Kenyan Slum to Wesleyan, an Unlikely Journey

Kennedy Odede ’12 comes from a background most American college kids can only joke about uncomfortably in an effort to fathom it, working odd jobs to feed himself and his younger siblings in one of Africa’s largest slums even while pursuing an education:

While many students were startled by the violent altercation on Fountain Avenue last semester, public violence is nothing new for Kennedy Odede ’12. Hailing from the Kenyan slum of Kibera, Odede comes from a place where there are no police, a place where violence is the law.

“In Kibera, if you are caught stealing, they will put a tire on you, pour kerosene on the tire and then burn you alive,” Odede said. “I’ve seen that happen many times. I’m used to it.”

“In the slum, even if you are a bright kid in high school, there is no way out,” he said. “You will be doing unskilled jobs from day to day for the rest of your life. That is what most of my friends are doing, and that is what my brothers want to do. There is no hope of a better life.”

In large part, Odede became enamored with the words of Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, who argued that those of African ancestry should reclaim Africa from its European colonizers, a goal that could be worked toward, Garvey said, through an attitude of self-reliance.

“I was inferior because of poverty,” Odede said. “Garvey used to talk about how all people are equal and that changed my life.”

Read the first part of his amazing story in the Argus: From carrying rocks to carrying books: one student’s journey

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