The Education of a Nigerian in Georgia

There is a story based on an African’s experience in America. It is one of personal success and it is one that should wake us up to the opportunities our young people are missing. Not because the opportunities aren’t there, but because attitudes are misdirected. Because parental guidance is lacking. In some ways this is a difficult story to tell because it speaks to a number of truths.

The story is about a young man, Chinedu Ezeamuzie, 21. Originally from Nigeria, he’s lived most of his life in Kuwait. In 2003, his parents brought him and his three siblings to America, where he was enrolled at the Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia, his first time in a public school. He came from a mother and father that instilled values of family, community, spirituality, and self-betterment.

On his first day in school, wearing khakis, a button-down dress shirt, and nice leather shoes, this African caught the attention of the African-Americans in the school cafeteria. They ridiculed him. He said, “They gave me ‘the look,’" and asked in so many words, "Why is this guy dressed like the white folks, like the preppy guys?”

He would be insulted because he ate in the school cafeteria with whites. The blacks accused him of being a “traitor.” Such attitudes made no sense to Ezeamuzie. In Kuwait, his life was enriched in time spent with Europeans, Arabs, workers from the Philippines, and a mixture of groups from the African continent. The thinking was so puny, narrow, and counterproductive that it was hard to believe it was coming from Americans.

Ezeamuzie didn’t understand why so few black students were in his advanced placement classes. He would find it was in part because of peer pressure not to excel, not to be “different.” In time, he relaxed his British-trained tongue, but the more he tried to fit in, the more confused he became. He wondered: Why did they mock students for being intelligent? Why did every conversation seem to go no further than drugs, girls, and materialism?

The experience caused him to reflect on the stereotypes Americans, including African-Americans, have of Africans. No, he didn’t run with tigers, climb trees, or chase monkeys. He had to overcome stereotypes of African-Americans. No, they aren’t all rappers, gang-bangers, and criminals on the run. But it hurt him to see in his life at school that so many were apathetic about the value of an education. As much as he wanted to blend in, he couldn’t help but stand out. Eventually, he faced the fact that he was different and needed to stay that way for the sake of his future.

The young man is now a graduate from Georgia Tech, having majored in marketing. He’s even been running his own web development company for several years. He balances his professional side with his musical side as a singer/songwriter who performs for fun at the college.