Features, On-Campus Profiles, Profiles, 2024 Celebrating Black Voices

Sarkodie-Mensah Teaches Kindness in an Ever-Changing World

Many of us are making new goals everyday. Eat more vegetables. Work out at the gym twice a week. Study nonstop for two hours every day. Read 50 pages of a book each week. But for most, there is one aspect of our daily lives that we forget about improving: our interactions with those around us.

In a small office in O’Neill Library, one person works to fill these interactions with love and kindness every day. His name is Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah, manager of instructional services in Boston College’s libraries.

Sarkodie-Mensah attributes this attitude to his early days as a child in Ejisu, Ghana, and his experiences with The Brothers of Holy Cross. 

“When I tell people about my life, I have to bring in the brothers from Notre Dame who left the comfort of everything they had in the U.S.,” Sarkodie-Mensah said. “They came to Ghana to take care of people like me.”

One of Sarkodie-Mensah’s most formative experiences was with Raymond Papenfuss, one of the brothers and the vice principal of a Catholic high school.

“I remember he came to my elementary school and encouraged me to apply to go to the high school, and I was able to get in,” Sarkodie-Mensah said. “So, for seven years, 150 miles away from home, these brothers basically took care of me and maybe 300 other people.”

Throughout his time in high school, Sarkodie-Mensah said he often struggled with the English language but consistently heard one word that stuck out to him.

“I noticed that the brothers, every time they talked about me to their fellow brothers, they would use the word ‘kind,’” Sarkodie-Mensah said. “I didn’t know the meaning of kind, so I said, ‘Let me go find out the meaning of kind in the dictionary.’ And when I found the meaning of kind, I wasn’t surprised because I grew up with my dad and my mom who were so kind to everybody. So, I wasn’t doing anything extraordinary.”

While Sarkodie-Mensah started college with hopes of becoming involved in the world of international relations, he eventually decided to pursue a more fulfilling profession and share the kindness and knowledge that the brothers had shown him with the world.

“I decided to look at different professions, and I just happened to come across librarianship,” Sarkodie-Mensah said. “I love to read.”

Sarkodie-Mensah said he was drawn to librarianship because of his desire to teach and help others with their academic work. Now, Sarkodie-Mensah works as a BC research librarian in charge of the psychology and first-year writing departments.

“All my other classmates from other parts of the world depended on me to get the right type of information because, 40 years ago, when people went to the reference desk, American librarians didn’t make the effort to understand them,” Sarkodie-Mensah said.

This goal of making minority and international students feel included has not gone unnoticed by his colleagues. Leea Stroia, instructional service librarian and Sarkodie-Mensah’s officemate, said Sarkodie-Mensah exhibits an exceptional love for other people in the workplace.

“I think one of the areas that he excels in is welcoming people,” Stroia said. “I have watched him time and time again meet somebody new—often international students—and just listen to them and be really present with them.”

Through all of Sarkodie-Mensah’s work, Stroia said his humility is constantly present.

“He invests into that space where people can be themselves, and he really focuses on the team aspect of that,” Stroia said. “So, anytime he does something here that I think, ‘Kwasi you did this thing. It was wonderful, and I really admire that,’ he’ll say, ‘Well, I couldn’t have done it without everybody.’”

Sarkodie-Mensah’s service not only impacts the BC community, but the larger global community as well. He has ventured to Belize, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic, to teach children to read and write.

According to Sarkodie-Mensah, these trips inspired him to implement a similar program in his hometown.

“After my fourth service trip, I remember I was sleeping and then I woke up and said, ‘I want to go to Ghana and do something for my own people,’” Sarkodie-Mensah said. “So, I decided that I’m going to take a group of BC students to go to Ghana, and they’re going to teach the children basic computer skills. And that’s what we did.”

BC provided computers and books for the group to take to Ghana, according to Sarkodie-Mensah. Students on each trip facilitated a literacy camp, teaching children how to use computers, read, and write. Overall, Sarkodie-Mensah said the program served 3,000 Ghanaian students.

“BC makes sure that we practice what we preach,” Sarkodie-Mensah said. “So, men and women for others—it’s not just men and women for Boston. BC has given me a lot of support to serve the world.”

After their hard work teaching others throughout the day, Sarkodie-Mensah said he and the students would engage in reflections, during which he encouraged them to practice humility and talk about what they learned.

“In America, we have this savior mentality—‘I went to Haiti to help the children,’” Sarkodie-Mensah said. “I know you came to Ghana to help the children, but before we go to bed, during our time of reflection, I want you to share with us what the children taught you.”

In both tales of his library work and accounts of his service expeditions, Sarkodie-Mensah emphasized the importance of listening to stories. Reading about important historical figures and listening to the shared experiences of those who are often overlooked can help battle discrimination, he said.

“Whether it’s Fela, whether it’s Dr. King, or whether it’s people in the Black American movement, they are actually doing things that most of us don’t have the courage to do,” Sarkodie-Mensah said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to wake up.”

But Sarkodie-Mensah doesn’t just find importance in the stories of others—he also tells his own story in the classroom at BC. 

Lynne Anderson, director of the program for multilingual learners and English professor, works with Sarkodie-Mensah through First-Year Writing Seminar, a class that Sarkodie-Mensah provides research support for. 

Anderson said that Sarkodie-Mensah begins each presentation by talking to the students about his childhood in Ghana and his path to BC. His story resonates particularly with international students coming far from home, she said.

“He talks about coming here from Ghana for the first time and feeling a little overwhelmed,” Anderson said. “He talks to the students about finding new mentors, believing in themselves, immersing themselves in the culture in all kinds of authentic and meaningful ways.”

Both Anderson and Stroia said that Sarkodie-Mensah’s talent for listening to others comes naturally to him, and that he taught them how to pause and truly take in what others are saying. He serves as a reminder to make space for others throughout everyday life, they said.

For Sarkodie-Mensah, Black History Month is the perfect time to employ this skill of listening. Though he considers Black History Month to be incredibly important, he said that listening to the stories of minorities should happen everyday—not just during the month of February,

“I’ve heard this many times—‘Black history is American history,’” Sarkodie-Mensah said. “It’s a good thing that we’re doing it in February, but it’s also even better when every day is Black History Month, because we need to keep reminding ourselves about it.”

February 19, 2024