Dr. Henry Baffoe-Bonnie voted for the first time in the United States in 1996, one year after he became an American citizen.
"I still have the sticker everyone gets that read, `I voted,"' Dr. Baffoe-Bonnie said, beaming. "I thought to myself, `Wow! This really counts."'
Originally from Ghana, a country in West Africa, Dr. Baffoe-Bonnie came to America 17 years ago to attend school. After earning his undergraduate degree from Atlanta's Morehouse College, he went on to become a doctor, studying at both Morehouse and Emory University.
This Fourth of July, Dr. Baffoe-Bonnie will spend his day serving as a general physician to America's veterans. He will be working at Atlanta's Veterans Administration hospital until 7 p.m. and then he plans to spend time with his wife and two children, who live in Atlanta.
"Ghana's independence day is a lot like America's," he said.
Dr. Baffoe-Bonnie's homeland celebrates its independence from the British on March 6.
All the schoolchildren march through the streets to traditional music and everyone is in a "party mood," he said.
Although he enjoys America's fanfare and parades on the Fourth, he doesn't need a national holiday to remind him of his independence and patriotism.
It's the smaller, everyday things most American-born citizens take for granted that give him pride the most.
"I'll never forget the first time I traveled with my United States passport," Dr. Baffoe-Bonnie said, smiling. "It was a very nice feeling."
Although Ghana was the place of his birth, his father's job as a world diplomat took him to many countries, including Senegal, Israel and the former Soviet Union.
After becoming comfortable in the United States, he decided he wanted to settle in America and become a naturalized citizen.
"It's a very emotional thing," Dr. Baffoe-Bonnie said of the naturalization process. "When you swear to become a United States citizen, you renounce allegiance to all foreign countries."
I rejoiced in becoming a citizen because there was so much pride attached to that step."
Dr. Baffoe-Bonnie's job after medical school lead him to rural Wadley, Ga. -- population 3,000.
He is part of the U.S. Public Health program where doctors are sent to rural communities to practice medicine in exchange for a portion of their student loans being paid for by the government.
"As a new American, it's sad to see this kind of deprivation and disenfranchisement that invades this community," Dr. Baffoe-Bonnie said, speaking of the high teen-age pregnancy rate in Wadley.
It disturbs him to see people not live up to their potential in a country that offers so many opportunities for success.
"There is no country in the world like America, where a person like myself could come here with my background and achieve what I have achieved," he said. "The chance to pursue your dreams to the limit is what I like best about America."
Katie Throne can be reached at (706) 823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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