Dr. Akil Kokayi Khalfani, is a Change Agent, Motivational Speaker, Author, and Professor and Pan African Diaspora Ambassador to His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ooni of Ile Ife.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised up to the fifth grade in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Khalfani spent most of his adolescence in Los Angeles, California where he learned the foundations of family values and hard work from his parents, grandparents, and large extended family.
As a first generation college student, he was dedicated to seeking the truth about the African global experience, and breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for others, which he did as a radio host at KZSC and a newsmagazine editor. Unbeknownst to him, he was following in the footstep of his Great Grandfather and his three brothers, who were doctors and educators.
Dr. Khalfani did not learn of them until after he had begun writing his dissertation. As part of his academic journey, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. However, he refers to his BS degree as a Blood Shed degree because of the thousands of Africans in America who died to provide him with the opportunity to thrive.
He subsequently earned his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania, from which he also earned a Graduate Certificate in African Studies. While at Penn, he became a Fontaine Fellow and an International Pre-dissertation Fellow through the Social Science Research Foundation. During the latter he studied isiZulu, Afrikaans, and southern African history and culture at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. His academic areas of expertise are Africana Studies, race relations, social stratification, and developing solutions to social problems.
In this exclusive interview with Adewale Adenrele of African Development Magazine, Dr. Khalfani speaks about his political journey, African spiritualism, Leadership challenges and plans for his constituents.
Below are excerpts:
Can you tell us briefly about yourself?
My name is Akil Kokayi Khalfani. Which means, intelligent, one who uses reason to summons the people who are destined to rule. When someone calls my name, it reminds me of the role and responsibility that I must play in my community. I am a man of the people, an author, professor, motivational speaker, father, and husband. I am a candidate for U.S. Congress representing New Jersey’s 10th congressional district. I earned a Ph.D. and Masters in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania, and a bachelor’s from the University of California, Santa Cruz. I studied in South Africa at the University of Pretoria. My academic areas of expertise are, social stratification, developing solutions to social problems, Africana Studies, and race relations. I am currently the Director for the Center for Global Education and Experiences, Director of the Africana Institute and Associate Professor of Sociology at Essex County College.
I recently founded Vote-ED, a nonprofit organization dedicated to voter education and registration. I am the Pan African Diaspora Ambassador to the Ooni of Ile Ife. I am the author of, The Hidden Debate: The Truth Revealed about the Battle over Affirmative Action in South Africa and the United States, which was nominated for the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award of the American Sociological Association (ASA). I have contributed to several books including the W.E.B. Du Bois Encyclopedia and White Logic, White Methods, Racism and Methodology, which won the ASA’s 2009 Oliver Cromwell Cox Award.
What are your major responsibilities as an Advisor to the UNESCO Center for Global Education, how have you impacted your position on populace?
I formerly served as an Advisor to the UNESCO Center for Global Education. We organized events to address educational challenges around the world.
What have been the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of leadership for you?
The greatest challenges are the resistance to liberty, equality, and justice around the globe, particularly as it relates to people of African descent. As I wrote in The Hidden Debate, we must develop a new holistic analysis to the problems of the world, while simultaneously developing a holistic approach to the solutions of these various social problems. Often policymakers and scholars, although well meaning, only address the surface of the problems of the day and never get to the true core of our various challenges. The core of these problems, I argue, rest at divergent interpretations of liberty equality and justice. Thereby, suggesting that what one experiences in the name of liberty equality and justice is also divergent because we are not operating on the “sup posit” universal meanings of these precepts.
My rewards are not individual. Success or rewards come in the form of collective achievement of agreed upon goals and objectives. That is, we must focus on outcomes and not just access to the possibility of social transformation. So, the answer is not just equality, equity, or justice, it is the synergistic achievement of these precepts that are symbiotic in nature. The achievement of equity, for instance, is often believed or at least spoken about in isolation of justice or freedom, which is not possible.
Contribution and call for promoting humanity service, peace and unity, equity and justice has been your priorities, who influenced you and why do you choose this path?
I have been influenced greatly by our African ancestors, my parents, and grandparents. The legacies of Harriet Tubman, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, Toussaint L’Overture, Imhotep, Oduduwa, and others.
The generational trauma, pain and suffering of the people in our community, as well as the great potential and opportunities for our community compel me to push and to push hard. As Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
You are a Candidate for US Congress for New Jersey’s 10th district; Share with us your journey into politics?
This is my second time running for U.S. Congress. I am pushing along with my constituents for greater representation for New Jersey and the 10th district. Many people in the district do not feel as though their voices are heard, so I am striving to be the voice of the voiceless.
You were extremely disappointed with your representation in Congress; can you tell us what you will do differently if given an opportunity?
As mentioned above, I will be the voice of the voiceless. I will hold regular town hall meetings for constituents in the district. I will fight to bring more financial resources from Washington DC into the district. I will work to clean up the environment in New Jersey where many people experience environmental discrimination and pollution because their communities are near various polluting systems or corporations.
I am a strong advocate for reparations for African Americans. My position is that the discussion on reparations in the United States needs to be tied to the long discussion of reparations for people of African dissent around the world as a result of colonialism and slavery.
President Joe Biden is the president of the United States, Do you believe in his vision and policies?
This is a very broad question. I believe that Biden like any president has some things right and other things that need to be counterbalanced. As a member of Congress, it would be my responsibility to both draft legislation and to serve as a balance in this regard, especially where the constituents of the 10th district are represented, but also on national and global matters.
It seems you have an ancestral link or bloodline with Africans, tell us about Juneteenth celebration?
I am African. So, my ancestral linkages are with the motherland and her people and traditions.
Juneteenth is a recognition of the delayed emancipation of enslaved Africans from the vestiges of forced servitude and torture by European Americans and the American system of governance. A group of Africans in Texas, who had been freed at the same time as all others when slavery ended in the United states in 1868, were not aware of their freedom more than two years after their actual emancipation. This celebration of Juneteenth is a contrast in part, to July the 4th.
This is important because July the 4th is when independence is celebrated in the United states. However, it was again Frederick Douglass who so eloquently said, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Douglass’s point was that why should African people celebrate the 4th of July when the vast majority were still enslaved. Many African Americans still reflect upon this important point today. Juneteenth, however, then is an opportunity for African Americans to reflect upon their formal liberation from physical bondage, but as slavery ended a new form of servitude immediately followed in the form of sharecropping and convict leasing. These atrocities continued the subjugation of people of African descent in the United States albeit in a different format.
African Development Magazine would like to be part of your team reporting your activities; would you consider partnering with us and what will be your commitment to ADM?
We will be glad to work with the African Development Magazine.
Amazing memories are unforgettable; can you share with us most amazing memory?
The birth of my children are always amazing memories for me. Also returning home to the motherland in 1994 was an amazing journey, as well as living in South Africa in 1995. There are so many others, but I will say that I am blessed to have had the opportunity to travel widely and appreciative of the foundation laid by my parents whose sacrifices made all that I do today possible. Modupe!
What advice would you give the younger ones?
Keep pushing forward and let no one or nothing stop you on the path to your personal and collective liberation and upliftment. We must practice Ubuntu, Maat, and Iwa Pele. Share what you know and always strive to know more. Finally, bring someone along with you on the journey to upliftment and transformation of our people around the world.
Ase! Ase! Ase ooo!