Journeys of change: CAHNRS scholars reflect on Black History Month, inspirations

Visitors view the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C. WSU-CAHNRS scholars Victor Kamau and Oluseyi Shonuyi named Dr. King among their inspirations.

Observed each February, Black History Month highlights the contributions to our world by those of Black heritage, including many important scientists and innovators.

Victor Kamau and Oluseyi Shonuyi, Black scholars in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, reflected this month on their personal and historical inspirations as they make their mark in economics and food science.

Paving the way

“Black scientists and pioneers of the past made it easier for us to be more successful and recognized for our accomplishments today,” said Shonuyi, a senior in the School of Food Science.

Shonuyi learned on his own about agricultural scientist and inventor George Washington Carver and other innovators, including Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, and N.W.A.

“Black history isn’t emphasized or taught as profoundly as common history that kids learn today,” he said.

Oluseyi Shonuyi, senior in the School of Food Science, is involved at WSU and interested in a career in food science and nutrition.

Shonuyi plans to pursue graduate school in nutrition and is interested in food microbiology. He is a former secretary and historian for a campus student support group called Black Men Making a Difference, and is a student employee of the WSU Creamery.

“Through my education in food science, I want to be able to inform people not only about the nutritional benefits of specific foods, but also what it went through to make it to your counter,” he said. “I see myself making a difference through my destination as a clinical nutritionist.”

“I give a lot of credit to my dad, Chris Shonuyi, for instilling the discipline and commitment in me to always finish,” Shonuyi said. “He helped put me in the right positions in life to prepare for the path I’m on.”

Service to his community

“One person who I draw my inspiration from is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said Kamau, a senior in Agricultural and Food Business Economics who moved to the U.S. from Kenya as a 14-year-old.

“In his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Dr. King talked about how Black and white people can come together,” Kamau said. “Even before I came to the U.S., his passion, and the reverence he had toward what he knew was right, inspired me. He taught me to work hard for what you believe until you achieve it.”

Victor Kamau, a senior in agricultural and food business economics, seeks to improve global food security.

Kamau is also inspired by his mother, Juliet Wambui Kamau, who raised and encouraged him and his siblings and shared lifelong lessons.

“She instilled in me the concept of equality, and that if you have enough, you must share with others,” he said.

Kamau’s parents kept a small farm in their homeland, raising corn, sweet potatoes, onions, and other crops to feed their family and help their neighbors.

His experience as a teenager making a new life in a faraway land helped mold him into the person he is today.

“I use it as my advantage rather than my setback,” he said.

A resident of Milton, Wash., Kamau is currently completing his last undergraduate semester virtually in his hometown. After graduation, he plans to begin a career in governmental work helping combat food insecurity.

“I used to think of agriculture as a path from farm to table,” Kamau said. “This degree has taught me that it’s really a system linking a lot of different entities, avenues, and infrastructures. It’s not a one-way street.”

Planning to earn his U.S. citizenship in 2021, Kamau said he frequently thinks about his journey as a part of the greater Black experience.

“Instead of working for a career that would only benefit me, I knew my path is to serve my community and the less fortunate,” he said. “I see myself as a pioneer to create not just change, but permanent change. I choose to use my understanding as my fuel, so I can be an example for other students, Black as well as white.”