Tabioh Yuoh is a 63-year-old thin, soft-spoken groundskeeper at a West Bde Maka Ska apartment building where he has worked for over a decade. After his shifts at the apartment building, he heads to a part-time job at FedEx. Yuoh has made a significant impression on the West Bde Maka community where he works, and was awarded the West Bde Maka Ska Neighborhood Organization’s Neighborhood Treasure award for being a generous, hardworking person.
Yuoh, a permanent resident in the U.S., hasn’t visited his home country of Liberia in 26 years. He immigrated in November, 1998 after coming to the U.S. for his brother’s funeral in Galveston, Texas, when he decided to head north to visit another brother in Minneapolis. That’s when he decided he wanted to move to Minnesota, where he saw more opportunities for his future than in Liberia. He has spent the past 26 years working to visit his country again and giving back to his communities in Minneapolis and in Liberia.
“As an immigrant, you have to be focused and have goals,” Yuoh said.
His family is huge and spread out across oceans. Yuoh is one of 33 children from his father and has one 38-year-old daughter of his own in Maryland, plus one grandchild and another on the way. His father was the postmaster general in Liberia and his sister, Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, is the chief justice of the Liberian supreme court.
He identifies as Liberian, not African-American and not Americo-Liberian, though his family has some Americo-Liberian ancestry. Americo-Liberian is the term used for Liberians whose ancestors were enslaved or free-born African Americans who moved from the U.S. to form the country of Liberia.
Growing up in a financially comfortable family, Yuoh attended primary and secondary school and later got a degree. He’s fluent in French after studying in the neighboring country Côte d'Ivoire and working at a Liberian ministry.
Yuoh left Liberia during “dark days” between the two Liberian Civil Wars. He said that conflict forced him to escape the country separately from his family on foot, walking for over a week. During the journey, Yuoh said that child soldiers stopped him. It was his family name that helped him escape his country safely. During the dark days in Liberia, Yuoh said that he saw many children who were starving. The image of hungry kids remains in his head and motivates him to help where he can.
Once in the U.S., Yuoh struggled to adjust to the cold. His first goal in the U.S. was to reconnect with his daughter, who had gone to live with his sister in the States years prior. His second goal was to become financially stable again, which initially involved working three jobs.
Richard Logan is a resident in the building where Yuoh works, and they’ve gotten to know each other over the 12 years they’ve been interacting.
“Everybody adores him, and everybody is going to hate when he retires,” Logan said. “Tabioh is probably the most beloved man I’ve ever met in my life.”
Yuoh picks up trash around the neighborhood, helps residents how he can and exudes generosity. Logan remembered a time when Yuoh said he offered to pay for a mother’s groceries after he saw her daughter asking the mother for healthy foods.
“What I did that night meant she didn’t go to bed hungry. She went to bed with a full belly, and I know she slept well,” Yuoh said.
The issue of child hunger has stayed close to Yuoh’s heart since he left Liberia. He raises money for the non-profit No Kid Hungry to prevent child hunger in the U.S.
Yuoh remains deeply connected to his family and the politics in Liberia. After retirement in a few years, Yuoh wants to dedicate his time to an outreach program he will start called YOU, which stands for Yuoh Outreach Umbrella. One goal of this outreach program will be to support Liberian people in acquiring safe and healthy shelter.
Yuoh showed a video from his niece in Liberia, who will be his outreach’s liaison, giving a tour of a building where she had helped move in a small community of people. The community had been living outside in a cemetery, where they were getting sick because there wasn’t a healthy sanitation system.
Yuoh’s first project in his outreach mission is to feed all of the people in that building for Christmas this year.