August 3, 2006, was quite a momentous day in my life. In fact, it was a momentous day in the life of my entire family. Five years after his painful passing my father, Professor Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Sr., was honored with an award named for him at New York City's Technical Career Institutes, where the Old Man taught Technical Writing, Language Arts and the Humanities for a little over a decade.
Prior to the preceding, he had “nomadically” taught at such notable American institutions of higher learning as Queens College, City College, Hunter College and New York City College of Technology, all being discrete campuses of the humongous and august City University of New York. The Old Man had also taught at the College of New Rochelle, a Roman Catholic-oriented academy, as well as at Essex County, Passaic County and Montclair colleges, all of the State of New Jersey.
All in all, the Old Man spent some 30 long years of his 72 years on Earth schooling and teaching and raising his five children by remote-control, in Ghana; they and their mother would, by lottery, in Shakespearean parlance, of course, join him here in the United States of America. The Old Man also briefly taught in the New York City elementary (or public) school system, having been certified as a Cert-A teacher in Ghana, in 1954, and as a Licensed Educator in the 1980s, right here in New York City.
His versatility was virtually matchless and those who were intimately familiar with him, both in Ghana and here in the United States, readily attest to that. For instance, as a self-trained Church Organist, the Old Man played and preached in one of the oldest African-American Presbyterian churches, which also served as the very first assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana to be established here in the United States. Subsequently, the Old Man would serve as Organist and Music Director for almost every mainstream Ghanaian Christian church founded here in New York City. And long before he did all of the preceding, and then some, the Old Man had also regularly played at Ghanaian funeral services gratis, including a memorial service held for the father of substantive United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan.
And so if I say that my father was a great man, a “genius,” in fact, with a capital “G,” you can bet your proverbial bottom-dollar that I darn well know what I am talking about.
On August 3, 2006, the ceremony in my father's honor itself was quite an intimately emotional one for me, because it also marked just a little more than twelve years, to be precise, twelve years and four months, after I had been summarily fired from my teaching position at the Technical Career Institutes, for supposedly inculcating a deleterious sense of “racial self-consciousness” into the largely African-American and non-white student populace of TCI, as the school is popularly known.
And while it clearly is not Harvard, Columbia or even a mainstream two-year college, nonetheless, TCI has cache, it has quite an enviable history of its own. Founded as the Marconi Institute in 1909 (or thereabouts), TCI later became famous as RCA, or the Radio Corporation of America. And for those of our readers who are old enough, you may remember a father or grandfather or even a neighbor who owned a Gramophone Record Player called His Master's Voice (or HMV). It was at the RCA that this was produced and marketed.
As the Marconi Institute, RCA/TCI also produced transistor radio sets. And today, as a vocational institute, TCI trains technicians in the fields of Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration, Computer Electronics and Secretarialship, among other vocational fields of endeavor.
Like the Old Man, aside from Technical Writing, Language Arts and the Humanities, I also taught Business English at TCI. The significance of this institution inheres in the fact that it serves as a critical bridge for the woefully underprivileged in America, largely ethnic and racial minorities and European immigrants, to successfully negotiate the treacherous terrain of the American job-market. And lest the unsuspecting reader be misled; while it is today a vocational institute, nevertheless, TCI qualifies for the designation of a full-fledged academic institution. This is amply attested by the sterling credentials of its faculty, most of whom earned their degrees from such major academies as Columbia University, New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the State and City universities of New York and beyond. But even more importantly, TCI is also attended by advanced degree holders, including those with doctorates, from the non-English-speaking world who are eager to professionally acclimate themselves to mainstream American culture.
Interestingly, my father's remarkable contributions to our history and culture were not restricted to his period of stay in the United States; in Ghana, long before the establishment of the National Theater in Accra, Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Sr., had festooned the Commonwealth Hall of the University of Ghana, Legon, with giant klieg lights which made it possible to produce and perform significant dramatic works of all cultures and climes, as it were. And while at Legon, in the 1960s and early '70s, the Old Man had even chanced to produce the esthetically celebrated drama of Dr. J. B. Danquah's titled “The Third Woman,” a philosophical work which was originally published in 1943 as one of two full-length plays to be crafted by Ghanaian playwrights. But that the Old Man had not politically backed the great and versatile Dr. Danquah, his own maternal granduncle, but instead President Nkrumah, Danquah's arch-nemesis, does not seem to have blighted his proud esteem for the intellectual and cultural stature of the putative Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics.
Privately, in the final decade of his life, the Old Man had acknowledged to his younger son, this writer, that is, that he may well have egregiously erred in following President Nkrumah and his so-called Convention People's Party (CPP), though he also wistfully but firmly believed that Dr. Danquah could have done much, much better to have fine-tuned his political platform in a more rabble-friendly manner, just as Nkrumah had done. He had also fallen a little short of roundly condemning the untold political excesses of President Nkrumah, including the latter's allegedly brutal assassination of Dr. Danquah at the Nsawam Medium-Security Prison. The Old Man would only acknowledge that “Nkrumah made a lot of serious mistakes.” But he would also hasten to add that his insufferable excesses were primarily due to the fact that Nkrumah was a politically untutored pioneer.
On another more significant level, however, the Old Man had long before the foregoing delivered his resounding verdict on Nkrumah and the CPP, whose Asante-Mampong branch of the Young Pioneers' Movement (YPM) he had once served as patron and district organizer, by voting for Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia and his Progress Party (PP) government in the 1969 general elections, rather than for Mr. Komla Gbedemah and his NAL, or National Alliance of Liberals. Unfortunately, like the CPP, the Old Man wistfully believed that the PP, which had had the political excesses of the former to guide it, had also woefully failed to level with the people with regard to executive accountability, particularly the declaration of assets, as stipulated by the 1969 Constitution.
When I visited the Technical Career Institutes on Thursday, August 3, 2006 to present that college's newly-instituted “Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe Best Essay Award,” I remembered vividly the fact that 12 years before on April 27, and exactly 22 years after the passing of Ghana's President Nkrumah, I had been summarily fired from this very institution as an instructor, for “Conscientizing” pan-Africanism into the largely Black and non-European-American student population during the African-American History Month festivities that February at the invitation of TCI's Office of Student Affairs. Almost exactly the year before (April 15, 1993), a Jamaican student who was a paroled convicted felon had held a gun to my head. The crux of my would-be murderer's ax was that I had ordered him out of my Remedial English Reading class for flatly refusing to purchase the textbook specified by the college's authorities for the class, for which Mr. Dave Johnson, like most of the other TCI students, had been generously awarded financial aid (or grant) by the State of New York and the Federal Government of the United States. Indeed, tangible and available evidence indicates that this incident may well have triggered my getting fired from TCI, although a wholly different reason, which strictures of space and time do not permit me to detail had been given by College authorities at the time.
On August 3, 2006, however, almost every one of my former colleagues was full of praises for my father who, by the way, while I worked with him at TCI, was never really anybody's favorite – for the Old Man was widely said to be too much of an early twentieth-century disciplinarian, a dinosaur of sorts, even though some faculty in the technical disciplines believed he was perhaps the best Technical Writing instructor at TCI. To be certain, almost none of the African-born instructors at TCI, and there were quite a number of them, was listed in the Annals of Lenient and Easygoing Instructors. And then, of course, there were such collegial exceptions as Vice-President Edward Leff, who partially appears to have been fired for backing me up throughout my six-month ordeal and battle with the TCI administrators.
Then also, there was Mr. Alan Baxter, my immediate boss and chairperson of the Humanities Division and the apparent brain behind this glorious institutionalization of TCI's Best Essay Award in my father's name and honor, and to whom my family and I shall be eternally grateful; as well as Dean Albert Romano, the man who hired me. Both men would shortly be removed from their administrative positions but allowed to teach.
On August 3, 2006, I heavy-heartedly thanked the current TCI administrators – none of the old hatchet men appeared to be at post any longer – for rekindling the memory of my Old Man. The “Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe Best Essay Award,” in the handsome amount of $1,000.00 (One-Thousand American Dollars), would be awarded three times a year to a graduating TCI student whose personal achievement and philosophical essay are adjudged by a College panel to be the best. The maiden “Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe Best Essay Award” went to Ms. Alexandra Rogers, who also received a copy of my poetic anthology and tribute to my father titled “Paa: A Tribute” (iUniverse.com, 2004). I have also been thrown an invitation, three times a year, to attend and present the “Kwame O-Ahoofe Best Essay Award.” A clear, Biblical case of the good deeds of the fathers carrying forth onto the first, second and third generations of their descendants, perhaps?
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of twelve books, including “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (iUniverse.com, 2005). E-mail: [email protected]