Kindred Spirit   « Back

by Lori Nickel
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sep. 27, 2006

The way he is polite to everyone; his big, kind heart; such a hard worker; self motivated; and very ambitious.

It's been almost 30 years since Elizabeth Peprah's father was assassinated and yet she can't help but recognize him in the eyes of her 23-year-old son, Charlie.

"Many times, I see a little trace of him," said Elizabeth Peprah.

In the NFL's youngest locker room, rookie safety Charlie Peprah is, right now, just another new face for the Green Bay Packers trying to get experience and get better. This is already his second team. He was drafted by the New York Giants in the fifth round, but didn't make the final roster cut.

Soon after Green Bay safety Marviel Underwood was put on injured reserve, the Packers picked up Peprah on waivers in the first week of the season. He's played special teams here and there while he tries to catch up with the safeties ahead of him, Nick Collins and Tyrone Culver.

Charlie's maternal grandfather was Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, who was once Lieutenant Colonel of Ghana, a West African country. Ghana's government leaders had been accused of economic mismanagement and corruption. Acheampong (pronounced ay-CHAM-pong) took over the government in a coup in 1972.

"Politics in Africa, they always say, politics is a deadly game," said Elizabeth Peprah. "He knew what he was getting himself in to, but I guess it was a risk he was willing to take. When he told me this is what he wanted to do, I was scared, but I was with him. I prayed for him."

Elizabeth Peprah said her father took over in a "bloodless coup," that "he never killed a soul." Various accounts support that, reporting that Acheampong and the army seized control of the country when Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Busia was in London to receive medical treatment.

Acheampong established the National Redemption Council and tried to develop the country's economy, which mostly relies on agricultural products such as timber and cocoa. As Ghana's head of state, he tried to lower the unemployment rate and foreign debt, but his regime appointed military leaders to run government branches, not elected officials. Acheampong was overthrown in 1978. In 1979, Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings overthrew the government again, this time in a violent coup, and a new president won by a slim margin in an election. Acheampong was executed by a firing squad. Elizabeth Peprah believes it was Rawlings who ordered the execution.

Just before he died, Acheampong removed the watch from his wrist and gave it to one of his shooters.

"He was the people's man," said Elizabeth Peprah.

But Acheampong's daughter was now in grave danger. She was married then to Joshua Peprah, a lieutenant in Acheampong's army. Terrified for their safety, the young couple with a young son fled to Europe first, and then finally the United States.

"We felt (Joshua) wasn't safe because obviously you have friends and you have enemies when you are in power. So you don't know who will come after you," said Elizabeth Peprah. "So many times, I hurt a lot because (Rawlings) got away with it. That's why I left the country. There's no way I could live in the same country with him, when he had done this to my dad. We left Ghana, because it was like a mutiny. They were going after women, they were going after kids, looting, so you don't know what will happen to you."

The Peprahs settled in Texas. Joshua Peprah earned his engineering degree at Texas Christian University. Then they moved to Plano. Elizabeth wanted to study medicine in college, but soon after came Charlie and another son. She stayed home to raise her family.

Today, the Peprahs are divorced. Joshua Peprah has moved back to Ghana and runs his own business, Computer Network Systems Integration. He catches football games at odd hours on satellite TV.

Their oldest son Kwabena Peprah earned his master's degree in marketing and works for Disney World in Orlando. Joshua Jr. is already a head-turner on the varsity high school football team. Charlie has been with the Packers for three weeks. Elizabeth works full time as a cashier at Home Depot. She has some of her father's books and pictures to remember him by.

The one thing Joshua and Elizabeth Peprah insisted on was a good education for their three boys. But sports runs through the bloodlines. Acheampong was once Ghana's Commissioner of Sports and Elizabeth herself was a runner and played "net" ball, or what Africans call basketball. Peprah played running back in his senior year at Plano High School, averaging 9.7 yards per carry with nine touchdowns, but he was a dedicated student first.

"Education came first. No question," said Charlie Peprah. "Sports was way behind it. My dad came over and he didn't know what football was. He went to a TCU-Arkansas game, and he loved it, the first time he ever saw football. He still keeps up with my games. But while he loves sports, education was No. 1. He got his engineering degree so education is something that's important to him."

Peprah played right and then left cornerback his first two years with Alabama before moving to safety to help at a position that lacked depth. As a starter all four years, he had nine interceptions, mostly from when he played corner. He also earned his undergraduate degree in marketing and a master's degree in financial planning in addition to being named an SEC Academic All-American.

After a respectable exhibition showing by rookie standards - six tackles, one interception, one pass defensed - Peprah was headed for the Giants' practice squad when he was told he was coming to Green Bay.

"He was thrilled," said Michael Gurley, who is one of Peprah's representatives from the Vortex Sports Group and the Law Offices of Archie Lamb. "Of course it's a lot cheaper place to live than New York. Plus he was thrilled to get picked up by a young team like Green Bay that's in the process of rebuilding."

Charlie Peprah was born after his grandfather died, and Elizabeth had planned on naming her middle son after her father. But Charlie arrived a month early, on a Thursday, so he was also given the African name, Yaw, customary in her culture for the boy born on a day of the week.

He has been to Ghana a couple of times and that exposure had widened his horizons.

"Going overseas kind of opens up your mind, especially seeing how people live there," said Peprah. "Going back and forth a bunch of times, I feel like a more wordly person."

This is usually the first impression of Peprah, that he is bright and informed.

"You come to his house and he's watching CNN or keeping up with the news," said Gurley. "Knows politics pretty well, he can discuss about anything.

"I was driving with him and (another player), heading to Arizona for workouts. They're talking about the texture of the houses, whatever the houses are made of out there, and what the average rainfall is in the Phoenix area, and how that would save money on the cooling bills. It just wasn't your typical conversation between two football players."

As for his grandfather, Peprah has the utmost respect.

"From all that I've heard, he was a great man," said Peprah.

Ghana's history is a large part of Peprah's past. His parents came to the United States in large part to assure the security of their family.

It's now up to Charlie Peprah to create his own identity.

Roster move

On Tuesday, the Packers cut linebacker Tracy White and promoted fullback Brandon Miree from the practice squad.

Miree, 5 feet 11 inches and 236 pounds, was signed Sept. 4 by Green Bay. A seventh-round draft choice by Denver in 2004 out of Pittsburgh, he spent all of '04 on injured reserve (thumb) and all of '05 on the Broncos' practice squad. He was cut Sept. 2.
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