Department of Africana Studies
Just a few hours before she delivered the keynote speech at Kent State University’s 2022 Anti-Racism Conference, Bettina Love, Ph.D., met with Kent State students, faculty and staff for an informal discussion and book signing.
The gathering was less a discussion of Love’s newest book, “We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom,” and more a chance for attendees to get to know the award-winning author and ask questions.
Love was introduced by Shemariah J. Arki, EdD, assistant professor in Kent State’s Department of Africana Studies. Arki met Love at an academic conference nearly 10 years ago and they became friends.
While attending the conference, Arki was in a hallway when she heard “a dynamic voice. Speaking like somebody from my community, talking like they’re talking to me, but talking about what it means to do this work,” she said.
“To see someone in that space, allowed me to see myself in that space. And 10 years later…” Arki said.
As Arki introduced Love, she invited the people in attendance to expand the conversation beyond discussing the book and talk about what it’s like to be a student at Kent State and “What can we do, as a small, thoughtful group of committed folks, to transform this place that we’re in?”
Love’s path to academia
Love first spoke about how she became an academic. “I never thought I would be an academic,” she said. “That was not my trajectory at all: I played basketball. I was really, really good at it. And so that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to play basketball for the rest of my life.”
“I got to college and realized that I wasn’t that good. I was good. I wasn’t that good. I stayed on the floor more than I was up. I had to figure out something else.”
So, she started reading about her options and exploring academics outside of basketball. She was fortunate to have several mentors who suggested that she should become a professor. As a first-generation college student, Love wasn’t quite sure what professors do. She asked one of her mentors, “What does a professor do?” His answer? “You write and you talk sh*t,” he said. So she said, “Sign me up. Sign me up. And that’s how I became a college professor.”
Finding common threads
Mwatabu Okantah, associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Africana Studies, shared that he had a path to academics that was similar to Love’s. He explained that Kent State recruited him for the track and field team. “When I got to this level, running track,” Okantah said, “People that I could outrun before I got here were running away from me. So I had to figure out something else to do.”
Okantah and Love have another thing in common: They are both parents of twins.
The importance of a space
Okantah also shared some of the story of the origins of Oscar Ritchie Hall, born out of some of the protests on campus in the early 1970s. Black students on campus had asked for a Black studies program, more Black faculty and staff, and a Black cultural center on campus.
“This building is literally the fulfillment of the dreams of earlier generations,” he said. “It looks the way it looks because we wanted to create a space where saw ourselves, a space where we could come in out of the cold, a space where not only could we study ourselves, but we understood that it wasn’t just for us: Other people needed to know our story.”
When baseball great Jackie Robinson’s mother visited campus, Oktantah was excited to meet her and took great pride in showing her around Oscar Ritchie Hall. She asked him “Why are you separating yourselves?” He replied “We are not separating ourselves – but can’t we have a house? Can’t we have something that’s ours that we can invite other people into?”
Okantah said, “ Because if you come into this space, outside of the student center, this is the most diverse place on campus.”
Creating a sense of belonging
Love agreed with Okantah, citing statistics that indicate historically Black colleges and universities produce 50% of Black doctors, 50% of Black lawyers and 50% of Black CEOS. She said, “There are over 3,000 colleges in the United States and you mean to tell me that 20 colleges are producing 50% of Black doctors, lawyers and execs? That’s a huge understanding of what belonging can do.”
“When we have our own, when we have an opportunity to see ourselves, to feel protected, to feel loved, that’s community,” said Love. “And it’s pumping out 50% of Black lawyers and Black doctors. I’m in Atlanta, Georgia: I can see and I know what it does.”
The Nkafu Policy Institute recently appointed Ghana native Felix Kumah-Abiwu, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Africana Studies at Kent State University, one of its Non-Resident Fellows in Governance & Democracy.
“As a scholar of African Affairs who is committed to researching and publishing scholarly works on political leadership, governance, democracy, and security issues in Africa, I consider my appointment as a unique/extraordinary opportunity to help shape policy ideas and outcomes on the continent,” Kumah-Abiwu said.
Kumah-Abiwu hopes that his research and publication of policy-related papers will serve the policy needs of political leaders, policymakers, and ordinary Africans. He also plans to get involved with the Institute through speaking events, serving as a panelist/moderator, and wants to provide leadership, strategic development, and program management of policy initiatives for the development of Africa, especially on issues of governance and democracy.
“This appointment is a great honor because of the Institute’s esteemed reputation as one of the leading policy think tanks in Africa,” Kumah-Abiwu said. “Their positive impact in providing novel policy recommendations toward Africa’s development is outstanding.”
To learn more about the Nkafu Policy Institute, visit: www.nkafu.org
About Dr. Kumah-Abiwu
Kumah-Abiwu is the founding director of the Center for African Studies at Kent State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from West Virginia University and also studied at Ohio University for his graduate degree program in Communication and International Development. Prior to coming to the United States, he obtained his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Ghana and an MA in International Affairs from the Legon Centre for International Affairs & Diplomacy (LECIAD), University of Ghana.
His research focuses on political leadership in Africa, elections/democratic governance, African security issues, foreign policy analysis, narcotics policy, Black males/public education in the African diaspora, and African-centered theories. He has presented his research papers at national (USA) and international conferences. In 2015 and 2017, he presented his research papers at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. He participated and presented papers at international conferences in Hamilton, Bermuda (2016), Dublin, Ireland (2018), Vienna, Austria (2019), Mauritius (2019) and Dunedin, New Zealand (2019) and many others.
In addition to his published book, book reviews, encyclopedia entries, and several book chapters, his scholarly journal articles have appeared in the Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs (The Round Table), Journal of Pan African Studies, West Africa Review, International Journal of Public Administration, Journal of Men’s Studies, Urban Education, Journal of Economics/Sustainable Development, Commonwealth & Comparative Politics and African Security Review.
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Jim Maxwell, email@example.com, 330-672-8028
Starting in Semester Fall 2021 , the Department of Pan-African Studies will offer all Kent State University graduate students the option of taking three courses leading to a new graduate minor degree in Race, Gender and Social Justice (RGSJ) at the Kent Campus. Pending approval by the Kent State University Board of Trustees, the department will also change its name to the Department of Africana Studies.
This is the first graduate minor ever offered by Kent State and is specifically designed for students who are currently enrolled in any graduate degree program across the university. Undergraduate seniors can take any one of the senior-level slashed graduate courses but cannot earn this minor as a degree.
Two required core courses will be offered by the Department of Africana Studies and one course must be taken from either Africana Studies or an elective course within the student's home graduate program (participating departments include English, History, Sociology, Philosophy, Political Science, and Geography) to complete this graduate minor.
“Students will learn or gain critical knowledge in the areas of race, gender and social justice,” Felix Kumah-Abiwu, Ph.D., associate professor of Africana Studies said. “The interdisciplinary graduate minor will also strengthen the knowledge, research and pedagogical framework of students on the historical, political, social, cultural and economic dimensions of power, race, gender, and social justice in the global Black world.”
The idea to create this new graduate minor was conceived a few years ago by Amoaba Gooden, Ph.D., Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and former chairperson of the Department of Africana Studies. She established an ad hoc committee and worked with committee members (i.e., Felix Kumah-Abiwu, Charmaine Crawford, Ph.D., Babacar M’Baye, Ph.D., and Mwatabu Okantah) and other faculty members in her department in the development of the graduate program. The current social justice movement regarding race and gender issues also influenced its establishment.
“Given the historical nature of racial discrimination and its impact on people of African descent, it is important for students to study and have a better understanding of the critical issues on race, gender and social justice,” Kumah-Abiwu said. “The program will also prepare students for professional and academic positions, especially in the fields of race, gender and social justice.”
For more information on the graduate minor, contact Dr. Felix Kumah-Abiwu, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Maxwell, email@example.com, 330-672-8028