In celebration of Black History Month, this month’s narratives are dedicated to highlighting the voices of students who identify as black. Each story is unique, intimate, and powerful. Readers, please come open-minded and ready to engage with the following stories. More importantly, be ready to interface with an intimate space and allow yourself to step inside someone else’s life. The following is the narrative of Kakra Boye-Doe, a first-year medical student at KUMC. Enjoy.
Note: The third interview question is credited to the NYT article “The 36 Questions that Lead to Love.” The interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Can you give me a one minute rundown of your life?
I was born on August 18, 1996, in Ghana in West Africa. I am a twin; I have a fraternal brother. An important event is that I moved to America when I was seven. I think the hardest part about moving was not really knowing who I was and who people labeled me as because I’m African. I was born in Africa. So by definition, I’m African but people in America assume that I’m African American. Trying to fit myself in America as a whole [was also hard]. And I’ve been living in Kansas my whole entire life.
If you could only choose one word to describe yourself, what word would that be?
I would I say “invested” because the things that I am involved in and concerned with, I’m really passionate about. I try to live my life that way, whether it’s with friends, family, or activities that I’m involved in, I want to put all of my energy into that.
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Barack Obama for many reasons, but what comes to mind is that he had to face a lot of a backlash with his identity in America. The issues that he faced in his lifetime are interesting to me. I want to know how [Obama] came to the point of thinking “Hey, this time in America, I could be president. This could be an actual reality.” Then I’d like to talk to him about his outlook on America’s future and how I could be a part of that.
What is your favorite hobby?
Spending time with people. I enjoy intimate conversations, getting to know people more. I feel like a lot of times relationships are very surface level and I like to have intimate conversations, but you have to create the space. So anytime I’m in a space, I take advantage of that.
What is a topic or subject that you are passionate about?
Mental health in general, like, normalizing the need for people to get the help that they need, and the idea that it’s totally normal to speak to someone about something that you’re dealing with. I think a lot of times, it’s like, “Oh, you see a therapist. What’s wrong with you?” Or, “Your life must be so bad.” I think I think it’s weird how mental health is stigmatized and not thought of as health.
It’s interesting that in different cultures, mental illnesses could be interpreted as different things, whether it’s an individual being possessed or demonic.
That’s sort of how it’s interpreted in Ghana. It’s because God or because of something that you did in your family, you’re now being punished in the form of mental illness. The perception is very toxic and no one’s going to try and seek help if that’s how you conceptualize [mental illnesses].
Did you always want to become a doctor?
I think I’ve always been drawn towards psychology, why people do the things that they do, and mental processes. The thought of being a doctor came to me during my freshman year. I’d heard about psychiatry and naively thought that you could be a psychiatrist by majoring in psychology and sociology until my advisor was like, “You have to actually be pre med. You actually have to go to med school.” I was always geared toward helping people in health care in some capacity.
What are your future hopes in medicine?
My future hope is that we can normalize mental health and think about mental health in the same way we think about physical health. When you have a broken knee, you go see a doctor to fix it. So if someone has any form of depression, or whatever the case may be, getting the help that they need is not stigmatized. I would like to find a way for mental health care to be in minority communities and to get to the people who are most affected on a daily basis. There has to be so many kids in inner cities who have PTSD from seeing their friends get shot literally right next to them. I know if one of my friends got shot right in front of me I would be a mess and I would absolutely need the help.
How do you see yourself partaking in that transformation?
I think it takes a safe space and new people who you think care about you and, in some sense, have some the same experiences. I feel like because there aren’t many black physicians and black psychiatrists, it’s hard for black people to take the steps to get the help they need because mental health is very intimate.
Do you identify as black?
Yes, yes I do.
What does being black mean to you?
This is my favorite question. During freshman or sophomore year of college, I actually wrote a blog post on blackness and my experience. I would say when I first came [to the US], people would assume that I was African American. They didn’t know my background at all and for a lot of my childhood, I was like, “No, I’m not African American. I’m African.” I thought the perception was that Africans are more positively perceived and hard workers. Then I started to realize how toxic that perception was and still is. I started to try and understand why I was so concerned with that identity. A lot of it has to do with the perception of black people in America. I think it sucks that as a kid I was influenced by that perception. I would struggle with people telling me that I wasn’t black and that I was an “Oreo” – black on the outside, white on the inside – because of how I talked, or the fact that I was interested in medicine. It’s toxic that for a while, I thought that [being an “Oreo”] was a good thing. I wanted to be accepted in some space.
I think in America, the perception of black people makes it hard for you to be bold in your blackness and be proud of your blackness. It took a lot of introspection in realizing that my experience as a black male is very unique. There’s nothing about it that I would trade for anything. I think it would be the goal for bigots if I wasn’t proud, if I rejected my black identity. Blackness seems to be binary. You are expected to fit into this box. If you don’t play basketball, if you don’t run track, if you don’t do all the things that people in America expect that black people would do, it’s like wait, “You’re not black. You’re an ‘Oreo’.” Like, let me tell you what you are. Other people try to dictate who I am and how I can express my blackness. So I think both black people and white people have to check themselves and be sure that they’re not dictating how black people should identify and the ways they should identify their blackness because I black people aren’t just one thing.
How has your identity as being black shaped your life experience?
For most of my life, until I went to college, it was hard because I’d be in rooms with mostly white people and there was never a space that I felt I could just be me. I feel like a lot of times, I’m always trying to make sure I know people feel safe around me, like when I’m walking at night, or I make sure that I’m not walking too close to someone. All these things, for the most part, aren’t necessary to consider but it’s part of being black in America.
Then in college, when I started being around more black people, I think I had an awakening and realized how beautiful it is to be around people who have similar experiences as you; and owning my blackness; and not being so concerned about how people perceive things, things that are stereotypically black and being 100% fine and emboldened my blackness. Undergrad has allowed me to be comfortable and confident in my blackness.