In a perfectly written article by Jerry Davich of the Chicago Tribune, featuring a young Liberian journalist recently in Monrovia, Davich began after young Anthony Kokoi smartly addressed approached the American journalist.
In Davich’s article posted on line it began like this:
“Good day! Sir, I’m Anthony Kokoi, a young Liberian …” it began.
Before I could click delete – out of habit – I noticed the next line. “I am a volunteer reporter at the Daily Observer newspaper here in Liberia.”
Hmmm … OK, go on, I thought to myself.
“Thanks for the story about the Liberian man whose sight was restored,” wrote Kokoi, a 21-year-old student at the University of Liberia.
Kokoi somehow found my column about Edward Williams, a 67-year-old Liberian church leader who last month received the vision-restoring gift of cataract removal surgery, thanks to officials from Suncrest Christian Church in St. John.
“My hopes are to become a professional journalist and writer,” said Kokoi, who volunteers at Liberia’s first independent local daily publication.
“I have the conviction I can positively contribute to the sustainable growth and development of my country through writing stories that will highlight the challenges, prospects and progress being made by the youthful population of my country,” he told me.
Since that initial email, we’ve kept in contact, developing a pen pal-type digital conversation. I asked him questions. He asked me questions. I learned about him. He learned about me. And about our country, beyond its global reputation.
I found out that Kokoi lives with his parents who provide for his needs as he goes through his university classes. He has a girlfriend who’s a fellow student, and he’s serving an internship at a radio station called Truth 96.1-FM.
“I am also working on having my own NGO (non-governmental organization) called the Youth Media Network,” he said.
Youthful idealism transcends our countries’ obvious differences, the crushing civil war that crippled Liberia, and basic essentials that we take for granted here – such as electricity, which comes and goes throughout Liberia, including Kokoi’s city of Paynesville.
“In order for one to become a professional writer or journalist, he or she needs to follow unfolding developments and conduct research, but we need the availability of electricity,” he said.
He repeatedly apologized for his delay to reply to me via email, social media and Facebook voice messages because of power outages in his city. Lack of electricity is a minor inconvenience, however, compared to the many Liberians who must go without food or shelter each day, Kokoi said.
In 2014, he graduated from St. Matthew Lutheran High School, and he is now studying public administration and mass communication at the government-operated university. In one photo he shared with me, Kokoi’s mother, Esther Sumo, looks proudly at her son after he performed in a dramatic stage production.
Again, parental pride also transcends so many global differences that seem to overshadow the universality of our human condition. Parents are parents, whether it’s in Liberia or America. Unconditional love is unconditional love. No borders or boundaries or policies can stop this, or curb it.
I asked Kokoi what he thought of the United States.
“America is a great place to be, but sometimes I become frightened when I hear news about someone opening fire at peaceful citizens,” he replied.
Yes, our infamous reputation of mass shootings has reached the shores of Liberia, and likely every other country in the world. I found it interesting that this bullet-ridden image was Kokoi’s initial reaction to our country. But not his only reaction.
“It also is a country where one can acquire knowledge and return home to contribute to his country’s development,” he said.
This is Kokoi’s dream, an African version of the American dream. Travel to our country, earn a degree at a university in this area as an international student, and return to Liberia to help his people. (If you can help him do this, please contact me.)
Kokoi began writing stories for the Daily Observer newspaper, focusing on sports, education and the country’s development, as part of his journalism training.
“I was very much amazed when my first story was published with my byline,” he said.
I have since been reading his work online at the newspaper’s website. He has a knack for writing about his country’s governmental and cultural evolution.
“My country is still developing due to the 14 years of civil unrest that led to the deaths of over 900,000 people,” he said. “Here in my country, we have many young people who are passionate about becoming professional journalists and writers, but only a few are afforded the opportunity, with political stories being the order of the day.”
He desperately wants to become one of those few Liberians to express his thoughts through mass communication. He reads daily newspapers. He researches news online. He contacts professional journalists around the world. He listens to talk radio shows.
“Listening to the radio sometimes becomes boring due to some journalists using it to blackmail politicians in order to gain favors,” he said. “Others misuse the microphone without providing any education for young people.”
Still, he has hope.
“With the undisrupted 11 years of peace that we are now enjoying, I am confident we can be one of the most developed countries in the world,” he said.
Earlier this week, Kokoi was excited to tell me about Independence Day for his country, which was formerly a colony of the American Colonization Society.
“We are 169 years old!” he said.
His people speak mostly English and lean toward Christianity.
“I pray for the Lord almighty’s grace to continue upon my life and to grant my heart’s desires, according to His glory,” Kokoi said. “I always pray for wisdom, knowledge and understanding.”
More than once he told me, “I feel proud to be a Liberian.”
I learned a lot about Kokoi this past month. I learned more about our similarities than our differences. And to think I almost deleted his email.