A Cameroon-born professor looks back on an illustrious career in education in the United States in this debut memoir.
Nwagbaraocha was born in 1942 in Victoria (now known as Limbe), Cameroon. His parents were citizens of British-colonized Nigeria at the time of his birth, serving as expatriates for the government in the then British Cameroons. The author describes growing up in an “international community” that demanded he communicate in four languages: his parents’ native Igbo; pidgin English; Bakweri, the native language of southern Cameroon; and English. This exposure to diverse languages and education methods had a profound impact on Nwagbaraocha and would help shape his future career path. After attending boarding school in Nigeria, he was influenced by a visiting couple from the U.S. Peace Corps and chose to study in America. He became “the first foreign student” to register at Norfolk State College in Virginia, majoring in mathematics and physics. His graduate study was at Harvard, where he completed a doctorate in education. He went on to serve as an academic administrator and professor at two historically black colleges and universities and as president of Barber-Scotia, a “Liberal Arts historically black college.” In his writing, Nwagbaraocha takes an academic approach, setting out his intentions in the introduction: “My personal involvement in the civil rights movement and a brief historical perspective of the civil rights movement at that time are delineated in Chapter Three.” The benefit of this technique is that the author’s life is recorded with clarity and precision. But the prose lacks charm and literary richness, remaining characteristically laconic. The rare passages when Nwagbaraocha candidly discusses his life outside academia prove the most enjoyable: “I had never eaten a hamburger or French fries—or any food cooked in a fast-food place for that matter. In Nigeria in 1964, the closest foods to French fries were fried yam, akara, moi-moi, and fried plantain.” The author also provides an excess of unnecessary padding, such as a lengthy doctoral dissertation abstract that needlessly interrupts the narrative flow. Nwagbaraocha’s achievements will prove inspirational to others wishing to follow a similar career path, yet the way they are recounted makes for a drowsy read.
An illuminating but uneven account that presents a dazzling academic career.