With systemic racism and social justice issues dominating the headlines, a veteran MTSU professor takes over the Africana Studies program.
Adonijah Bakari, a professor of history in his 26th year at the university, assumes control of the interdisciplinary program from his colleague, history associate professor Louis Woods, who now is focusing on teaching.
Started in Fall 2017, the program offers the first major of its kind in the region and the only one in Tennessee with the option of either a bachelor of arts degree or a bachelor of science degree.
Bakari said there are more than 20 students majoring in the discipline. He said he would like to see it grow by making two survey courses in African-American history general education classes.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic stymies many study-abroad courses, Bakari is looking ahead to the day when more of those courses will take students to Africa.
“We’re working on a program to Ghana,” Bakari said. “I’d like to tweak the curriculum some so that it becomes part of the major that students have to study abroad. I think that study-abroad component is really, really, really important.”
At present, associate professor Aliou Ly heads a study-abroad course in Senegal, but Bakari also is considering Gambia, which he calls “small” and “personable.”
“I’ve done study-abroad in Cameroon, also, and that’s a very interesting country because you have the dual languages,” Bakari said. “Part of the country is Francophone, and part of the country is Anglophone. It blows (students’) minds when they see how a dual language country operates.”
Bakari assumes control of Africana Studies at a time when demonstrations against police brutality, systemic racism and extrajudicial violence against Black people are prompting Americans to reexamine their perceptions of history, as well as current events like the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“It’s a shame that George Floyd had to die for us as a country to begin to have these types of conversations about race, about policing, about equality,” Bakari said.
However, Bakari said, the situation presents an opportunity to compare and contrast the present and the past through classroom discussion.
“When we talk about the Constitution, or we talk about civil rights, for most students, they can’t make the connections,” Bakari said. “But this period allows students to really be able to see how the civil rights movement looked, what protests were like, what pushback from the police or the political system looks like.”
As for the African continent itself, Bakari said there are numerous myths that need to be dispelled. With more than 500 different languages, various religions and numerous political formations, Africa is “as diverse and unique as any place in the world,” Bakari said.
For more information about Africana Studies, contact Bakari at 615-898-5905 or firstname.lastname@example.org or go to https://www.mtsu.edu/programs/africana-studies/.
— Gina Logue (email@example.com)