in Africa,” which focused on the continent’s future.
“We believe that his story is not just an inspiration, but it’s also about hope and hard work and things that we actually want to see in the future of the continent,” Fourtassi said.
In an interview with the News, Yeboah emphasized that “we have to think about tomorrow.” He said he was excited to have the opportunity to address African students, and wanted to set an example of how to look beyond the situation in which one is born.
“Today is today; what is going to happen today is going to happen today,” he said. “So what about tomorrow?”
The Yale African Students Association was founded in 1966.
Asha Prihar | firstname.lastname@example.org