By Claudette Richards, The Whetstone
Dr. Jessica James knew that she wanted to become a college professor in the fifth grade.
“I loved to play school with my brothers and sisters,” she said. “I would grade papers and act like I was the teacher.”
She thought she would be an English professor, but everything changed, and history become her favorite subject.
“I ended up majoring in history in college and minoring in African and Diaspora Studies,” she said.
It was an African history course called African rebellion that she took her sophomore year in 1992-1993 that made her change from U.S history to African history.
She learned about African people resisting colonization, culture, and religion.
“I just fell in love with Africa,” she said. “Then I decided to get my Ph.D. in African American Studies.”
She still has books in her office from her undergraduate and graduate days.
The books are divided into different categories: Africa, African American history, sociology and pop culture.
“It’s like my library,” she said.
Her study abroad trip to Ghana in the summer of 1998 was the best experience of her life. She lived with a Ghanaian family during her stay.
“I specifically chose a program that had a home stay,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a tourist, I wanted to see how it was like to live in Africa.”
Her favorite foods in Ghana were pepper soup, peanut soup and fried chicken.
She was also exposed to traditional African food in the home she stayed in.
“I tried Banku and Fufu, which is a traditional mashed fermented grain,” she said.
In 1993, she was going to go to Nigeria through the YMCA, but there was political unrest and her trip was canceled.
By the time she got to graduate school, she was determined to go to West Africa and Ghana, where many Americans went.
There are three separate pictures of some monkeys, a waterfall and a gang reserve hanging on James’ wall from her trip to Ghana.
The game reserve was in the northern part of the country, her favorite part of her trip.
James and some of her classmates booked the excursion on their own. They decided it would be the perfect way to see the wild life.
She is particularly excited that she will be taking students to a game reserve in her upcoming trip to South Africa in May, 2018, the Dinokeng game reserve, where they will see elephants, lions, rhinoceros, buffalos, and leopards.
“The wildlife is different in West Africa than southern and East Africa,” she said. “In West Africa, there are elephants, monkeys, and panthers, but in east and southern Africa, there are giraffe and lions.”
When she was planning, “I ran into Dr. Pursell and she said she wanted to go to South Africa. So, I invited her to join.”
“I also mentioned to her that I will be traveling to Cape Town, South Africa on my own this summer to volunteer for three weeks at a preschool,” Pursell said. “At that point, she asked if I would like to team up with her and go along as a second leader.”
Pursell said she admires James’ dedication to her living-learning community and her role as adviser to the Black Student Union.
“Her students are her first priority,” she said.
One of her students, senior Shaylynn Bivens, has taken two of her courses. The topic she enjoyed the most from the course was about the apartheid in South Africa.
“The apartheid in South Africa was similar to the U.S. segregation/Jim Crow and racial relations, so I was able to relate,” she said. “She is a genuine woman who is serious about the cause and I admire her resistance and passion for the movement for equality for African Americans and other minority ethnic groups.”