African American Studies
Interviewee: Reverend Benjamin Boakye
Interviewers: Mark Naison, Benjamin Heither, Amy Davies, Jane Edward
Date of Interview: October 29, 2009
Summarized by Sheina Ledesma
Reverend Benjamin Boakye is a senior pastor at the Ebenezer Assemblies of God church in the Bronx and the president of the Ghanaian Ministers Fellowship. Boakye was born in 1962 in the Ashanti region of Ghana. He was the eldest of six children and as the oldest was given great responsibility within the family. From an early age Boakye was exposed to University life. His father was a plumber at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana and his mother served as a cook at the same school. For a time, the family lived on campus in special facilities provided by the school. This exposure to higher education had a profound affect on Boakye’s siblings, which culminated into two of his brothers pursuing degrees in pharmacology and optometry.
Boakye however, had a different calling than his brothers. While attending Komfo Anakoye Secondary School in the town of Wianloasi, Boakye was drawn to a Christian group on campus named, The Scripture Union. This relationship led Boakye to join the Assemblies of God denomination of the Pentecostal faith. From this point on, Boakye was determined to become a pastor and start a church in Ghana. Soon after secondary school however, Boakye decided to join American missionaries on a missionary trip to Dakar, Senegal. The community in which Boakye preached was predominantly Muslim and subsequently very unreceptive. However, despite this challenge, Boakye dedicated four years of his youth to missionary service in Senegal. During this time he and the American missionaries founded a small church in Grand Yoff, Senegal and Boakye learned how to read, write, and speak French.
In 1990, four years after his arrival in Senegal, Boakye had a chance encounter that changed his life. One night a young man holding an infant went to his home in hopes of finding shelter with the town’s Christian pastor. In response, Boakye fed the young man and allowed him to stay. Upon his departure, the young man promised that he would not forget Boakye’s kindness. The young man then moved to Spain and eventually the Netherlands where he had great financial success. Two years later, Boakye received notice that he was being given the paperwork and permission to leave Senegal and move to Holland, all of which was organized by the young man he had assisted with food and shelter years prior. Boakye took the offer and moved to Amsterdam. There, he served as a preacher for three years. Although Boakye dedicated his time while in Amsterdam to preaching, he lacked the license and education to be an official pastor. Encouraged by his knowledge of the English language, in 1994 Boakye decided to move to America where he could pursue an education and license to become a pastor in less time than it would take in Holland.
Once in America, Boakye began school at an affordable Bible College called Berean Bible Institute, which was located in Belrose, Queens. At first, Boakye stayed in the living room of a Ghanaian couple’s two-bedroom apartment however, after some time, he was able to rent a room near Morris High School in the Bronx. During the interview, Boakye noted that although the transition from Africa to America was difficult, he was able to find support and needed assistance from fellow Ghanaians he met in the Bronx. With the support of others and his own determination, Boakye worked during the day at an auto parts shop near Fordham Road and attended evening classes during the week. Although faced with an arduous schedule and long commute to and from the Bronx and Queens, Boakye managed to complete his four-year course in three years, finally becoming a licensed pastor.
Soon after, Boakye took a position as an Associate Pastor at the Ebenezer Assemblies of God in the Bronx. Over three and a half years time, Boakye moved in position from the Associate Pastor to the Senior Pastor of his church where he still serves as Senior Pastor today. The Ebenezer Assemblies of God church serves an estimated two hundred worshippers a week, most of who are from various ethnic groups in Ghana. Through his leadership, Boakye encourages the youth who attend his church to not only be good Christians but also to work hard and attain a degree in higher education. During the interview, Boakye proudly mentioned that many of the young men and women in his church are now going to college in fields like nursing and chemistry in greater numbers. Many have either decided to pursue these degrees at Community Colleges or state schools like SUNY Buffalo, where financial support is readily available for struggling students. By means of social activities that combine spiritual encouragement as well as a means to connect with their cultural heritage, Boakye strives to create a warm and friendly environment for both young and old who attend his church. This passion for people has led him to also head the Ghanaian Ministers Fellowship where he presently serves as president. The fellowship is a citywide organization of Protestant, Pentecostal, and Baptist leaders of Ghanaian descent who work towards establishing unity among their communities.
Boakye is married and has three children, ages nine, seven, and five. He and his family live in a rented apartment near Morris High School in the Bronx. Boakye recently visited Ghana after not having visited for twenty-one years. Moved by seeing his family and old friends on his visit, he hopes to visit again in the near future. For now, he is working towards creating programs to assist the members of his church secure employment, go to college, and deal with the various challenges many immigrants face living in New York City.
Boakye, Benjamin. October 29, 2009. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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