In 2008, Javoen arrived at Seattle Education Access and told the staff he wanted to earn a PhD. In fall 2016, Javoen started a PhD program at Howard University in Washington, DC and has received a Fulbright grant.
As an African American male, I am often conflicted when I ponder the definition of the American dream. For much of America, it represents the ability to start from scratch, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and have something to pass on to your children.
As a descendant of the slaves who were forced to work at backbreaking speeds sun up to sun down, this definition seems like an empty promise. I ask myself, “Didn’t my ancestors work hard for this country too?” As much as we have sacrificed for this country, I wonder why I, as a black male, am still the symbol of malevolence in America.
Born in a society filled with so many contradictions and unsubstantiated accusations about marginalized groups, I would say that my American dream is to live in a society where the aims of those who desire social justice are realized, and where marginalized groups are given educational and economic equality. It is towards this end that I aspire to attain my education, in order to make a difference in my community and the overall American society.
Growing up in a single parent household with younger twin sisters, I received plenty of insight into poverty, stressful parent-child relationships, and also the sense of obscurity that many young African American males feel in adolescence. These personal experiences were the foundation for my passion for social justice.
The zip code I was raised in, 98118, is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the United States. In South Seattle, opportunities to interact with children from different backgrounds were endless. I made friends from West and East African backgrounds. I also lived down the street from a conga drummer of Puerto Rican descent. By thirteen, I understood Spanish fluently. In a community where athletics and hip-hop culture were the only acceptable norms for young Black men to emulate, I stuck out like a sore thumb.
I made a very real decision in my teens to choose to pursue African and Afro-Caribbean music. I chose to dance over being an easy target for gang violence and other dangers of the inner city. I did, however, participate in youth outreach groups. I volunteered under Wyking Garrett, a community organizer in Seattle’s Central District. Along with some of my peers, I helped transform an old, dilapidated crack house into a community center.
I attended The Evergreen State College, a school known for its commitment to social justice. Occasionally, you could find me drumming on the campus lawn with a tip bucket in order to make gas money to make the trip back home. One of the school staff saw me one day and invited me to his office. While I was in his office, he explained that as the student activities director, his job was to book musicians for school performances. His experience with cultural artists prompted him to suggest that I turn my talent for drumming into a business. Within three months, I created my independent business, Awodi Drumming. Through Awodi Drumming, I was able to contract with local libraries, school districts, and finally a state juvenile detention center.
My work in the youth facility consisted of me teaching African dance and drum techniques in preparation for their Black History Month celebration. The young males in the detention center were phenomenal. At first I tried to teach them basic festive African dances, but this did not relate to them at all. I then decided to teach them a war dance: a dance of freedom and liberation. The young men took off with it. I observed as these men danced proudly. I told them the stories of the African warriors who protected their communities with their lives. It was as if they had found a sense of purpose. I continued to work in Seattle with Black youth while obtaining my Bachelor’s degree, and also became the Black Student Union president between 2012 and 2013.
My college experiences allowed me to challenge my way of thinking about the world. For example, I was afforded the opportunity to travel abroad to Nigeria multiple times. I observed West African cultural systems and noticed that indigenous West African communities had specific rituals and customs intended for youth to foster healthy emotional development and self-identity. These rituals had effects similar to resilience that I observed in young males in the detention center learning African dance. My study abroad experiences influenced my interest in developing methods of culturally relevant therapies to help at-risk youth cope with academic and social challenges, which often are due to the socioeconomic disparities they are faced with.
We all have our own ways to contributing to building a socially just society. Over the years I have learned African culture is mine. I will continue doing this at Howard.”