On an educator's impact
ORAL HISTORY TRANSCRIPT
Interview with Nasozi Kakembo (2001-2005)
Interview Date: April 14, 2022
Interviewer: Francena Turner
Method: Zoom recording
Length: 59:16 minutes
Transcription software: otter.ai
Transcription edited by: Francena Turner
NARRATOR BIO: Nasozi Kakembo came to the University of Maryland, College Park from Silver Spring and Columbia, Maryland in 2001. She graduated in 2005 with an art history degree. Kakembo went on to earn a master’s degree in public policy focusing on international development and planning in 2008. Kakembo worked in architecture and communication before becoming an entrepreneur. She is currently the owner of Xnasozistudio.com, a design and home textile e-commerce company. While at UMD, Kakembo was a member of the Black Student Union, the African Student Association, and the Spanish Language Immersion Home.
KEYWORDS: Silver Spring, Maryland, Columbia, Maryland, Uganda, Germany, architecture, track and field, Catholic University, Honors Program, Hammond High School, The Courtyards, Spanish Language Immersion Home, Black Student Union (BSU), African Student Association (ASA), Kanye West, Jason Reynolds, Stamp Student Union, Nyumburu Cultural Center, Fraternity Row, Urban Planning, International Development, African American History, New York City, Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy), Columbia University, Great Recession, Open Society Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, e-commerce, entrepreneurship, marketing, communications, Howard University, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and Black alumni engagement.
Francena Turner 00:01
Okay, my name is Francena Turner, and I’m conducting an oral history interview with Nasozi Kakembo for the Black Experience at UMD Oral History Project. I want to first ask you, when did you enter and then graduate from the university?
Nasozi Kakembo 00:19
I entered in the fall of 2001, and I graduated in May of 2005. I spent one semester at Catholic University, and that was my junior year, fall semester. I had formally withdrawn from Maryland and enrolled at Catholic, and then came back to Maryland. Otherwise straight through except for one semester elsewhere.
Francena Turner 01:00
What’s your hometown?
Nasozi Kakembo 01:02
My hometown is Silver Spring /Columbia, Maryland. I was born and raised in Silver Spring until middle school, and then my family moved to Columbia, Maryland, where I completed middle school and high school.
Francena Turner 01:17
How would you describe your life prior to coming to the University of Maryland? And with this question, I’m trying to get at one question that answers: What was your home community, like, your family composition, thoughts on higher education, that kind of thing?
Nasozi Kakembo 01:32
I think, growing up in Maryland, and the relative DC suburbs, and then later in Columbia, and the more relative to Baltimore suburbs, but still firmly planted between those two major metropolises, I had a really great upbringing in Maryland. I think now, looking back now that I’m a mother, and I’m back in in Maryland—I lived in Brooklyn for 12 years—and I’m raising a son here. He’s currently 13, we moved we moved here when he was eight. One of the most important experiences, foundational, and fundamental experiences that I had growing up here was just the representation of people who looked like me or had shared experiences in all aspects of everyday life, whether that was literally blue-collar, white-collar academia, my principals, my post office, my postal work, postal delivery people, doctors, everybody. We were represented in all aspects, and it wasn’t like a homogeneity or anything like that. We were not the exception to any of those spaces, and neither were people who didn’t look like us. I came into the University of Maryland, and thus into the world, not feeling at all, like an exception, not feeling at all intimidated by being in a room of people who didn’t look like me when I later encountered that in other professional settings in America, of course, when I began to travel the world to different countries, it wasn’t so much unexpected that I might be in a room where people don’t look like me or speak the same language. But growing up in in Maryland, specifically in this general region of Maryland, I just never felt otherized. Maybe it was a naivete, I’m not sure. I feel like my peers who I grew up with, in terms of those of us who came from Black and brown, ethnic backgrounds, we had friends of all different walks of life. I really think that was important in shaping how we then navigated into the adult world.
Education wise, I definitely remember when we lived in Silver Spring in the first neighborhood that we lived in. My parents had just moved back to the States; my father is Ugandan, and my mother is African American. She had been living in Germany for close to 20 years. My father had never lived in the States, and he got placed into a medical residency at Howard University. They moved from Germany to Silver Spring, and we’re basically starting from scratch. We were in in Silver Spring in a lower middle class, yet upwardly mobile apartment complex. The school that I remember, my academic performance was not good. I was not a good student in that school. I don’t actually know why, but once we moved in the fourth or fifth grade, we moved to a more middle class, upper middle-class neighborhood a few miles away—still within Silver Spring, but a few miles away. I was just in a different academic environment. Perhaps there was more PTA money in that school. I actually did quite well; my academic record really improved.
The first school I attended, at least half of the families and the children there were from immigrant families. This is in the early to mid-80s. There’s upheaval all over the world. And a lot of those students and families were resettled in in the DC area. Families from Ethiopia, families from Central America, families, from Africa, families from the former Soviet bloc, that’s what my neighborhood looked like and we’re all just trying to figure it out. There wasn’t much extra time to be doing PTA things in that neighborhood. In that second school there was. It just showed up in my performance somehow. I moved to Columbia, later in middle school, and my academic performance continued on a strong path. I feel like I had a solid educational experience in Howard County Public Schools as well.
Francena Turner 06:32
And I just want to clarify, when your family made the move from Germany, were you already born, or had you lived in Germany?
Nasozi Kakembo 06:40
I wasn’t born yet. They moved here so that I could be born as an American, and then they moved back to Germany, because my mother had to finish up some work. We stayed there for a little bit longer. I’m too young to remember; I don’t remember any of that. Then they came back to the States, all within a span of like a year or two. I do have two older brothers who were born in Germany and their first language was German. One of those brothers moved here with us. He began here in maybe kindergarten or first grade as a German only speaker. He had another experience entirely—a Black kid who only spoke German, in Silver Spring in the early 80s. But that’s also a bit of our family composition as well.
Francena Turner 07:36
You said your dad did a medical residency at Howard. Your father was a physician, what did your mom do?
Nasozi Kakembo 07:43
My mother, she’s a jack of all trades, in a sense. She’s bad. She studied nursing. She has her degrees in nursing. She also studied literature. Once she moved to Washington, DC, she really got plugged into the African diplomatic circles. She has done a lot of public relations and community building between the wives and representatives of African ambassadors coming to the US and really engaging them in the community in the Washington DC area, in the form of building connections with other African American women who live here. She’s also done a lot of work with African art galleries and African arts and culture in the Washington, DC area. She used to manage an African art gallery in upper Georgetown, and she did that for most of my childhood. She’s just always been plugged into and working on strengthening the cultural ties between African and African Americans in the context of culture and arts.
Francena Turner 09:01
How did you come to make the decision to go to the University of Maryland?
Nasozi Kakembo 09:06
Looking back, did I even think about this? Not that I regret it at all. But I almost feel I could have perhaps, in a way, used more guidance because I was a state champion for track and field, and I was being recruited by lots of schools—primarily on the East Coast. My academic passion was architecture. I was hearing from everybody around me that you can’t be a student athlete and an architecture major at the same time because architecture was so demanding with late nights, etc. I decided to forego any sports opportunity in pursuit of a degree in architecture, which, long story short, I didn’t end up obtaining. Between knowing that Maryland had a solid, a very well respected, and high ranked architecture program, and I also wasn’t just quite comfortable and didn’t really have a desire to go far from home. A lot of my friends were going to Maryland—a lot of my high school friends and even kids from my neighborhood. My group of friends, we were always very school oriented. We loved school, we enjoyed it, we did well. Most of us who applied to Maryland, got into Maryland. That’s essentially why I decided to go there. It’s the only school I applied to. I didn’t even apply anywhere else.
Francena Turner 10:53
You mentioned that you didn’t end up getting a degree in architecture. What did end up being your major?
Nasozi Kakembo 10:59
My major ended up being Art History—where I still had an option to focus and dabble into architecture—with a minor in Spanish—which I had started learning in seventh grade. I continued with Spanish all the way through.
Francena Turner 11:17
Were you originally enrolled in architecture and then you changed your mind? How did you make the shift between the two?
Nasozi Kakembo 11:25
That was a bit of a disappointing experience and ultimately why I had that break in my time at Maryland. There was one manner in which you could apply for the School of Architecture straight out of high school. I wasn’t aware of that option until I got to Maryland. I don’t know if that was a misstep in the academic counseling or advisor relationship—although I recall having engaged advisors—but somehow that piece of information eluded me. If you didn’t get accepted straight into the university, you could apply going into your junior year after taking two years’ worth of prerequisites and core courses for architecture. So those were physic courses, they were certain architectural history courses, basically a very architecture heavy course load. Then you submit a portfolio, and they review your grades. Then they tell you whether you got into architecture or not. I didn’t get into architecture. I was completely bummed. I had been really pursuing architecture since I was a child. For whatever reason, definitely in terms of the entire industry, it’s a very white old boys club industry. The school itself really looked like that. Me coming into that school of architecture from my world, from my bubble, perhaps I didn’t realize what I was potentially up against in doing that. It wouldn’t have changed my pursuit, but I would have appealed their decision or really not just conceded and gone to Catholic University, where I did apply mid-year and was accepted into their architecture program when I got the Maryland program decision. I started out heavily in pursuit of Architecture at Maryland. When that didn’t work out, I left, got into Catholic and didn’t like their program. I was just like, “You know what, I I’ll do something as close to architecture as I can and finish up on time.” I did have to take a few summer school classes. I finished up in art history, which I ended up loving anyway, and then graduated on time in May of 2005.
Francena Turner 14:10
Had you been to the University of Maryland prior to come in as a freshman?
Nasozi Kakembo 14:15
I was accepted into the Honors Program. We had a couple of Honors Program orientations before the first day of school. And I don’t recall if there was anything else, but there were at least one or two orientations that I attended in the context of that honors program or being newly accepted.
Francena Turner 14:47
You’re accepted. You’re an incoming freshman. You’re coming to move into the dorms. What are your earliest memories of being a freshman at the university?
Nasozi Kakembo 14:58
My earliest memories are of the range of…there were two memories. I think part of this actually started in high school, but once I got to Maryland, it was very stark. Maybe like freshman or sophomore year of high school, I remember, there started to be a very noticeable divide between the white friends I grew up with and who they were my friends and then my Black friends. Not that even those two pools were distinct, but people who gravitated more toward the white culture and set of friends and those who gravitated more toward the Black. We weren’t going to the same parties anymore. We weren’t invited to the same parties anymore. We didn’t sit with each other at lunch anymore. That kind of took me aback when I realized that that was beginning to happen in high school. By the time we got to college—many of us attended University of Maryland—it was just like, “Oh, well forget it. That’s a wrap. We’re not we’re not intermingling anymore.” It was unfortunate and odd. There were no dramas or any triggers to that. But, just for whatever reason, the way that the chips fell, and in that space, and in that context, we naturally gravitated to people who looked like us. So that I did find odd. That was very noticeable.
What was also noticeable and what I remember was the spirit and the joy and energy of just Black students on campus from everywhere. There are a lot of New York students. Their energy and their language. It was just so cool to be around Black people from all over the United States, but like heavily from heavily from New York, some from the South as well. I just really liked that. We had a lot of fun together. Everybody was just super smart.
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