Over the past two decades, Michael Blackson has made a name for himself as one of the most prolific comedians in Hollywood. From starring alongside Hollywood big wigs like Hip Hop icon Ice Cube in Next Friday and showing off his roasting chops on Nick Cannon’s Wild ‘n Out on MTV, to sold out shows in comedy clubs all over the United States, he is now a household name in the country he was once considered an immigrant.
If someone told Michael Blackson, Hollywood actor and comedian, that he would one day be sitting in his $4 million penthouse in the middle of Sunset Boulevard in California, with his own sitcom months from airing on BET+ and produced by none other than billionaire TV mogul, Tyler Perry, he would have answered with one word – impossible. And nobody would have blamed him.
After all, this is the stuff of miracles and dreams. But for Blackson, that is exactly what happened. Raised by a single mother and the fifth of eight children, Blackson spent his early years in Ghana moving from village to village on account of his mother’s calling as an evangelist. His early childhood was spent between Nigeria and Liberia, where his mother remarried.
“We traveled so much that I missed several grades and when I got to the US at 13, they put me in the eighth grade even though the last class I took in Liberia was the sixth grade,” says Blackson.
That is when everything changed for him.
“My mother called the US ‘the Promised Land’ but I hated it when I came to America. I was homesick and I missed my brothers and I was now in this cold place and kids were making fun of me. Back home, we didn’t see anything wrong with a lot of things because we are all the same people.
“They said I was blacker than them and we never saw complexion back home. I didn’t realize that there were lighter Africans or darker ones and the kids made me realize that we were all different. They said things like ‘you have a gap in your teeth, your hair texture is different’ and it made me insecure,” says Blackson.
Channeling that insecurity and a natural affinity for speaking in public, Blackson eventually fell in love with comedy and the rest, as they say, is history. During his meteoric rise to the top, which includes starring alongside Eddie Murphy in Coming 2 America and making between $40,000 and $100,000 a night at his sold-out shows, Blackson returned to Ghana to visit his brothers who he had not seen in over 15 years.
“In 2001, I went back to Ghana. Walking around the area I grew up, I said ‘why does this place look the same?’ It had been over 27 years and nothing had changed. The kids were not in school and I found out that their parents could not pay their tuition fees which was $80 for the year. I remember going down the road and I paid for about four kids to go to school for a year. I then went to the village and the same problem was there. I said I am going to do something about this,” recalls Blackson.
It took him until 2019 to save up the $500,000 needed to build the Michael Blackson Academy in the village he once called home. The Ghanaian government has made senior secondary education free but the problem for parents who are struggling is that they still need to educate their children from kindergarten to junior secondary school.
“As African kids, we treasure education and we love to learn but for some reason, not everyone can afford to go to school. Whether they can’t afford the tuition, or they can’t pay for their uniform, there is always some problem that prevents many kids from going to school. I knew that if I was given the opportunity as a kid, I would go to school and I felt like every African felt this way. That is the main reason I always wanted to do something in education – to give back,” says Blackson.
The Michael Blackson Academy has a vision of providing free education for impoverished children in Ghana. The school currently has a capacity of 200 students and the entire program from feeding, to school uniforms, teacher’s salaries and tuition fees is self-funded by Blackson.
“My goal is that the top four students get the opportunity to study abroad through a partnership with a private school in the US, go to high school in the US and get an opportunity. All they have to do in return is to promise to go back home eventually and contribute to Ghana,” says Blackson.
The school officially opened its doors in January 2021. Students are selected with the help of a consultancy which ensures that Blackson’s goal of helping the most impoverished and in need families is achieved. His next goal is to expand The Michael Blackson Academy to Liberia as well as set up a not-for-profit foundation that will give back resources to those in need.
“You owe it to others to be a blessing. But my goal is to make an impact and it gives me so much joy to see the lives we are changing. We are currently in the process of raising money for another academy in Liberia.”