#500EmpoweringAfricanStories: Ibram X. Kendi
By: Amy Xiang
Ibram’s parents came of age in the midst of the Black power movement in New York City, which was at its peak in the late 1960s. They were both student activists inspired by Black liberation theory, and they passed down this spirit of activism to Ibram, who changed his middle and last name in 2013 to celebrate his African heritage.
Born Ibram Henry Rogers, Ibram changed his middle name to Xolani, meaning “peace” in Zulu, and, along with his wife, changed his last name to Kendi which means “loved one” in Meru.
When Ibram was in high school, his family moved from Queens, New York to a small town in Virginia. Ibram then went on to study journalism at Florida A&M University, where he initially wanted to pursue a career in sports journalism. However, towards the end of his time in college, he became increasingly engaged in racial justice work and added on a second major in African American Studies.
After working for a few years as a journalist in Virginia, Ibram decided to go to graduate school to further his education. In 2010, Ibram earned his doctoral degree in African American Studies from Temple University. His dissertation was titled “The Black Campus Movement: An Afrocentric Narrative History of the Struggle to Diversify Higher Education, 1965-1972.” This was just a preview of all the work he would continue to spend his career researching.
Since then, Ibram has taught at many universities around the country, including SUNY Albany, the University of Florida, and American University. He has also received countless grants, fellowships, and appointments from various schools and foundations to further his research in the field of antiracism, of which Ibram is a leader.
Perhaps Ibram’s most recognized work thus far is his 2019 book entitled How to Be an Antiracist, which has exploded in popularity following the George Floyd protests. In an interview with The New York Times, Ibram called this new wave of passion for the Black Lives Matter movement “a signature, significant, distinct moment of people striving to be anti-racist.”
Although Ibram is pleased with the public support, he reminds readers that in order to create real change, this momentum needs to continue, eventually making its way into government: “I can’t recall a time in recent history that so many Americans in so many towns and cities have called publicly and privately for a more antiracist society. But the key is whether we’re going to transform the resistance on the street into power and policy change.”
AMY XIANG is the writer for African Community Learning Program and a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also writes for The Daily Pennsylvanian and 34th Street Magazine. To support African Community Learning Program’s work, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.