Speaking to an African American freshman about race at Mizzou
‘Racism is alive, and it’s well’
Ben Gontor is a freshman at Mizzou who is majoring in Biochemistry, pre-med, with the intent of becoming a psychologist someday. Born in Queens and raised in Georgia and Nigeria, Ben has already seen so many facets of the world in his eighteen years of living.
And, despite overcoming the difficulties in his life, he still has an incredibly optimistic view on life. We caught up with Ben to talk about his life and being a student at Mizzou, a university with a received racism problem.
Ben was was born in Queens, New York, which he described as “pretty much like the projects”. By the time he was six, Ben and his family moved to Georgia where he went to kindergarten and first grade there before moving to Gwinnett County, which he considers home.
Talking about racism through his childhood, Ben explained that he was pretty ignorant growing up. “I didn’t even know what the ‘n-word’ was until I was 14, so that tells you how ignorant I was to social issues when I was a kid.
“They had a lawsuit about a teacher calling a kid the ‘n-word’ in Georgia, but I couldn’t understand what that meant, so I didn’t pay it any mind.”
Quickly, the conversation turned into one about Ben’s family as he talked about his parents coming from Nigeria originally.
It hasn’t always been plain-sailing, however, as when Ben was 12, his dad got deported back to Nigeria because he helped somebody out. Ben said: “he transferred money into his account to give someone some money in America so they could pay for their medical bills and everything, but the American government saw it as a red flag.
“They came to the door and took him away in handcuffs. At that point, we moved back to Nigeria.”
Ben described the first few months as “horrible.” He said that being from America, moving to Nigeria and learning how to live like everyone else was really challenging.
“We lived in a boy’ quarters, like where your ‘house-help’ is – I hated it, with every single part of my being. My mom was depressed and that hurt me inside. And my brother, who is autistic, was angry. People don’t treat mental illness the same in Nigeria, they see it as a curse pretty much, as a disease that is contagious, so they keep them away and make them the pariahs of society, and I hate that.”
Moving back to America to go to college, Ben decided to go to Mizzou, where he started as a freshman this year. Although Mizzou made national headlines for the race protests hosted on campus last year, Ben wasn’t too concerned coming to Mizzou for his education.
He explained: “Even though I was living in Springfield, they really twisted it a lot; they made it seem like it was Ferguson, but it really wasn’t. It wasn’t that bad, because every single school has accounts of racism.
“Racism is alive, and it’s well. We just have to understand that instead of pointing out, we need to help the problem or find a solution to the problem.”
However, it’s not an issue that can be resolved quickly. He said: “You can point it out all you want, but it’s not going to change.”
Although Ben wasn’t too concerned about enrolling at the University of Missouri, some of his family members were: “Once I turned 18, my uncle said, ‘Every decision that you make, Ben, is going to affect the rest of your life, so I’m going to let you live your life right now.’”
Ending our chat, Ben said how he works at Starbucks when he’s not studying, but he is struggling to make ends meet. He has a GoFundMe page and appreciates all donations to help him out.
In the meantime, Ben can’t wait to continue his education at what he considers a great school. “This is an awesome school and an awesome campus,” he said.