Interview with Author Patrick Asare
"The Boy from Boadua" tells the struggle of Patrick Asare as a child growing up in Africa in the remote Ghanaian village of Boadua, where no one in his generation was educated beyond the middle school level. The book traces Asare's remarkable journey, overcoming astronomical obstacles and succeeding beyond anyone’s, including his own, expectations. His life took an unlikely trajectory from Africa, to studying electrical engineering in the Soviet Union, to teaching Russian in the U.S. Exposed to many cultures, Asare has unique perspectives on a wide variety of subjects. His book focuses on the various obstacles that disadvantaged children face, how those hurdles can differ from culture to culture, and how children can rise above them. His message is one of hope.
Asare earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University in 1995, and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in 2003. He currently lives with his family in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. He is a principal at UGI Energy Services, a diversified energy services firm based in Wyomissing.
Can you tell our readers what your book, 'The Boy From Boadua" is about?
The book is a chronicle of my improbable journey from a small Ghanaian village called Boadua to the Soviet Union, where I attended college during the perestroika years, and ultimately to America. In addition to the narrative, I discuss many of the lessons I learned along the way, and reflect on issues such as education, culture, race, class, geopolitics, the crucial importance of role models in children’s lives, and the critical role luck often plays in life outcomes.
What was your impetus for writing the book?
I studied electrical engineering in the Soviet Union. I also participated in a Russian language program through which I became certified to teach the language. Shortly after I arrived in America in 1992, I was hired to teach Russian in a magnet school in Buffalo. Because of my engineering training, I was also asked by the Board of Education to teach math. Teaching in Buffalo was an eye-opening experience. I immediately came face-to-face with all of the problems that combine to cause the dysfunction we read and hear about every day in the urban K-12 system. As a new immigrant, I had little knowledge of the underlying factors of that dysfunction—racial segregation that concentrates large numbers of poor Black and Hispanic children in inner-city schools, an urban culture that improperly values education, the woefully inadequate involvement of large numbers of Black fathers in their children’s lives, the resource disparity between urban and suburban school districts, etc.
When I was growing up in Ghana, I faced—with the exception of the racial factor—many of the same obstacles that most of my students in Buffalo were confronted with. But I somehow found ways to overcome them. The hopelessness that I saw in the eyes of those children in Buffalo, which led them to give up on education so early, with devastating consequences later in their lives, is what motivated me to write this book. Because my parents were illiterate, and there was little academic guidance in the general environment in which I grew up, I largely charted my own path out of the village. Having done that, I am convinced that pretty much every child growing up in America is capable of making something out of themselves by properly focusing on education.
Is there an underlying message you hope readers take away from reading it?
My main message in the book is directed at both disadvantaged children and their struggling parents, whether they live in America or elsewhere. For the children, it is about the importance of recognizing that whatever disadvantage they face, whether it is economic or some other form, should not automatically translate into fatalism. They need to know that the vast majority of people face mighty hurdles at various stages in their lives. What makes the difference is that those who end up becoming highly successful tend to be people who refuse to let barriers derail their aspirations. They manage to achieve their goals through dogged determination, hard work, and sacrifice.
In the case of the parents, there should be a recognition that while the cycle of poverty and outright doom will always seem vicious, it often takes just one selfless person to step up and break it. And once that happens, it creates the vital platform upon which current and future generations of children in a family lineage then stand on to harness whatever talents they are blessed with. The example of my father, which I write about in the book, is a perfect illustration of this point. He worked tremendously hard and made unimaginable sacrifices, often risking his personal safety, to break the vicious cycle in which our family was caught at the time. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Because the other parents in the village had that fatalistic mindset, their children went nowhere. Of the sixty children who were in my primary school class in Boadua, I was the only one who made it out of the village to go to secondary school and beyond. My father had to break the cycle for me to escape that trap.
You’ve lived in several different countries, what do you see as some of the main unifying factors among the various cultures and people?
The university dormitories where I lived in the Soviet Union had people from pretty much every Third World country. When I studied at Purdue and Dartmouth, I met students and faculty from all over the Western world and other advanced countries. Because of that, I feel as if I’ve met people from everywhere on this planet. The one big lesson I’ve learned from my close interactions with that diverse pool of people is that, regardless of what race, class, religion, and political ideology people belong to or ascribe to, there are a few basic values that apply universally: the love of family and close friends, the innate kindness of the overwhelming majority of humans, the yearning of individuals to be given the freedom to pursue their cherished goals, and the deep desire of every person to be treated fairly and with dignity.
This is a particularly important question, in my view. Geopolitical debates nowadays frequently emphasize national sovereignty and the need to recognize differences in local culture. Unfortunately, the universality point often gets lost as a result. For example, in the twenty-first century, should anyone’s cultural preference in any part of the world trump the earnest yearning of women and girls in any society to receive an education?
What do you feel you learned from the writing process?
I’ve always tried to be a humble person. But through writing this book, and the many articles I have written for my blog and publications elsewhere over the years, I have learned to become even more so. However long or short anything I write is, I have to do some research on the issue I am discussing. The information I discover through research at times forces me to change some prior strongly held views. That is always quite humbling. I vividly remember one instance, when I was getting ready to write a blog article a couple of years ago about the Central Park incident in New York City between Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper. Ms. Cooper had called the police on Mr. Cooper for simply asking her to leash her dog, as park rules required. This incident occurred around the time of George Floyd’s murder, when emotions were extremely raw everywhere. As a Black man, I clearly understood the danger Ms. Cooper’s action could have brought to Mr. Cooper, and was quite upset about it. I was about to write a scathing article to condemn it. However, while researching for the article, I came across something that made me pause and reflect. In her apology note to Mr. Cooper, Ms. Cooper wrote the following line: “I hope that a few mortifying seconds in a lifetime of forty years will not define me in his eyes and that he will accept my sincere apology.” The sentence instantly prompted me to think about the many mistakes I had made in my own life from taking impulsive actions, and how, on each occasion, I wished that I would be forgiven. I ended up writing an article that was much more restrained than the one I had set out to write. That was a great lesson in humility for me.
I find writing to be the best medium of communication when dealing with serious matters. When speaking, it is nearly impossible to take the time and care necessary to express one’s innermost feelings. Former President Obama is perhaps the one person I know who does both speaking and writing very effectively. I’ve always watched his speeches with fascination. He frequently takes long pauses, clearly thinking through what he wants to say before articulating the words. It is a skill that I don’t have, so I try to rely on writing to make any serious argument, including many of those related to some of the thorny questions I grappled with in the book.
What surprised you most about writing the book?
I had no idea books took this much time to write! And I didn’t know how complex the publishing process itself was. I started writing this book ten years ago. The first draft of the manuscript turned out to be not-so-great and I had to tear it up and start from scratch. I cannot count how many iterations of the manuscript I wrote, and the heavy dose of help I received from close relatives, friends, and editors, before coming up with the final version that became this book. One of the things I found most astonishing is how often I detected mistakes in parts of the manuscript that I had previously read thoroughly and deemed to be perfect. That was another important lesson in humility for me. I learned that I should never be too sure of myself. Also, because of this experience, I have developed a high level of respect for any author who has written more than one book.
You describe how your life trajectory changed when you picked up a newspaper as a young boy in Africa. How surprised do you think that boy would be by this book?
Great question! This very thought came to mind a few weeks ago. I mentioned to my editor how surreal it was that I had gone from a village boy who relied on scraps of newspaper to feed his reading appetite, due to lack of access to books, to writing a book that has received such high praise from some very influential literary people here in America. That evolution would have been inconceivable to the young boy who stood by food-vendor stands in the village, day after day, waiting for patrons to finish eating their foods and hand over the wrapping papers for him to read whatever words were written on them.
Do you have any other books or projects coming up?
I have a couple of ideas in mind but nothing in the pipeline at the moment.
For more information on Patrick please visit https://patrickasareauthor.com