Keeping an Open Mind and a Desire to Learn

Ololade Akingbade, COS'18

I am a 4th year neuroscience major engaged heavily in mentorship, civic leadership, and racial justice issues in Boston and beyond. I spent Summer 2015 in Ferguson researching race and citizenship and Spring 2015 and 2016 in Selma Alabama leading civil rights service trips. I am traveling to South Africa this summer on an urban sociology dialogue to learn about race, public space, and social conflict specific to the country's post-apartheid climate. I am fascinated by the complex issues cities and communities face and look to pursue a career in urban health as a physician and researcher. For fun, I dabble in graphic design and photography.


Travel has always enticed me. After growing up in a small suburb in North Jersey and moving to Boston to attending college in the city of Boston, location has always been salient to my experiences. As a first Nigerian immigrant who arrived to the U.S with my parents in my infancy, I’ve shifted through many cultural lenses: that of my African identity and my existence as a Black American. During my time at Northeastern I’ve explored identity in the context of the U.S history of racial politics. I’ve spent Spring 2015 and 2016 in Selma, Alabama leading service learning trips on the legacy of the Voting Rights Act movement. I’ve spent Summer 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri investigating questions of race and citizenship in the context of the 2014 unrest following the death of Mike Brown. Exploring Black identity through research has been a means for me to cope and understand the world around me. As such, a study abroad provides the perfect basis for academic exploration specific to my identity as a Nigerian and Black American.

As I will be attending an urban sociology dialogue centered on post-apartheid residential inequality and political movements, I expect to explore my African heritage in a new light. Through this trip I look to see what it means to be a Black-identifying Nigerian American in space of specific racial conflict. I will be able to explore my social position in a new society outside of the context of US race relations: 150 years of slavery. 90 years of Jim Crow. 60 years of separate but equal, and 35 years of state-sanctioned redlining. To me being Black and abroad is a privilege given the multiple barriers, financial and institutional, that prevent students of color from engaging in global study abroad experiences. I exist as both myself and a representative of my culture, having local experiences that allow me to speak on global oppression. I hope to leave this trip with a concrete understanding of how the civil rights and apartheid struggle mirrored and differed from one another, allowing me to expand my understanding of race and space. As one of the few Black students on my trip I fear having to deal with the psychological weight of my identity, and the exhaustion that comes with discussing race relations given my experiences. I can only mitigate this fear by jumping into this trip with an open mind and a desire to learn that is balanced by a conviction to activism.

As I’ve traveled to Nigeria in the past, this study abroad is symbolic, sparking the beginning of my travel experiences within African. I look forward to immersing myself in a new yet familiar culture learning from local organizers, architects, and thought leaders in Cape Town and Johannesburg. As much as I lend my experiences as a Nigerian and student activist in Boston, I want to leave space to listen and learn from the communities I live in. I can only hope to expand my definition of self through this program.