JACKSON, Miss.- History Professor Kofi R. Barima, Ph.D., is one of three Jackson State University professors to receive the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award for the 2022 – 2023 academic year. He will be teaching and doing research at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Kingston, Jamaica, while working at the Institute of Caribbean Studies. Only an estimated 20% of applicants are selected to partake in the prestigious program.
“We congratulate Dr. Barima on this accomplishment. His research focuses on the different aspects of the Caribbean culture, and I expect the Fulbright experience will catapult his work to be widely valued. His articles enhance our understanding of the Caribbean experience, and I expect that Dr. Barima will be one of the premier Caribbean scholars,” said Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Alisa Mosley, Ph.D.
Barima has dedicated decades of his life to researching West African and Caribbean history and spiritual retention. The Jamaica native developed an interest in African and Caribbean history at a young age.
“Coming from the African Jamaica culture, you always want to understand it better, the need to understand it better and also the need to preserve and document it,” says Barima. “With modernization, things will get lost over time as westernization creeps in and people move away from traditional practices.”
Under the Fulbright Scholar Program, Barima felt it was only right to use the grant funding to do further research in his native country of Jamaica. Barima will be researching the evolution of the practice of Obeah, a system of spiritual healing and justice-making practices developed among enslaved West Africana in the West Indies after Jamaica gained its independence in the 1960s. The title of his research is called, “Obeah: Workers, Healers, Prophets, Creatives and Shifting Attitudes Towards Working-Class Spiritualisms.”
“Obeah workers are very central components of the healing process when you talk about sickness. The second thing in terms of prophecy, obeah workers are very central components of divining so, obeah is a central feature of the Afro-Jamaican spiritual worldview,” explained Barima.
The history and philosophy professor says he’s looking forward to the research opportunity and the exchange of ideas and information with the professors at UWI. Barima feels as a native of Jamaica who lives, works, and studies in the States, he can serve as a cultural bridge for the students in Kingston.
“I’m really looking forward to the exchange of dialogue cultivating a sense of commonality between Jackson State University and the University of the West Indies,” shares Barima.
Barima believes the work he will be doing abroad through the Fulbright Scholar program could open doors to an immense amount of opportunity for JSU and the students. He hopes to strengthen Jackson State’s history program by using the knowledge he will acquire to offer more courses on the African Diaspora. Also, he would like to see the development of an exchange program between the two universities that could establish a more effective global outlook in students from both JSU and UWI.
“My goal is to be able to return to Jackson State with the ability to offer courses that can provide students with a broad understanding of the black world,” says Barima, “I’ll be in dialogue with professors abroad and the institution abroad, the hope is to establish the ability for some sort of exchange program that will take place in the future.”
Professor Barima predicts an exchange program could better Jackson State students by broadening their worldview while simultaneously enhancing the UWI students by giving them the experience of life as an American scholar. He would like for Afro-Jamaican students, who would potentially partake in the future exchange program, to gain a better understanding of what life is like for an African American and to learn the plights that black people overcame and those which still exist today.
“When I came to Jackson State in 2016, many of the students I had in my class had not really left the South. Part of the educational process is not just the classroom. What makes a student very strong is how well they can understand and think about themselves within the global space. That is one of the things I think an exchange program can strengthen,” explains Barima, “For students in the Caribbean such a program would give them a sense of what life is like for the African American because, a lot of what most people understand about black lives in the United States of America is obtained through media. Often times those mediums create a skewed perspective of Black identity in America.”
Barima will be traveling to Jamaica this summer following the Fulbright Scholar Award orientation in June. He encourages his peers to pursue the academic accolade, not just for themselves, but also to enhance the reputation of Jackson State University. According to the Fulbright Scholar website, Barima will be the second history professor from JSU to be awarded this opportunity.
“Many times, when people think about Fulbright Scholars, they associate them with PWI’s, they don’t necessarily associate them with HBCU’s. So, it’s important for faculty members to be serious about the work that they’re doing,” says Barima. “The more that we receive these grants, it strengthens the image of the University, it strengthens the caliber of students that apply to the institution, and it also inspires existing students.”