March 6th, 1957

The date my home country of Ghana became the first African country to gain independence from a European colonial power. There is so much pride and humility to be felt simply because of that. And as such, Ghanaians are proud and strong people.  Personally, I felt I had a lot to be proud of and a lot to stand for.

But, it wasn’t always like that.

My name is Gabby Kwadwo Addane, and this is my Crystal Stair.

When asked about my Ghanaian heritage, I always described it in terms of tradition.  This notion that my culture revolves around this set of accepted norms in our community, some good and some bad.

Ghanaian culture, for me, was defined by a patriarchal society.  Men did the hard work while women stayed home and tended the house and the children.  Consistent with Western culture women “knew their place”.

Alcoholism was also prevalent with the men in my family.  Like anything debilitating and unhealthy, alcoholism was a disease, a coping mechanism that promoted physical violence wherever it was used or abused.  And what was worse, physical abuse was almost tolerated in this culture. It was a trait I wanted to separate myself from, but my separation from Ghanaian culture, as an adolescent, went much deeper.

Many Africans can attest to this, but when you come to America, outside of your family, you’re not motivated to fully embrace your African heritage.  I was teased as a kid about being African, as many children are.  We are continuously taught that our mélange of cultures, countries, and beauty standards aren’t desirable, and as kids, we begin to internalize that.  I’d be lying if I said that some of those moments don’t still affect me today.

My parents didn’t have the best lives growing up, and like any parent, wanted better for their children; so they left Ghana and moved to Japan where they lived for approximately 10 years. During that time, they were maneuvering through their 20’s and early 30’s, trying to make something for themselves and I know for a fact that they were enjoying themselves.

On Success

I believe you can’t measure your success from your finances. Ask yourself, are you happy? I mean truly happy? Naturally, everyone equates success with having a well-paying job but are you excited to go to work; Do you consider it a job or are you genuinely excited to be there every day, regardless of your pay? As millennials, we are getting the infamous reputation for leaving a position in less than 2 years because we aren’t happy.  Previous generations, such as my parents, frown down on us because they feel like we aren’t grateful for what we currently have.  I’ve seen my mother and father work in the same industry, nursing, and taxi driving, respectively, for a majority of my life.  I didn’t have an understanding until about high school that my parents truly didn’t enjoy their jobs.  They stayed in their profession because they were taught “Leave, for what? Have I gotten fired or laid off”?  I didn’t want to carry that same mentality with me into my adulthood.

One of the biggest fears I had growing up was living up to the standard my parents set for me. Since I was 4 years old, I’d always wanted to be an Engineer, but things changed when I got to college. I began to doubt myself, maybe Engineering wasn’t for me, but it felt like I had to continue my pursuit of that degree because of my parents’ sacrifices just to get their children to America.  It really tested my resolve and I definitely wanted to give up, but this degree was bigger than me and bigger than them; I’d started something and I was going to finish it.

I learned that the world is not made for everyone to be influential. The world needs balance. Some people need guidance and are okay with being told what to do and how to go about their lives. On the other hand, there are people who are eager to change the world and make sure others are impacted by their change.  It’s important to pick and choose your side because you never know the insight you may impart on someone else.