African American Studies
Kojo Ampah is the head of a student organization at Fordham University called the African Cultural Exchange and has a long history as a radio host, organizer of cultural festivals and educator in Ghana. He is a Phantee from the Southern tip of Ghana, Cape Coast and his father is Muslim, while his mother was Catholic but converted. His father always maintained four wives so he has many siblings. His father was the medicine man for the tribe in a type of Voodoo and worked with herbs etc ., in a blend of Islam and local traditions. His father taught him the Akan customs from the Northern region of Ghana. He attended a Catholic grammar school in Cape Coast, Ghana called St. Francis where he had to have an English name so at school he was called Ernest! Because of his experience at school, he had a strong passion for Ghana and our traditions. Because his father was from the North where they spoke Wala, and his mother was from the South, his mother taught him how to read in Akan, using the Bible. At high school he was the only student who took Akan as an A-Level elective.
He was active as a student and after school, he organized a youth movement called the African Heritage Organization. He went to various schools “preaching”, and spoke about typical African situations like the need for self-confidence. At a Marcus Gabi Day event he was on radio, speaking in Akan and the manager of the station, Amamo Pekra, offered him a job. He worked with the Tourism Development Committee in a bid to promote tourism in the West Nile River region. At Akra he received a degree in marketing and got a job at Panafest Foundation, which is the organizer of the biggest multidimensional cultural festival in Africa today.
Rabbi Kohain Halevi, an African American from Mount Vernon who repatriated to Ghana was made the head of Panafest and offered Kojo a job as the marketing assistant. Eventually, he became the Public Relations Officer and was a radio presenter for a new radio station in Takoradi, called Good News FM. He came to America with Panafest in February 2004 for Black History Month, and he decided to stay on to go to school because “every Ghanean knows somebody who lives in the Bronx”. He stayed initially in Washington DC with an African-American girl he had met in Ghana but he describes how difficult it was to stay in other people’s apartments. He returned to the Bronx but it was very busy there so he got a job washing dishes in a restaurant in Bronxville. He describes the different work practices here – in Africa, he would just be expected to wash dishes, but in America, if he got that job done quickly, he would be given something else to do – “When they hire you for the hour, they make sure you’re working the hour.”
He then got a job in a motel on 213 and Webster as a security guard and was promoted to receptionist in a new motel at 231st Five Place Route, in the Bedford section of the Bronx. When he was accepted to Fordham, he resigned those jobs. He felt isolated at Fordham and started contacting Africans on campus, as “most of the students are affluent white kids, and most of the Africans I see here, we get intimidated.” He is a member of Friends of Ghana, which arranges help for immigrants here and aid for Ghana. He describes how difficult it is when he visits home – his culture demands that everyone be given presents but he can’t afford to bring any! He wants to return to Ghana to help other people prepare properly for immigration. He also writes poetry describing the difficulties a proud African man who is secure in his place in the world in Ghana, and the lineage of his ancestors, feels when he comes to America and he is looked down on.
Ampah, Kojo. October 22, 2009. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
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