What were you doing when you were 13 years old? For Adom Appiah of Spartanburg, South Carolina, the answer would be making a difference in his community – and making history.
It all began with a project for his seventh grade history class at Spartanburg Day School. His teacher challenged her students to use 20 percent of their class time to do a project that makes the world better. Young Appiah decided to combine his love of sports with his family’s tradition of community service.
His passion and enthusiasm attracted wide community support and in March 2017, over 800 spectators attended Appiah’s first celebrity basketball game. The players and coaches included former NFL players, local elected officials, and business leaders. One of the most famous participants was NBA rookie Zion Williamson, a rising basketball star in his junior year at Appiah’s school back then. The spectators paid $5 per person.
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At that first game, Appiah and his supporters raised $7500 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Upstate, South Carolina, and his nonprofit, Ball4Good, was born. He recruited fellow student leaders from across the county to help him decide which organizations would receive money and other donations as Ball4Good grew.
His mentor, an African-American community leader named Mary Thomas, used her position as COO of the Spartanburg County Foundation and her decades of experience in philanthropy to train him and his collaborators on the process for awarding grants. She also helped him create the Ball4Good Fund, which collects donations to support future games and charitable activities, starting with $1,000 from the Foundation itself in 2017 and another award in 2018 which came with $5,000 that Appiah promptly invested in the fund.
Then, over the summer, while planning the next round of Ball4Good events, Adom Appiah wrote his first of three books! The first one, “Kids Can Change the World: A middle schooler’s guide for turning passion into progress,” is available in two versions — one for teens and one for younger kids. His newest book, Bounce Back from Failure, shares lessons on how to handle failures with grace. (By the way, Adom means “grace” in Twi, the dominant language of Akans in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.) Amidst all of his successes, Appiah tasted failure twice at the National Spelling Bee; he wasn’t the winner, but it was such an honor to make it that far! “Don’t be discouraged when things aren’t looking up for you,” he writes. “Open your eyes; greater things lie beyond your failure.”
Indeed! Fast-forward to 2019. His nonprofit, Ball4Good has expanded tremendously. They’ve held “Kicks for Cancer,” a celebrity soccer match to raise funds for children living with cancer, and they’ve collected winter hats, sporting goods, and toiletries to be distributed to neighbors in need by Spartanburg-area nonprofits. After the third annual charity basketball game, Appiah and Ball4Good awarded grants totaling $16,000 to four organizations!
This 15-year-old’s tremendous accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. This year, he was one of 25 youth to receive the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which includes a $10,000 for his college education or Ball4Good activities. He was named a state honoree by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. He’s also been featured in several media outlets and appeared as a guest on an online talk show hosted by Kenyan influencer Gina Muigai.
In one of his many awards ceremonies, the ever-humble and eloquent Appiah thanked God, his mentor, teacher, supporters, and his parents for sowing the seeds of service in his heart. His mom, Marjorie, is an author and philanthropist in her own right. “Ever since I was a kid, my family and I have participated in several community initiatives. I didn’t even know asking for donations was fundraising. I thought it was a normal thing to do.”
His next goal is to grow Ball4Good’s fund to $200,000. With so much determination and community support, he is sure to make it happen! Meanwhile, follow his social media pages – Twitter and Facebook – for lots of inspiring links about Ball4Good and other young people making the world a better place!