Hymn number 840 of our Catholic Ritual Song book evokes Bible verses in a manner that I find relevant in understanding what we are committed to doing in our profession as teachers, and ultimately in how we go about accomplishing the mission of our college: “We are many parts, we are all one body, and the gifts we have we are given to share. May the Spirit of life make us one indeed; one, the love that we share, one, our hope in despair, one the cross that we bear” (italics and emphasis mine). In many ways over the years I have shared the gifts that I have in a church-affiliated college that has as mission to educate students to go out into the world after graduation to also share their gifts and their love with others by being responsible citizens in our increasingly challenging world. Among other things, I teach them that to be a responsible citizen of our contemporary world means they should respect others who do not share their religious faith or who come from a different cultural background.
I strive to help my students make relevant connections between scholarship, what I teach them in the classroom, and their lives. After all, is that not what our liberal arts education in this church-related institution is all about? For example, for me the interest in Caribbean history and culture goes beyond a yearning for academic scholarship. It is personal because it is about my identity, my soul. The late renowned Burkinabè historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo sums up the importance of identity in the following proverb: “Un arbre qui n’a plus de racines n’est plus un arbre” [a tree that has lost its roots is no longer a tree]. Some students might not understand completely how this identity is about my soul, but I hope that they will eventually be able to understand that the History of Guadeloupe, or St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or Trinidad and Tobago, or Bordeaux in France is not just a history of the “Other”, or “that other” history. My wish is that they will see the importance of the connection between historical sites in Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, South Carolina-Georgia, on the one hand, and the slave castles in Elmina and Cape Coast in Ghana and the Gorée Island in Senegal. We say in our mission statement that we strive “to balance educational tradition with innovation and to foster the development of values as an integral part of intellectual growth”, and also that we want “to help students attain their full potential as persons”. As a faculty member, what I hope I have been able to do since I came here in 1991 is help to accomplish this lofty mission by challenging students to see the humanity in how peoples’ histories have shaped the world in which we live today, and how learning can positively help them understand their own communities and the world at large. After all, as a Sudanese proverb proclaims: “No matter how big a tree is, an axe is always its enemy”.
Between the ages of eleven and seventeen years, I attended a Catholic Minor Seminary. The school has as its motto: “Lumen Splendeat”—“let the light shine”. That motto has been a motif for me in life. I have learned in my profession that there are many ways in which I can let that light shine, and I believe that over the years, I have done that in various ways that have been very beneficial to my students and the college community at large. I hope I have been able to educate them to understand why they need to take control of the knowledge that they acquire in order to understand themselves better, because as Joseph Ki-Zerbo once said “Dormir sur la natte des autres, c’est comme dormir sur le sol” [sleeping on another person’s mat is like sleeping on the ground].
My involvement with the St. Peter community at large has grown over the years. We do not consider that as service to the college. However, it isone way of representing the college well, and that in my view tallies with the mission of our college. I have participated in the International Festival at South Elementary School, done presentations in classes in the schools in town, coached soccer in summer, done African xylophone music performances, and so on and so forth.
As I have already alluded to above, one key mission of our college is to expose students to a knowledge of and an appreciation of different cultures of the world. I believe I have helped in fulfilling this mission through the kinds of courses I teach, the type of scholarship that I bring into my teaching, and the service that I have rendered to the community so far. For my university education, I had the privilege of attending five institutions in three continents, four countries, and in four very different education systems. It has served me well, and my students have always benefited from this diverse experience which for me has been important in how I help the college accomplish its mission.
I will end my personal statement with some proverbs. The first one is a Dagara proverb (Ghana, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire), and the second is an Igbo proverb (Nigeria). The Dagara proverb asks a rhetorical question: “Aa dang kyere bie kaafu e sogre a bie yuor?” The proverb means: “Who asks for the name of a baby that he or she is going to baby sit?” I would like to believe that I did not find it necessary to ask for the name of the baby that I was going to baby sit, and that after seventeen years, I know the baby pretty well. The Igbo proverb is taken from a novel of one of Africa’s most renowned writers, Chinua Achebe of Nigeria. The novel is called Things Fall Apart and the proverb says that a child who washes his or her hands can eat with elders. This proverb is not unique to the Igbo people. It is a profoundly African way of seeing the relationship between people and what learning entails. Over the years, I have done my best to inculcate in students what learning means and where it can take them. I want them to wash their hands so that they too can eat with elders. Eating with elders entails having respect for others, and understanding the values that their society cherishes.
Another Igbo proverb states that the lizard that jumped from the top of the high iroko tree to the ground said it would praise itself if no one else did. I believe I have jumped from the top of the high iroko tree to the ground. Fortunately for me, my legs and my stomach are still intact! Yet, unlike the proverbial lizard, I am not praising myself. The Bible admonishes us thus: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs: 3:34; 1 Peter: 5:5). This letter is called a “personal” statement. I have tried to provide the sort of information about myself that would help the people involved in the evaluation process to see how I have met the four criteria for promotion to full professor.