A Black Woman runs in Haifa
Moyagaye Bedward QC ’10 and James Stellar
Moya is an honors student and track athlete at Queens College who has several majors and a few minors in the social sciences. She is looking to go to graduate school and more importantly she is looking at how to define herself in terms of those future studies on the basis of her ongoing college experience. When we talked, it was clear to me that one of those experiences was an abroad course she took over the Winter. What makes the experience even more interesting is how her own heritage as an African-American woman was part of the impact of being in a new place with a new perspective, even given that she grew up in the highly diverse borough of Queens, NY.
I went on a study abroad program to Israel for three weeks during January 2009. I was there with a very diverse group of people, which consisted of two religious Jews, an Asian woman, an Indian man, and two black women, one of which was myself. We spent three weeks touring Israel and one of the places we visited was Haifa. Haifa is by far the most amazing place I visited in Israel. It is calm, relaxing, and most importantly tension free. It was the perfect place for me to release some of the tension of the previous semester, and I took full advantage of the environment. I ran through the streets of Haifa every morning for eight days one of which was up the steepest hill in that city, the hill that runs in the middle of the Ba’hai shrine. The was fresh and I felt invigorated.
What was it like to run in the streets of Haifa every day? Did people react to you by your appearance? What were your internal reactions?
When I first went there, I thought that I was the only black person in Haifa. Being out and running made this feeling more obvious. I also observed that the black people at the Ba’hai shrine tended to be performing the more menial jobs. This was a surprise to me as growing up in Queens, NY, I did not really notice my race. When I was in Jerusalem I also noticed how close were the different ethnic groups but how far apart they were in terms of social interaction.
What did you bring back to Queens College from this experience?
When I came back, I brought back a person (me) who wanted to change the world. I saw how ignorance of the other can turn into pure hate. I was determined to use my own ethnicity as part of the device to explore this issue, so I switched my topic from writing about the Political Science/History/Philosophy (my three majors) of Israel as a focus of a passionate Diaspora to writing about that in regard to my background. I plan to now write about how some students in America, even at my own College, are from African backgrounds but are really not engaged in the ongoing struggle for proper development of the African countries. That thesis project is currently underway.
The first point we want to make is that students often need to get out of the classroom to be able to see things that are invisible on campus. Why? They are looking not only with the cognitive apparatus that masters curriculum and courses, but they are also looking with their emotions and instincts that can really only be activated by experience. We do not mean to say that passionate professors cannot touch students in this way. They can. But there is big world out there that can do it too. Real life experiences tear away what can be a shallowness of a text book education, and those experiences can then feed back into the academy to make a student a passionate consumer of what the academy has to offer – in this case an undergraduate thesis and one that will take a good deal of time.
The second point is that we all really think through our emotions and instincts as well as through our more dry cognitive apparatus. The first book cited in this blog is about that kind of processing – what Antonio Damasio calls the “body wellness sense” that was missing in a patient with a specific area of brain damage that also preserved the cognitive memory and analytic ability. It takes both kinds of intelligence to think critically, have wisdom, be creative. This combination makes a poem a poem, or at least a good one. If the thesis that emerges from this year is really creative and powerful it will be because of both operations working together, one from the classroom, one from experience. This is what higher education wants for its students and what the country and the world needs.
Moya remembers telling the Honors Program director after she returned that she thought more brown students should study abroad.