Obama — An Echo from My College Days

Barack Obama’s selection as our Democratic presidential nominee echoes my own experience with another student with direct African roots who, as Obama, came to complete his studies in his junior year in an Ivy university.

My brilliant new roommate was even in his junior year engaging in original medical research. He went on to a distinguished career as a professor of medicine in NYC before he moved south to teach and practice in one of our African American institutions. He was for a time the pediatrician for one of my children — his fields of expertise were pediatrics and nutrition. He tried for a time to return to his native Nigeria, but could not stomach the military dictatorship there and so returned to practice in the States. His father was also a Muslim and his mother had been the first of several wives — his, the senior, had her own household and ran a trading business out of it, bringing crafts works from central Nigeria to be exported abroad.

For our first several months as roommates our relations were formal and correct, but it was obvious that he was homesick and feeling lonely as only one of three fellow Yalies with African roots (the other two were Americans) in those days before the university opened its doors to minorities other than the prosperous and/or sons of foreign political officials. Festus was also one of these — he had been a ‘king’ during the British occupation.

When feeling down, Festus would put on a record from home which consisted primarily of the heavy beat of native drums. It was driving me bats while comforting him. So one night I burst out with “Will you turn off those damned drums!” This event broke the ice for us and we became the best of friends for life, although we have not seen each other much since — a dinner together two decades back while Festus was still teaching and practicing in NYC.

Festus was quite fed up with the white liberals of those days whom he felt (rightly) still unconsciously manifested their underlying racism, e.g. discomfort at shaking hands and touching a ‘dirty’ person. We had quite some times together. Festus had an old car and we would drive here and there for events. I recall one day his heading into a gas station and when the attendant was slow getting up from his chair, Festus sped out again, disclaiming, “damned racists!” Festus was my first experience with Africans who were not intimidated and cautious — in those days when lynching and murders by cops and others were still being carried out with impunity.

FYI here is his current bio with picture:


“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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