From Cameroon to Cincinnati, First-Generation Student Builds Cultural Bridges

Though she’s just 20, Edith Nkenganyi has already moved around the globe, been the first in her immediate family to attend college, traveled to a national conference to learn alongside international scholars and started a successful nonprofit. 

Her focus on education, though, underlies all of the Africana Studies and International Affairs major’s efforts. In fact, one of the main reasons the native of Camaroon and third-year University of Cincinnati College of Arts and Sciences student chose UC was its Gen-1 program, which is geared to support first-generation college students. 

“I was in a lot of need of academic support,” said Nkenganyi. 

Nkenganyi grew up in a village in Cameroon, where her family struggled to pay for her education. In 2000, her village was invaded by one of the neighboring villages. Although she and her family made it out alive, many of the homes in the village were destroyed. 

In 2006, when she was 10 years old, she and her siblings came to America as refugees determined to expand their educational and work horizons. In 2012, though, they suffered a setback when Nkenganyi’s brother Forcha was robbed and murdered. He was just 17. Nkenganyi, though, kept her focus on higher education and on honoring her brother’s life through her work and success. 

At UC, Nkenganyi discovered a particular passion for bridging the gap between African and African American history. Africana Studies Department Head and Professor Charles Jones recognized her drive and helped her land a grant to attend the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) conference in Virginia this fall.

During the conference, Nkenganyi toured the Epes plantation, where she saw first-hand how slaves in America once lived. She also visited the Pocahontas Island Black History Museum, which features a collection of artifacts dedicated to preserving African American history.  

“The conference was very informative and eye-opening,” she said. “This was a part of history that you can’t get sitting in a classroom.”

While at the conference, Nkenganyi also had the chance to meet influential African American scholars, including Jean Augustine, PhD, the first black woman to be elected in the House of Commons in Canada. 

Nkenganyi left the conference inspired — and not just academically. It also sparked new ideas for her fledgling nonprofit organization, The Forcha Reading Empowerment Project. She named the organization after her brother Forcha and in honor of their pledge to use the resources they acquired in America to lift up youth in Cameroon. The mission of the Forcha Reading Empowerment Project is to promote children’s literacy and reading culture in Cameroon by creating school libraries and learning materials. 

“I came back with ideas of how I want to structure my organization and the direction that I want it to go,” she said.  

Nkenganyi plans to continue to learn more about African American and African history and educate others about it. She hopes to change negative stereotypes of African Americans and create a sense of unity between the two cultures. 

“I feel like we are the same people, divided by water,” she said. “I want a fusion in our history where we can learn from each other.”

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