It’s hard to top cheating death at the age of 10, but Kimmie Weeks ’05 has managed to do it.
Growing up in Liberia during the country’s first civil war, Weeks escaped the grave, literally: he was nearly thrown into a mass grave by neighbors who thought he’d succumbed to cholera, but he regained consciousness as his mother beat on his chest.
Three years later he cofounded Voice of the Future, Liberia’s first child rights advocacy organization. He went on to publish a report about the government’s involvement in recruiting child soldiers. This put him in danger of assassination by Charles Taylor’s regime, and so, at age 17, Weeks found political asylum in the United States.
Weeks is now back in Liberia, working from multiple vantage points to help children in postwar African nations. Last year he won the World’s Children’s Prize Honorary Award, in part for his work with Youth Action International, a nonprofit he started while at Amherst. YAI helps young people in Liberia, Uganda and Sierra Leone by, among other things, providing homes for orphans, rehabilitating child soldiers and lobbying governments.
Weeks is also board chairman—appointed by Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—of the Liberia Water and Sewer Corp., which is working to pipe water to more than 800,000 Liberians who haven’t had running water since 1990. He also works part-time as chief corporate communications strategist for Cellcomm, the country’s second-largest mobile telecommunications provider. In addition, he’s started a music label, KLW Entertainment, to promote Liberian musicians, and he’s on the speaking circuit.
“Many young Liberians are still living in a mental state of despair,” says Weeks. “I use my story to say, ‘I have gone through exactly what you went through. I’ve gone through the war. I did not leave Liberia until 1999. I saw the killings. I experienced the starvation. At no point did I give up.’”
In 2011, at age 29, Weeks became the youngest person ever to receive an honorary degree from Amherst. When he speaks to American audiences, he puts a different twist on his talk.
“Do not get in your mind that Africa is a hopeless place and it’s just a continent of bloodshed,” he tells them. “It’s a beautiful continent, a continent of great people, of people with great resilience, of people with hopes and dreams, and if we can put our hands behind them in a very simple way, the impact can truly transform the continent.”
He does not have plans so much as passions, he says. These include expanding YAI’s scope. “That commitment to improve other people’s lives,” says Weeks, who has not ruled out running for public office, “that’s been the drive for everything I do.”
William Sweet is a writer in Amherst’s communications office.