Not Just for Me: An Interview with Joy Ngugi

Not Just for Me: An Interview with Joy Ngugi

Name: Joy Ngugi
Class Standing: Sophomore
Major: Computer Science


As the President of the African Student Association (ASA), what are some of your responsibilities and where do you want to see this club go? What are some of the goals of the ASA?
My responsibilities revolve around making sure the ideas that we do have within our club are met. The vision for our club is something that I think will take more than one year to meet—it's the idea of not only trying to include people outside our culture (we have a lot of non-African members) but also giving them a chance to understand our story and possibly expand their worldview more.


Speaking of the African story and worldview, what makes that experience different or similar to the African-American experience? Are there intersections or nuances there that not many may realize?
Well the black experience in the continent of Africa is extremely different. I think a lot of the Africans that do migrate or move to the United States are confused because the cultures are so distinct. The black history of the U.S. is rooted in the enslavement of African people and continues to have its echoes in racism. The black history in Africa is rooted in colonization. Instead of being uprooted and taken somewhere else, we were kind of enslaved in our own homes. Because of that, tensions rose within ourselves—between tribes that separated themselves, for example, by appearance. For us, at least in my opinion, it's hard to relate as much to racism, but we still experience it.

Another thing that's different for Africans is that we see a large amount of people who look like us everywhere and in positions of fame and power. For us, we have accepted the way we are, but here, I see that black Americans (because I also grew up in the U.S.), don't always see people who look like them everywhere and that can lead to issues in identity. I think I've had both. I think that I've struggled with my identity here but when I go home, it feels kind of weird to see everyone look like me.


Since the African identity is not a homogenous one, how does ASA plan to showcase the diverse variety of cultures inherent to the continent?Actually, this was a question we had in naming the club. All the other organizations on campus are based on countries, but ours is labeled under our continent and this became a debatable issue within our club for a time. I think this also shows us what the mindset of the West has on Africa is like—where they don't talk about it as if it is made up of many different countries but as one place with one identity.

Our experiences, coming from different countries, are different but the goal of this club right now, at least, is to showcase the parts of our cultures that are similar which tend to be some of the more important traits of our identity as a people. I think, for now, it's more important to introduce our cultures in small doses accurately before going into more detailed showcases.


In regards to identity, can you tell me more about your background?
I would be what you call a third-culture kid. I was born in Kenya then moved to the United States with my older brother and parents when I was three years old.


Do you ever feel like home is one place or the other, both or neither, in some aspects?
I've spent most of my life in the U.S., but the issue with that is knowing that I belong but also reminding myself that I am Kenyan. There's a piece of me that feels is validated here but not always. Likewise, when I go home to Kenya, it feels good to be home, but I still don't feel like I don't really belong because I may speak differently and my experience growing up was drastically different. For me, my heart says Kenya is home but I know that home is also where I'm most comfortable in terms of my understanding of everyday life, which would be the United States.


As a club that represents two of the number of cultures of Black identity in America, will ASA be doing anything to celebrate Black History Month?
We're doing two things. First, we're linking up with Black Student Christian Forum (BSCF) to do an African-themed Impact vespers service. Second, we're holding this thing similar to a Love Month. Basically, it's like a Valentine's day celebration that will go on for the entire month where a student can write a letter to someone and the club will deliver it alongside some goodies. Moreover, the funds we get for this Love Month program will go towards Somali refugees.


To be more personal, how do you celebrate Black History Month?
Frankly, I become excessively excited for Black History Month. I think what makes it great also is that this month is not just a good opportunity for educating others but a great way to educate the black community too. Sometimes we forget about our own accomplishments, the people before us and all the things they've done for us. So during this month I just go deep into everything black. It's not just me though, but a lot of the people around me in school, Twitter and Facebook and celebrities like Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, do it too.


What are your thoughts about the current climate of Black History Month on campus?
One thing that I'm a little bothered by is that Black History Month is meant for the entire country, the entire campus. But the way I see it is while all the black people and people like you, Kyrk, feel like this month is an inclusive event, a lot of people still see it as exclusive. I can't blame them though. When you see you a group of people celebrating their blackness and identity and you don't necessarily fit that description, you could understandably feel uncomfortable.

I think if I wasn't black, I would at least admire the month. I may not participate in the events but I think it would still be cool to see a ton of people proud of their melanin and what not. While it would be nice to see a larger crowd feel like this month is an all-inclusive celebration of a community's identity, at least right now, it feels like it's still only a majority of black people celebrating.


Where do you wish to see the climate of Black History Month on campus shift to?
Honestly, I hope to see Black History Month Celebrations on campus become more widely celebrated across culture groups without being watered down. It's unfortunate that many people become uncomfortable with the month, and sometimes some of us try to accommodate their feelings and dampen our celebrations and end up only talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. and not someone like Malcolm X. Personally, I think if teachers and parents across the board became more comfortable discussing and participating in issues of race, then the next generation will become more comfortable facing those topics.

Now, considering the current political and social climate of our nation right now, do you think that cultural celebrations of identity like Black History Month have an even more important role now? Do you think that all the different political rhetoric enveloping our country merits a louder call for these kinds of unapologetic celebrations of identity and inclusivity?
In our current political climate, I think that people who are unapologetically whatever-they-are should be louder now than before and I think they are getting louder. At least speaking in terms of Black History Month and black people, there have been several who have been quiet and in the shadows during this time. But now more black people, even those who stayed in the woodworks are now becoming more vocal about things, statements and actions that are not okay. Especially now, I think it is imperative that people become more unapologetic of their beliefs, communities and identity.   


I know you said to admire the month if you were non-black but how would people who aren't black affirm these celebrations in other ways? How can non-black people validate the black community of Andrews? And how can non-black students participate in Black History Month festivities?
I think people don't ignore the month, but rather it becomes hard to take ownership of it as a non-black person, if that makes sense. It sometimes builds this idea that this is "their" month. I think, however, that there are some people who have been successful or at least attempting to make it feel like it is a month for them too. Even if it makes them uncomfortable, they ask questions, try to participate in things like the Spirit Week we're having this week, try to understand people's experiences and stories, and even just going to the multiple events on and off campus celebrating black history.


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