Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Two Worlds of Children

Fort Thomas Sees Change 

Fort Thomas Kentucky is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati Ohio

Fort Thomas is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati Ohio

I lived in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, from 7th grade through college. I think my parents chose the town for the excellent schools. I was still a resident of this all-white town when I went to Nigeria.

My marriage to Clem, a black African, set off a few shock-waves in the town in 1964. My parents, returning to Fort Thomas from our wedding in Nigeria, faced some angry phone calls. In 1964 inter-racial marriage was actually illegal in the Commonwealth of Kentucky! It wasn’t until the Supreme Court decision of 1967 that Kentucky’s law fell.

Highlands High School in Fort Thomas

Highlands High School in Fort Thomas

I had noticed a few pictures of black children in the publication sent out twice a year by the Fort Thomas Independent Schools.

When I opened the latest edition a couple of days ago, I found a photo of a 3rd grade girl with the surname Nzekwu. The name couldn’t be any more clearly Igbo!


But Other Children Suffer

UNICEF issued a report about Boko Haram  that I found via Vinnie Ferraro’s blog. He referred to an article from Reuters Foundation that described the UN report. It says that one million children have been forced out of school by Boko Haram. And this is in addition to children who were already not in school in Nigeria and the neighboring countries.

gay rights in Africa

Picture from Reuters AlJazeera by Afolabi Sotunde

The radical group has met resistance in Nigeria in recent months. The report says that a majority of the schools in Nigeria that were closed due to Boko Haram activity have reopened, though with overcrowding and teacher shortages.

“But the militant group has this year intensified its campaign, setting up camps and launching attacks in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger in its drive to carve out an Islamist caliphate,” according to the report.

In describing the whole region where Boko Haram is active, UNICEF’s West and Central Africa regional director Manuel Fontaine said, “Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom. Yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups,” he said.

The Chibok girls, kidnapped in April 2014, are still missing. Many children and adults in Nigeria have been rescued. But many are still unable to return home. “Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed about 20,000 people and displaced 2.3 million, according to Amnesty International and the United Nations,” I read in CBS News‘ story about the UN report.

Such a tragedy. President Buhari and the leaders of the neighboring countries have their hands full dealing with Boko Haram, and that on top of their other problems. For Nigeria the price of oil, which we are enjoying with our low gas prices, is causing major headaches!

Literature Above My Head

I follow a blog called Africa in Words. It’s where I read about the Call for Papers for the conference on Igbo women that I attended last April.

In a recent post I found a Call for Papers for a conference, held every three years, of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies. ACLALS “is an established global forum for presenting and debating research on postcolonial literatures, languages, cultures and art.” The 2016 conference will be held in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

I was curious. I read more, wondering if there might be a topic I could write about.

I quickly became aware of how little I know about the academic side of literature and language.

“The 17th Triennial Conference takes place at a time of increasing social tensions within and between nation states, and between various economic alliances,” the piece said.

I found this most interesting: “In South Africa, the failure of more than twenty years of national reconciliation to alleviate poverty and dismantle systemic racism and exclusion has led to increased social tensions and widespread protests, particularly by the poor and more recently by university students throughout the country.”

But this left me somewhat mystified: “The conference represents an opportunity to explore the dangers of ahistorical relativism, cultural appropriation and neo-colonial forms of exclusion and inclusion as well as the paradoxes inherent in notions of postcolonial and world culture.” Translation, anyone?

Do We Help or Hinder?

The New York Times had a front-page article on Monday about gay rights in Africa. Norimitsu Onishi who frequently writes about Africa said U.S. diplomats have been encouraged to speak out for gay rights in Africa. Obama on his visit to Kenya last summer talked about the issue.

But gay rights activists in Africa are not necessarily helped by the U.S. push. Nigerians are facing harassment and worse.

There is no doubt that homosexuality is not widely accepted in Africa. But gay people could stay under the radar before. Now they blame the worsening situation, “on an unwavering supporter whose commitment to their cause has been unquestioned and conspicuous across Africa: the United States government,” Onishi says.

“In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, the final passage of the 2014 law against homosexuality — which makes same-sex relationships punishable by 14 years in prison and makes it a crime to organize or participate in any type of gay meeting — is widely regarded by both supporters and opponents of gay rights as a reaction to American pressure on Nigeria and other African nations to embrace gay rights.”

The U.S. opponents of gay rights have easily found allies in Africa, especially among evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics, and exported their tactics and slogans to a ready audience.

A researcher from Zambia, working at the Massachusetts-based Political Research Associates. says, “When two elephants fight, the grass will suffer.”

He says taking the fight from the U.S. has led to a situation where “African L.G.B.T. persons are just collateral damage to U.S. politics on both ends.”

I wish you a merry Christmas day, whether you celebrate the holiday or not. And certainly a Happy New Year! I’ll be taking a blog vacation for the next two weeks – that’s four-day weeks! Be back in January!


Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Thanks for that interesting tidbit about an Igbo girl living in the formerly all-white Kentucky town where you grew up. I can’t say I’m very surprised. And I could not help laughing when I read the one about the upcoming — and obviously arcane– academic conference in South Africa. I’ve read that sentence several times and I still don’t know what in the world it’s trying to say: “… an opportunity to explore the dangers of ahistorical relativism, cultural appropriation and neo-colonial forms of exclusion and inclusion as well as the paradoxes inherent in notions of postcolonial and world culture.” Whatever that is supposed to mean, I must confess I got a particularly good laugh out of the phrase “ahistorical relativism.” I’ve never understood why some academics think they need to write like that.

    • Thanks, Josh. I was worried that I might be the only one who couldn’t understand all that academic language! Not surprised about an Igbo girl in Fort Thomas? I was, but maybe shouldn’t be. With Cincinnati right next door and the world as a whole more open, why not?

  2. May your holiday season shine with Light, Catherine, and your New Year bring you every wonderful thing.

    Your wedding in 1964 rattled metaphorical windows clear to Arizona where I was a bit too young to see what the fuss was about, but fuss and mystification there certainly was (although thankfully, no anger I was aware of from the family).

    Thank you too for the perspective on LGBT issues in Nigeria. I have many friends who are, so it is a subject of importance to me. It is horrible that the good intentions of the US again cause such unforeseen consequences.

    Finally, I did get ahold of your book and am reading it now. Thank you for letting me know about it.

    • Thank you, Liz. I appreciate your comment about the window-rattling all the way to Arizona. I was unaware of the repercussions in this country, even the angry calls to my parents, until my brother Peter told me years later! Do let me know your reaction to Nigeria Revisited. And happy holidays to you too.