This is the fifth of a series of 20 profiles of The Gazette’s Best and Brightest Class of 2019.
“Baanu so emmia.”
“It means, ‘When two carry, it does not hurt,’” Ghanaian native and Atlas Preparatory School senior Frank Hanson explains. “It’s commonly uttered in Ghana and celebrates an idea crucial to how most Ghanaians view community.”
Hanson was born and raised in Accra, Ghana, moving to the United States with his brother when he was 12 years old, while their parents remained in Ghana. The transition to American life and culture were full of ups and downs, Hanson says, especially since his mother is able to visit only one month out of the year. Hanson is turning his permanent residency status into dual-citizenship in the United States and Ghana.
“The toughest part of this change was not what some may think — I adjusted to American values, but struggled to adapt to the loss of the support system I had relied on as a child. I spent many mornings and evenings by myself, missing my mother, yet working desperately to validate the decision she made to bring me to this country.”
The words Hanson’s father, Kofi Hanson, spoke in the days before his son’s departure still resonate: “Frank, talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.”
As a sophomore, Hanson applied and was selected to join the board of directors at the Giddings Foundation, which provides grants to organizations that provide charitable health, educational and open space preservation services in El Paso and Teller counties.
Hanson says that more than anything else, his selection as a board member shaped his views on the importance of community service in the United States.
“I investigated grant applications. … It taught me that serving your community can be done in dozens of different ways, and that the link between all of these approaches was passion,” Hanson says.
Hanson labels his summers with the Rotary Youth Leadership Academy as one of the most important parts of his high school life and says his work with the Giddings Foundation was his principal motivator to work to synthesize all the best of American and Ghanaian culture.
Hanson will graduate as salutatorian and will then attend the University of Richmond in the fall. He is a recipient of the university’s Presidential Scholarship and was selected to join the Oliver Hill Scholars cohort. Hanson plans to major in International Studies and Leadership with a focus on the intersection of development and ethics.
“The African continent is a rich learning ground for this line of study as it provides both wonderful examples of leaders. … I look to people like Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Paul Kagame of Rwanda. … They have an immense amount to teach me,” Hanson says.
“I’d love to visit African beacons of reform like Botswana, to better understand the complex ethical questions created by rapid development and interview the politicians there who must always remain vigilant of these questions,” Hanson continued.
Atlas Director of Collegiate Programming Christopher Novak describes Hanson as a rare human being.
“Despite spending his formative teenage years separated from his family and driven only by himself, he has established an academic legacy that will live on long after he graduates,” Novak says. “It should also be noted that he speaks five languages fluently: English, French and three West African languages.”
Hanson is determined to bear his share of the load facing Ghana.
“My father is a brilliant man who has done great things both for his family and country. He planted these thoughts and questions in me. By engaging in this subject at the University of Richmond, I hope to take what he has taught me and move further forward. One day soon I will return home and take my seat … and engage in the spirited debate of Africa’s future as an equal.”