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Living the Dream & Hope to Nigeria
*Living the American Dream & Bringing Hope to Nigeria
By Jacqueline Whitaker
( Monday, April 24, 2006 )
Can you imagine your father dying when you were only three? Or can you imagine waking up some days and being unsure of where your next square meal will come from? Lee College professor, Dr. Bedford Nwabueze Umez, cannot only imagine it; he has experienced it as well.
Umez’s parents never went to school. His father died when he was 3-years-old, leaving his mother to raise three children. However, he was able to overcome those barriers.
“It was a miracle that I finished high school because in Nigeria if your parents are poor, you might as well forget about a high school education. My mom made this miracle possible by borrowing money to pay my way through high school,” Umez said. While in high school, Umez developed an interest in Government through the influence of his beloved Government teacher, Mr. Moses Okeke.
“Mr. Okeke was a father figure to me. We talked more beyond education. In fact, he was my mentor, my hero and a role model. He always encouraged me to work hard,” Umez said.
Umez graduated in the top five percent of his high school senior class, and landed a job as a high school teacher at Chukwurah High School, in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria, in 1978. He taught Government to third-year students and Biology to final-year students.
After teaching high school for a year, he worked as a clerk for First Bank of Nigeria in 1979. While working at the bank, he met a friend, who later came to the United States to attend college.
“While we were corresponding, my friend told me that I could come to the United States and work my way through college, emphasizing that there are several Nigerians and Africans paying their way through college by working at restaurants as cooks and dishwashers, ” Umez said.
So with the glimmer of hope to obtain his college education in America, Umez began to save money to come to America. By May of 1981, he saved $4,500 to travel to the United States to begin his college education at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma. Upon arrival, his first job in America was with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Jokingly, Umez said, “I know how to do chicken right.”
Because Umez believes in hard work and excelling academically, he was able to acquire some scholarships. With the help of a CONOCO scholarship (for an outstanding student in Economics) and Donald N. Brown Scholarship (for an outstanding student in Political Science), Umez graduated with honors, obtaining a BS degree in Economics and a BS degree in Political Science in May 1984.
In August of 1984, he moved to Denton, Texas, and started his graduate work at the University of North Texas. In spring of 1985, he received a Teaching Fellow Scholarship that paid his school fees throughout his graduate school. Umez received MS in Public Administration in December, 1986. In May of 1990, he obtained Ph.D. in Political Science with a minor in Statistics.
Umez owes his successful educational career to one of the basic principles upon which the United States was founded, namely, reward for hard work and excellence.
After teaching at several colleges and universities in north Texas and Louisiana, he moved to Baytown in May of 1994, and began teaching American and Texas Government at Lee College.
For some, it might sound odd that a Nigerian teaches American and Texas government, but Umez has spent the past 20 years teaching those subjects and offering an international perspective on American Government and politics.
Umez’s teaching philosophy is informed by his understanding of the general attitude several American students have developed toward American Government course.
“With the full understanding that many students find the course, American Government and politics, somewhat ‘boring,’ I continue to devise means to change those ‘bored’ minds, so to speak, to ‘exciting’ ones,” Umez said.
On his teaching philosophy, Umez adds that his teaching philosophy compels him to do more than merely present students with facts and figures that they can later recite back to him on an exam.
“Accordingly, I try to engage my students to think critically about the inputs that go into the political system, and the outputs that come out of it. Above all, I encourage them to ask questions by repeatedly reminding them that no one should die in silence.”
During his tenure at Lee College, Umez has written five books, mostly on political leadership and governance. “I’m fascinated with leadership. In my writings, I emphasize good leadership and how Africans can benefit immensely through good leadership. To me, if leaders lead well, followers will follow well. Conversely, if leaders do not lead well, followers will not follow well.”
Umez’s first book, “The Tragedy of a Value System in Nigeria: Theories and Solutions,” was published in 1999. In this book, Umez “examined how the problems hindering steady growth and development in Nigeria relate to the prevailing value system in Nigeria.”
According to the publisher, University Press of America, “the book analyzes the fundamental problems affecting Nigeria’s development and offers a new perspective for understanding and overcoming those problems.”
Published in 2000, Umez’s second book, “Nigeria: Real Problems, Real Solutions,” addresses more challenges facing Nigeria, e.g., capital flight, ethnic rivalries, intra-ethnic problems, unemployment, “brain drain,” inadequate healthcare, among others, and provides concrete solutions to those problems. According to Professor George A. Obiozor, Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, the book “is certainly a very important work on Nigeria……it goes beyond mere analysis of the problems and into offering possible solutions to some of those our endemic and perennial national problems.”
Umez’s third book, “’Educated’ to Feel Inferior,” published in 2003, describes how “black children, worldwide, are taught to feel inferior to other groups of the human race, and how that feeling of inferiority impedes development in Africa and among black people.” In the book, Umez maintains, for instance, that in English-speaking countries, the word “black,” is used to describe “evil,” and demonstrates how this usage has devastating impacts upon black people, socially, political and economically.
Umez notes that these phrases, “black sheep of the family,” the “black market,” the “black widow,” “black listed,” and others similar to them, constitute “mis-education.” In his words, “an illegal market must be called an ‘illegal market’ and not ‘black market,’ after all, it is not only the black people who shop in that market.”
An important lesson to be learned in “’Educated’ to Feel Inferior,” according to Umez, is that “it is through the younger generations that society successfully rebuilds itself. As such, our children must be taught properly.”
This year Umez has authored two books which include, “Your Excellency: A Letter to Nigerian Leaders” and “MisEducated to Feel Inferior” (a revision of “Educated” to Feel Inferior”).
“’Your Excellency’ is a treatise to Nigerian-African leaders on effective, dynamic political leadership and governance. It offers an excellent recipe on how to produce great, visionary leaders who will satisfy the aspirations of the people,” Umez said. “Leadership is action, not a position,” he added.
According to Professor Emeaba Emeaba of Texas Southern University, “Bedford Nwabueze Umez once again challenges our lopsided ways of looking at Nigeria as he critically recounts the angst of many Nigerians (and, in fact, many Africans) due to the shenanigans of the ruling class, and then offers a redeeming panacea.”
Umez emphasized that his life experiences in Nigeria influenced his writings.
“I think the reason I write mostly on leadership is because I was born into poverty. I know what it means to wake up some days unsure of a square meal,” Umez said. “Good, caring leadership is the panacea to Nigerian challenges, and if those well-meaning Nigerians are given greater opportunity to leadership in the oil rich Nigeria, meaningful development will be assured, and poverty will be drastically reduced in the country,” he added.
Keenly aware that so many brilliant children in his town may not receive college education due to poverty, Umez started awarding scholarships in 1997. Every semester, Umez awards one scholarship to a poor, but brilliant high school graduate who wishes to continue his/her education at a university level. Umez’s scholarship has helped produce five university graduates in Nigeria. Currently, eight students are in Nigerian universities on Umez’s scholarship award.
Umez also recognizes that what he writes involves some risk, especially in a society where freedom of _expression is often restricted. However, that recognition does not deter him.
“We cannot be afraid to make changes, especially positive changes. If people don’t have the courage to make a positive change, this life will be useless,” Umez said.
Umez attributes his success to his mother, saying that whatever he is today and whatever he may be tomorrow, he owes it to his mother. In a speech titled, “My Mother and My Life,” Umez states that “dreams can be realized, even in the face of poverty, so far as parental love, hard work and enabling environment are present.”
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Photo Above: Dr. Bedford Nwabueze Umez
Educated" to Feel Inferior by Bedford Umez, Ph.D.
Educated" to Feel Inferior Book Review
Petition Against European Airlines by Dr. Umez
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