African American Studies
Born September 16, 1985, Wallace grew up with his family in Tarkwa, Ghana. In 1988, his father immigrated to the United States and has worked as a taxi driver. His father is also a leader within the Ghanaian community in the Bronx. In 2006, Wallace immigrated to the Bronx with his siblings and has been living with his father on Sedgwick Avenue. He will be attending medical school in the September 2010. He has an older brother who is talking college classes and is also in the United States Navy, a sister who is working to become a nurse, and a younger brother at the University of Buffalo.
Most of his life has been spent pursuing education. He was sent off to boarding school in Ghana at the age of seven. Although his parents did not go to college, they both have professional degrees and deeply value the importance of higher education. He attended elementary and junior high boarding schools in his hometown of Tarkwa. Next, he went to Mfantsipim, an elite, all boys Methodist private high school located in Cape Coast that boast distinguished alumni such as Kofi Annan. To be considered for admission, all applicants must take the national entrance exam. Kojo recorded a perfect score on the exam.
Before he moved to the Bronx, Wallace learned of the strong Ghanaian community from both his father and extended relatives who were living there. His father continually tries to help relatives both in Ghana and the United States with various educational and medical expenses. While his father has supported him financially, Wallace’s biological mother in Ghana was responsible for helping him attain the best education in Ghana. Before elementary school, he lived with his mother, and then moved in with his stepmother when his biological mother pursued a professional degree. His stepmother is more family-oriented, helping Wallace to develop his social skills.
Wallace felt well prepared when he came to pursue higher education in the United States. Wallace first took classes at Bronx Community College and College’s Ambassador Program. He was also the president of the honor society and the club Friends of Ghana, which sends medical equipment, scholarships and other aid to those back in Ghana. While enrolled in classes, he worked as a security guard for NJCC Securities. He worked the graveyard shift—12 midnight until eight the morning—and then went to classes during the day. His post was a shelter on Prospect Avenue as well as the Fifth Houses on Crotona Park. To supplement his income, he also worked as a tutor.
After Bronx Community College, he applied to several schools and eventually chose Cornell University. He is able to get a tuition reduction as a New York State resident and as a student in the College of Agriculture. Wallace has met and socialized with about 100 Ghanaians students, from undergrads to graduate students at Cornell school. Some of these Ghanaian students had been recruited from premier high schools in Ghana. Wallace says having good educational experiences in Ghana helped him be successful at Cornell. Wallace’s goal was always to attend a top school and he attributes that to the drive that his mother instilled in him.
Even though the official language of Ghana is English, Wallace first learned the Fante language in school. When he went off to boarding school, he learned the Tw’i language, the most common language spoken by Ghanaian immigrants in the Bronx. Wallace frequently code-switches between languages for convenience whether he is in the Bronx or in classes. He feels most comfortable when he is speaking Tw’i, sharing something with his fellow countrymen that bind them.
Wallace believes that the strongest contribution of the Ghanaian community to the Bronx has been in the form of education. He recalls that most of his classmates at Bronx Community College were mostly African immigrants. As a product of this educational emphasis, he says that many nurses in hospitals that are African immigrants. In addition, near Bronx Community College, there are a couple of African businesses and grocery stores, including large enterprises, such as real estate and chain restaurants.
Wallace finds that there are widespread misconceptions about the African people on the continent and African immigrants, in general. Depending on who you meet, he says, people either really like Ghanaians or have misperceptions about who they are. For example, when he is in Ghana there is a perception that Africans and African Americans are all family. When he first came to the Bronx, he found African Americans to be more hostile towards Africans than any other group. Since Wallace has been in the Bronx, he wouldn’t label any one group—African Americans or Caucasians—as being more accommodating to Africans. He says that both offer valuable contributions to him and to the community.
Wallace has just received a Jack Kent Cook Scholarship to attend medical school. His inspiration comes from the great need for doctors, especially specialist physicians, in Ghana. Wallace is acutely aware of how the smartest Ghanaian doctors have left Ghana for the United States. After medical school, he plans on starting a neurosurgery practice here in the United States. If medical school does not work out, Wallace is not shying away from any potential opportunities to have a political career, if given the chance. He said “I’d think I’ll definitely take it. I’d probably end up in politics if given the chance.
Wallace, Kojo. 14 January 2010. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
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Wallace, Kojo Part 3.mp3 (34042 kB)