When Kehinde Olu Famule, a Blugold who goes by Olu, is drumming, he’s doing far more than entertaining the people around him.
Through his drumming, the UW-Eau Claire junior is connecting with his West African heritage while also sharing an important part of his culture with the campus and Eau Claire communities.
“Drumming connects me to my culture,” says Olu, who came to the U.S. from Nigeria with his family when he was 10 years old. “The U.S. is great but it’s easy to lose my connections to Nigeria. If I practice my culture, it keeps it alive in me. I do it to remind myself where I’m from.”
Olu, who has been drumming since he was a young boy in Nigeria, where drumming plays an important and influential role in nearly every aspect of life, says that celebrating and bringing attention to his cultural identity as a Nigerian American is an important part of his college journey.
To help build his and others’ cultural understanding, he’s constantly finding or creating opportunities on campus to push himself and others out of their comfort zones, Olu says.
“I seek experiences that broaden my perspective so I can be more culturally literate and help others be more culturally literate,” says Olu, a biology major and art minor from Superior. “It’s a never-ending journey. I want to help facilitate an environment where people feel understood.”
Building connections, embracing experiences
When Olu came to UW-Eau Claire, he didn’t know many people, but quickly made connections with diverse students through Blugold Beginnings, a program that supports underrepresented students in a variety of ways.
The people he met and the experiences he found through Blugold Beginnings inspired him to seek out even more opportunities in other offices and organizations across campus.
Turns out, he says, he didn’t have to look very far to find those opportunities.
He now organizes events for the African Student Association, is helping to lead an upcoming Civil Rights Pilgrimage, and recently participated in a program that immersed him in the Twin Cities’ Somali community.
“All of these experiences have really changed how I see history and social justice,” Olu says. “They’ve made me want to know more about a lot of things.”
Meeting Blugolds with different backgrounds and experiences also made him even more curious about his own culture, Olu says, noting that he’s only been back to Nigeria once since he moved to the U.S. a decade ago.
It’s also made him even more determined to help build more inclusive communities on and off campus.
“At UW-Eau Claire, I’ve met people who speak the same language as me and eat the same foods, which helps me learn more about my culture,” Olu says. “But it also makes me want learn more about other people who had different backgrounds than my own.
“If in the future I want to seek positions that impact people’s lives, I need to seek experiences and learning that will broaden my perspective and make me more culturally literate. It’s a never-ending journey.”
Hopefully, he says, he will inspire others to follow a similar journey.
All Blugolds — including students of color — need to look for ways to move outside their comfort zones and push themselves to learn more about people who are different from themselves, Olu says.
“Come to events, talk to someone you’ve not talked to before,” Olu says. “Try hanging out in new locations or join a different organization. Take the first steps in helping to create a more engaged campus environment.
“The easiest thing to do is not act, but if you do act it makes a big difference. So, if you see an African event promoted, please come.”
For Olu, pushing himself out of his comfort zone also has included stepping into leadership positions, something he wasn’t sure he could do before coming to UW-Eau Claire.
For example, this year, he is a resident assistant in Marilyn Karlgaard Tower (Towers South).
Being an RA is helping him offset some of the costs of college, but even more importantly, it also is helping him to develop his leadership skills along with his confidence.
“This is a position I wouldn’t have normally sought out,” Olu says of being an RA. “It seemed super challenging; it seemed bigger than me. But it’s showing me an aspect of myself that I was not aware of. It’s pushing me to figure out what it means to be a leader.
“I feel empowered. It makes me want to do something even bigger.”
Looking to the future
Olu and his twin sister spent their teen years in Superior, where their father was a professor at UW-Superior.
When it came time to pick a college, the siblings thought it was best if they went to different schools.
His sister decided on UW-Madison and Olu quickly settled on UW-Eau Claire. He was drawn to the campus because of its strong academics, beautiful campus and vibrant campus life, he says.
“It offers enough space to learn and grow,” Olu says of UW-Eau Claire.
When he came to UW-Eau Claire, Olu was a biochemistry major with plans to pursue a degree in medicine.
However, he quickly discovered his passion is biology, so he changed his major and adjusted his career plans.
“I love biology,” Olu says. “It feels so useful because I can learn something in class and immediately use it outside of class. It all affects my life every day, so it’s very rewarding.”
Art — especially photography and videography — also is a passion, he says, adding that he especially loves to take photos that highlight people of color.
The biology-art combination feels right for him, Olu says.
He appreciates, he says, the opportunities and encouragement he’s found across the campus as he’s adjusted his plans for his future.
“Our parents came thousands of miles to get us to the land of opportunity,” Olu says of he and his sister. “We carry the weight to succeed. It used to be that my route to the future was medicine. Now I’m exploring different routes and seeing what it is that I really want to do.
“I’m on a journey so I’ll just keep exploring.”
Photo caption: Kehinde Olu Famule uses his drumming to stay connected to his West African heritage while also sharing his culture with the campus and Eau Claire communities.