This is a letter I received from one of my graduating undergrad students in International Development Studies this July 21, 2017 at the University of Portsmouth.
However deeply flattering (as well as resonating so much with my own journey) these words are to me personally, this ain’t no bragging exercise. I share my student’s words because they powerfully capture, embody and voice what we are on about with the #’s like #BMEAttainmentGap, #WhyIsMyCurriculumWhite, #RhodesMustFall, #RaceInYourFace, #DecoloniseMySyllabus, #WhyAintMyProfessorBlack,…and the academic/activist work behind it. e.g. the module “Rethinking Aid and Development” (a decolonial approach to international development) the letter refers to, is a core unit I was allowed to put together and run for the first time last year.
Big up to all the students and colleagues that inspire and energise us on this path. Head up high and straight ahead. One.
“Dear Olivia (^Dr. Rutazibwa –> so much power in this name) ,
In all the years of my education, which are approximately 14 years, I had always been keenly aware that something was missing. Particularly during my secondary years, did my acknowledgement of ‘the missing thing’ develop, yet seldom was I able to locate or define it. Until, of course, my GCSE History class! This class involved Black/African history, thus it was the first time I was actually seen, heard or identified academically and institutionally, as you can imagine, I approached the class with zeal and fervour!
As I vividly remember, the class consisted of looking at explicit images of African American slaves, for an hour. That was their entire summary of Black/African history, we promptly resumed back to the white washed tale of WWII in the second period. Subsequently, for the rest of my academic years I was silenced, and it impacted my school education and my self-worth greatly! Silence, for a long time defined my existence.
Throughout school, I was an intelligent character, yet never able to, as my teachers would say ‘apply myself’. I had always been disillusioned and uninterested in the mockery of myself at the hands of the education system. Of course not all my features were due to disillusionment, (I’m (was) lazy too), but there was certainly a pattern.
In my second year [of university], the story of disillusionment continued (in fact 1st year too), by this time I was bored and becoming overwhelmingly exhausted and angry. I felt like an empty glass that waited to be filled, but dried instead from lack of nourishment.
– FINAL YEAR:
I located what was missing. I think I had imagined you in my past, I had conjured up thoughts and images that resembled you. I was just unable to place it. Re-thinking Aid, situated me institutionally and academically, it challenged and excited me. You, as my mentor did far more, seeing you, as you are, was like unlocking a door, that had once been prohibited to me. You didn’t need to use many words, you were simply there. That was it, exactly what was missing!
Thank you, you changed the script.
I thank God that I was fortunate enough to have you as a guide, and I thank him for your life.
Signed: One of your most memorable students – Kaleke”