In the culture of the Akan people of Ghana, the concept of “sankofa” — symbolized by a mythical bird that flies forward while its head is looking back, holding an egg in its mouth — literally translates to “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” It represents the importance of connecting to one’s past while marching forward on the journey to one’s future.
For California State University, Northridge sophomore Oshae Rodgers, the sankofa is a symbol of personal importance because of his unforgettable past. Though today he is a successful student, double-majoring in history and Africana Studies while on the teaching credential track, Rodgers persevered through many tough obstacles life threw at him in his adolescence.
During high school, he was displaced from his Albuquerque, New Mexico, home and worked 30 hours a week while attending school full time. He then moved to North Hollywood, Calif., where he had to take night classes in order to graduate high school on time.
His circumstances couldn’t have been much more discouraging, yet Rodgers refused to accept them as his destiny. He graduated high school with a 3.7 grade point average and immediately started his college career at CSUN.
“I’m the type of person that even if bad things are going on around me, I know I have a job to do in life,” Rodgers said. “I always felt like I had a higher purpose. A lot of people I knew just accepted the cards life gave them. But for me, if life deals me cards I don’t like, I’m going to hand them back and make my own deal.”
The determined and self-driven young man impressed officials of the California State University system. They awarded Rodgers with a 2016 CSU Trustee Award for Outstanding Achievement, along with a $6,000 scholarship, for demonstrating superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need.
Rodgers said receiving the award and scholarship was an encouraging, affirming experience.
“I just feel grateful and blessed, and I’m glad I’ve even gotten this far,” Rodgers said. “Scholarships let you know that, hey, the struggle pays off and it gets better. It makes me hungry for more.”
Rodgers said he felt a sense of intimacy and comfort when he toured CSUN’s campus that he didn’t find anywhere else. CSUN was the only college he applied to. Though he was excited his freshman year, it didn’t mean the transition was carefree — being one of tens of thousands of students in a new environment sometimes felt overwhelming. He said he had a laser-focus on succeeding and spent the entire year studying in the library, sacrificing a social life.
“I had to hunker down,” Rodgers said. “I worked so hard just to get to my new campus and wanted to stay on the right track. I didn’t even want to put myself into a position that would make it an option to fall off that track.”
Though he did not get very involved in student activities his first year at CSUN, he made sure to participate in class and show his professors that he came here to learn. His favorite classes are in Africana Studies and his recent speech course in communications, where he learned he has a knack for public speaking and inspiring others. This year, Rodgers found community and friendship while working on campus in the Chicana/o Studies writing lab, helping students improve their writing while seeing progress in his own.
“I started getting more social,” Rodgers said. “Now that I’m a little more stable and have a foundation, I can build in that way. They are all so inspiring — they inspire me and I inspire them, so there’s growth all around.”
The budding scholar said to maintain his success and be a positive force in other people’s lives, he makes sure to manage his stress while balancing school, work and his personal life. He writes music, sings and plays the piano in his free time, his creativity having always been the “little rock” that got him through the toughest of times. Though he is voraciously passionate about his academic success, he refuses to be boxed in. He hopes to get into the entertainment industry.
Rodgers has a bright outlook on his future and wants to make the best of the opportunities in the present. But like the sankofa teaches, the past — no matter how harrowing it was — is never something Rodgers seeks to forget. His roots are an inspiration and anchor for his sense of self.
“It’s very important to be aware of where you’re at, but it’s even more important to remember how you got there, how you got to know who you are, in order to figure out who you want to become,” Rodgers said. “As long as you stay yourself and stay persistent each and every day, you will get what you want in this life.”