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HomeNewsArchivesOn Island Profile: Malik Sekou

On Island Profile: Malik Sekou

March 24, 2005 – Looking at his well-built frame and clean cut, youthful face, one would not think of Malik Sekou as a grandfather. Yet he is. And being a grandfather is just one of the many roles the 41-year-old has played – one that he loves and takes seriously.
Upon entering his office at the University of the Virgin Islands, where he serves as chairman of the Social Sciences Division, an overflowing bookcase catches your attention, but also a mini-playpen belonging to his 7-month-old granddaughter Saidah.
He smiles as he looks at the playpen, explaining that his 20-year-old daughter is a student at UVI, and sometimes he keeps his granddaughter with him in the office.
"It's a joy," the single father says of taking care of both his daughter, Aisha, and his granddaughter, Saidah.
Sekou said Aisha first came to live with him when she was 16, after being estranged from him when he and his first wife divorced and he decided to leave the island and further his education.
"At first it was very difficult," Sekou said of raising his daughter. "We have become closer now."
Sekou leans back slowly in his chair as he began to recall his own childhood days – days that shaped him and made him vow to be an agent of change. He laughs as he speaks of his birth.
"By just an accident, I was not born in New York City," the native Virgin Islander declared, adding that his mother was nine months pregnant with him when she decided to move from New York to the Virgin Islands to be with his father. "A few hours after she landed at the airport in St. Thomas, I was born."
Sekou said, "I realized very early that birthplace has nothing to do with who you are. What matters is the content of your character, your views and ideas."
He said he doesn't get caught up with that "bahn here" stuff.
Life as a child was very difficult for Sekou. At the tender age of 4, Sekou's parents divorced and abandoned him and his older brother Anthony Whitehead, who now lives on St. Croix. The two were placed in a foster home and raised by Rosita and Guillermo Cyntje, separated from their other siblings.
Despite the loss, Sekou said the Cyntjes gave them a good home, and the 12 years in foster care proved to be a positive experience.
"She went far beyond her call of duty," Sekou said of Rosita Cyntje. "I was raised as if I were her biological child."
At 17, Sekou enlisted in the U.S. Military and left St. Thomas to serve his country.
"We always knew as little boys that the day we graduated from high school, we were on our own," Sekou said of himself and the other foster children.
After returning to the territory at the age of 20, Sekou worked as a firefighter while attending UVI, where he earned a bachelor's degree in Social Sciences with a Political Science concentration in 1989. Sekou went on to earn a master's and doctorate in Political Science at the University of Delaware.
Sekou said his Delaware experience forced him to step outside of his comfort zone and taught him to appreciate other views.
"I was a Virgin Islander in virgin territory," he said.
Being one of the few black males at a majority white school, "I felt I always had to prove myself," Sekou said, adding that the view among his classmates was that he was there due to affirmative action. His experience made him become a "more dedicated pan-Africanist."
"I saw with my own two eyes how other places were, and thought 'We don't have to live the way we do in the Virgin Islands,'" Sekou said, adding he was determined to go home and make a difference.
Although he is trained to be a political scientist and is "very political," Sekou does not consider himself a politician. Sekou did participate in the senatorial race of 1996 and then again in 2002, but was unsuccessful.
"I ran basically on an idea-centered campaign," Sekou said. He said the people who supported him were supporting his ideas.
Sekou said because he is a "change agent," he was unable to reach the larger segment of the voting population – older people who don't readily accept change.
"Despite that, the good thing about running for office is exchanging ideas and learning new things.
"I value every attempt that I've made so far," he said.
Sekou did gain some success when he was elected to the Board of Education in 2001, a board on which he served for four years. However, he still would not refer to himself as a politician.
"I was a lightweight," he said of his position on the board. "The Board of Education is not an empowered board."
So does he see himself running for an elected office again?
"Politics cannot be on the front burner at this time in my life," he said, adding that being elected for office right now is not possible. "I can't say never again. But not right now."
Sekou is far too busy pursuing other passions: teaching, chairing a division at UVI, involving himself with the Pan-Africanist movement, working out at the gym, reading, and most importantly spending time with his daughter and granddaughter. "I think I need to focus on my family at this present stage."
He smiles as he speaks of his daughter; saying how sometimes people mistake her for his sister, and wrongly assume his granddaughter is his child. Sekou said his daughter is one of the few professor's children attending UVI, but he doesn't mind her being so near him.
Sekou laughs when asked if he ever had to teach his daughter political science or history – the two subjects he teaches at the university. "No!" he exclaimed. "I wouldn't want her in any of my classes." He said he doesn't think she would be able to change the roles from being his daughter to just being a student in his class.
He added that his daughter had no interest in following in his footsteps. "She intends to be a nurse, not a politician," Sekou said.
Although he may not "enjoy his singleness to the fullness," Sekou would not trade raising his daughter and granddaughter for anything.
"Because of my childhood trauma, I am determined to break the cycle that I saw in my family," Sekou said. "There will be no abandonment here, regardless."
He added, "I am determined to play a role that is very positive."
Sekou not only wants to impact the lives of Aisha and Saidah, but also the lives of the students he reaches in his classroom, the faculty and staff within his division, and individuals in the community at large.

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