27.01.2002 Feature Article

Worlds come together in Copley

By Press
Worlds come together in Copley
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Ghana native remains dedicated to helping homeland from home in Summit BY JIM CARNEY Beacon Journal staff writer

Hilda Bromley's life is a balancing act between her American home and the land where she was born -- Ghana.

Inside her Copley Township home, the feel of Africa is everywhere.

Pieces of art as well as other artifacts from Africa fill the walls.

In the kitchen are African cooking utensils and African foods.

Inside her two-car garage, there are no cars. Those are parked in the driveway to make way for more than 24,000 books area people donated since August 2001 for the Books for Africa Library Project. Bromley conceived of the project after having what she describes as a religious experience while recovering from brain tumor surgery in 1996.

She said she was called by God to build libraries for the people in her native land.

Since then, she and her husband, Kirt, have shipped 90,000 books to Africa, not including those in her garage now, built 10 libraries and raised about $70,000 locally, including their own donations. The Bromleys also have another 3,000 books stored at a D-A Specialty Co. warehouse in downtown Akron.

Hilda Bromley's life is about building relationships, connections and bridges.

She grew up in Kukurantumi, a small village of 8,000 in Ghana. She spoke her native language of Akan, but learned in school to speak English, her country's official language.

She met Kirt when he was serving in the Peace Corps in Ghana in the late 1960s. The two married in Ghana in 1969 and moved to the U.S. in 1970.

Since their marriage, the couple has returned frequently to Ghana. The 55-year-old Hilda still has family there and the Bromleys moved to Ghana for two years in the mid-1970s.

``We never lost touch with them,'' she said.

In fact, the Bromleys contributed toward the education of some nieces and nephews.

Kirt Bromley, 56, a teacher at Akron's Margaret Park Elementary School, said the people in Ghana are warm and welcoming to strangers. Dance teacher Hilda Bromley teaches African dance at Reidinger and Goodrich middle schools each week as part of Children's Hospital Medical Center's Good Path after-school program, funded by the Knight Foundation and the Akron Symphony Orchestra.

She began teaching African dance when the library project was started and said she puts the money raised back into the project.

Vanessa Drone, adolescent community services specialist at Children's, said the dancing helps the children understand African culture and ``gives them a chance to understand the perspective of others.''

Bromley also volunteers frequently at the Akron-Summit County Public Library and receives discarded books that eventually go to Ghana.

And when she goes to Africa, she brings back African craft items and other things that she sells to help support the project.

Once a year, a fund-raiser is held at St. Bernard Catholic Church in the fellowship hall. This year's multicultural concert and dinner will be held at 5:45 p.m. March 23.

A licensed practical nurse, Bromley worked for many years at several area nursing homes.

At home, she frequently cooks African meals and usually wears African shirts and head scarves.

``All along, I never tried to divorce myself from my culture,'' she said.

Several times a year, she and her husband are invited to an area church or organization to talk about Ghana and the library project, she said.

She speaks about Ghana's history, geography and traditions.

Bromley has found that most people don't know much about Africa. Even African-American groups, she said, often are not that familiar with the continent.

People are surprised to hear that there are so few books available to students in Ghana.

Often, she said, in a classroom of 30 students, there may only be six books.

``That moves people,'' she said.

Because theirs is a biracial marriage -- she is black and he is white -- Kirt Bromley said he and his wife ``don't think in terms of color. We relate to each other person to person.''

Hilda Bromley said she was attracted to her husband because he was so open to the culture of Ghana and Africa.

The service the couple is providing, said Kirt Bromley, is ``giving people of this area a chance to help needy people in Africa.'' Terrorism hits hard Hilda Bromley became a U.S. citizen in 1986 and watched the events of Sept. 11 with horror.

Several weeks after the attacks, she learned that one of her cousins from Ghana -- Sophia Ameyaw, who lived in New York City -- had died in the attack at the World Trade Center.

She and her husband predict the economic impact of the terrorist attack will hurt developing countries like Ghana.

``There are a lot of poor people'' in Ghana, she said.

And the poor countries appear to be getting poorer, she said, adding the United States should increase the amount of money it gives to developing countries.

In America, she said, ``we take things for granted, like health care.''

In Ghana, people often do not go to the doctor when they are ill because they cannot afford medicines, she said.

Nine communities in Ghana have written to the Bromleys that they want assistance from the library project.

So this fall, the 23,000 books that have filled up the couple's garage will be shipped to Ghana.

Then Hilda Bromley will travel to Ghana and a few weeks later Kirt Bromley said he hopes to retire from the Akron Public Schools and fly to Ghana to spend several months working on the library project.

``As long as the Lord lets us, we will continue to do it,'' said Hilda Bromley.

And she said she hopes to persuade more people to look beyond their own lives and give to others, even people living thousands of miles away in Africa.

``It is good to give,'' she said. ``It is freeing to give.'' Donations can be made to Books for Africa Library Project, 1518 Sunside Drive, Copley, OH, 44321 or call 330-666-6816.

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or [email protected]

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