Yale Daily News

He has met Queen Elizabeth II. He was mentioned on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. He is even the chief executive officer of his own nonprofit organization.

Now, as a student in the Yale School of Public Health’s Advanced Professional Program, Shadrack Frimpong SPH ’20 will receive the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award.

Named in honor of prize-winning boxer and activist Muhammad Ali, who died in 2016, the honor goes to just six people each year. According to the award’s website, each winner is recognized for a trait that Ali embodied, from confidence to conviction. Frimpong’s is dedication.

“I have just all-around incredible gratitude for the Ali family for recognizing the work that myself and my team do,” Frimpong said. “It’s always amazing when the hard work that people are doing gets recognized.”

Frimpong spent his childhood in rural Ghana, where he worked on a cocoa farm with his family in a remote village. It was an experience that almost cost him a leg — and he has the scars to prove it: His parents could not afford treatment when he got an infection after swimming in a nearby river.

Then, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a hefty grant, Frimpong said he went back to his home country with other Ghanaians and founded the nonprofit organization Cocoa360.

Cocoa360 is meant to empower local community members by using farming proceeds to fund a tuition-free, all-girls school and a health center, according to its website. Now, the money that farmers like Frimpong’s father would never see — cocoa is a billion-dollar industry in Ghana, but much of the money goes to corporations instead of the farmers themselves — is reaping local benefits.

His website boasts over 100 students at the school, which also provides lessons on sexual health to help combat teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Frimpong said that educating girls is also a personal mission — his parents kept his sisters from going to school so Frimpong and his brother could.

“My two older sisters could have been at Yale,” he said. “I like to tell people if you’re an African man, you can be born in a hole and you’ll still be privileged.”

It’s the same kind of dedication that Muhammad Ali had, he said, when the boxer refused to fight in Vietnam.

But Ali’s size-13 shoes are hard to fill. Frimpong added that he is humbled by the award and plans to continue his studies at the Yale School of Public Health, where he hopes to learn more about research techniques.

According to Mayur Desai SPH ’94 GRD ’97 — who leads the Advanced Professional Program, advises Frimpong and taught him epidemiology over the summer — the skills that Frimpong is working to build will serve him well in the future.

“He’s going to be able to walk away from the MPH program with a whole set of tools that are going to be able to do the work he’s already doing,” he said.

Desai also said he has the “final decision” when it comes to admitting students into his program. When he read Frimpong’s application, he said he was impressed and did “everything possible” to get the Penn alum to come.

“Shadrack’s application was absolutely incredible and just leapt off the screen. We instantly had decided that we wanted him,” he added.

Frimpong said much of the credit should go to his team at Cocoa360, who closely manages the work in Ghana, which allows him to be a “visionary” and court donors in America.

Above all, however, the young entrepreneur gives praise to God for his success in life, and he hopes to provide more opportunities for Ghanaians to be healthy and productive.

“When you really think about it, the farmer has the same dreams that the CEO of Goldman Sachs has. That’s why he works hard,” he said. “It’s not about seedlings. It’s about him knowing with the hard work that his entire family does they can have quality education and quality health care.”

The Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards were created in 2013, according to the Muhammad Ali Center’s website. The 2019 award ceremony will be held in Louisville, Kentucky, on Sept. 12.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu