GREENSBORO — It’s not every day students get to see the hero character from a storybook show up at their school.
But there was Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah outside Brooks Global Studies in Greensboro earlier this week with a team of FBI — that’s Fathers Being Involved, a subgroup of the school’s PTA. They were on hand to load up the 210 bicycles collected by the school into a shipping container, bound for the coast and a trans-Atlantic voyage to western Africa.
Yeboah gained fame after bicycling 400 miles across Ghana in 2001 wearing a T-shirt that said, “Pozo,” which means, “the disabled.”
Yeboah was born with one leg much shorter than the other. He faced discrimination and challenges from an early age, first having to hop to school and later using crutches. He taught himself to ride a rented bicycle with one leg, beginning a love of bicycles that has lasted his entire life. That’s come with an unwillingness to accept the status quo.
Children’s book author Laurie Ann Thompson shares a story in her book “Emmanuel’s Dream” about a time when Yeboah went to a store as a young man and the shopkeeper tried to shoo him away, assuming he was a beggar because of his leg.
“Insulted, Emmanuel slammed his money down on the counter,” Thompson wrote. “The shopkeeper apologized but Emmanuel would never forget.”
He went on to start an organization to help people with disabilities and to win the 2005 Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Brooks Global Studies is a public elementary school that does not have it’s own geographic attendance zone but instead draws students from throughout Guilford County with its magnet program.
Each year, Brooks Global rotates through one of three global themes: agriculture, water and community, and talks about how those topics apply here and around the world. For community years, the school leadership picks a particular aspect of community to look at, such as sports.
As they have done before, school leaders chose one book for the entire school to read this year, from kindergarten through fifth grade.
That book was “Emmanuel’s Dream.”
From there, Principal Ashton Clemmons reached out to Thompson to see if she would visit the school. The author said she couldn’t make it for an in-person visit, but she suggested they ask Yeboah instead.
To Clemmons’ surprise, Yeboah agreed to visit as part of a trip to the United States. After his talk at the school in late March, Brooks Global began working to collect bicycles that he would return to pick up and ship back to Ghana.
“I think the more that school feels like a community, the stronger a learning environment it is,” Clemmons said. That goes for reading a book or collecting bicycles.
Sandra Lubchenko, a teacher and service-learning coordinator at the school, said it was cool and interesting to see how they were able to use social media in a new way to get parents and friends of the school to spread the message about donating bicycles. And it’s also been great, she said, to see the students interact with Yeboah.
“Emmanuel has been here for a couple days and the kids care about him, want to talk to him so much,” Lubchenko said Monday.
After a few days of being on hand at the school to collect the bicycles, Yeboah showed up Tuesday with a huge container to ship the bikes. On the wet day, he and the FBI worked to stack the bicycles in the container with the help of Merritt White of Recycles, a local used-bicycle store.
It was hard work, building a high stack of bicycles inside the container, but Yeboah threw himself into the hardest part of the task. These days a prosthetic limb means he does not need to use crutches.
Yeboah said he is taking the bicycles to a repair shop in Koforidua, Ghana, operated by people living with disabilities. They will work to get the donated bicycles tuned up and ready for resale. He is passionate about finding ways to help people living with disabilities find work.
He said he hopes to come back to Brooks Global at the opening of next school year to collect more bicycles. While this kind of bicycle drive effort from a school is not unprecedented, he said, it hasn’t happened often though he speaks at many places.
He said he hopes to help students see the opportunities they have. If they already have a bicycle or a ride to school, he said, they have what they need to go after their dreams.
Of the many bicycles Yeboah loaded Tuesday, one once belonged to third-grader Jace Williams. It’s a small bicycle with training wheels and many good memories, like riding downhill fast with his friend.
For Jace, it’s been useful to hear about Yeboah and how he learned to ride a bicycle with just one leg to pedal, after falling many times, because Jace is working to learn to ride his newer bicycle without the training wheels. It’s hard, but Jace now believes he can do it, from reading about Emmanuel.
“I think he likes encouraging people,” he said.
Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.