Q&A: Justin Owumi '14
A native of Boston’s Jamaica Plain, Justin Owumi ’14 talks with insideColby’s Hannah DeAngelis ’12 about his goal to serve his community through health care and education, about ballet and ballroom dancing, and about what makes him recognizable on campus.
So, you’re premed.
Yep. I’m a chemistry/biochemistry major with a minor in education. My goal is to be a pediatric cardiologist. But I have this philosophy where in order to be a doctor you have to be a well-rounded person, so I was playing around with the possibility of a theater and dance minor, then a sociology minor. But I decided on education.
Can you go abroad if you’re premed?
I was able to go to Ecuador for Spanish 127 [during Jan Plan] and it was amazing. We were taught by Ecuadorian professors at one of the universities, and we had a grammar class and a speaking class. On the weekends we traveled to other parts of Ecuador and I got to zip line and rappel down a waterfall. And there was a great group of people with me. I plan on going abroad again … for Jan Plan.
What do you want to do with medicine?
I want to work with underrepresented populations, so I want to do Doctors Without Borders, probably in Haiti. Then I want to come back and possibly open up a free mobile clinic, just so the people who have health disparities, like African Americans and Hispanics, understand the importance of health care so they’re acclimated into the system and recognize it’s important.
I hear you took a ballet class.
Yes, and I had a wonderful time. [Teaching artist] Daphne McCoy is an amazing teacher. I’ve taken two years of ballroom, and I took ballet when I was a little kid, so I have somewhat of a background. I did the social ballroom club here and we did one performance on stage.
Why did you become involved in Male Athletes Against Violence?
Being from the city I had a diverse group of friends–people who always have to battle adversity. One of the biggest factors of adversity is language. And the use of homophobic language and other discriminatory language has always cut deep for me. I personally have a problem with it, and I always tell people it’s not okay and they have to be careful what you say because you never know what someone’s sexual orientation is or their background. So when I heard about MAAV I was like, “Perfect. This is what I’ve been battling my whole life. I’m glad that there are other individuals, especially male athletes, who want to battle this. So sign me up.”
What events do you compete in for track and field?
I’m a hurdler, fifty-five meter and a hundred and ten, and I’m a triple jumper as well.
How accepting is the team in terms of the work you do with MAAV on homophobic and sexist language?
The track team is very accepting of others. We have maybe three or four out athletes on our team. And we don’t treat them any differently. In fact I feel like the fact that they are out makes me respect them more. And it hits closer to home, because they are the people I see every day six months out of the year, and you become close to them. And their issues become your issues. You’re ready to go to battle for them.
Any other activities at Colby?
I’m also part of Students For Education Reform because, again, coming from an urban environment, the education, especially the Boston Public Schools system, is not the greatest. I value my education a great deal, and I feel like everyone should have an equal opportunity at an education. Because I’ve seen a lot of my friends fall by the wayside, and I don’t want to see other individuals go down that path. Every time I’m back home, I try to talk to younger kids and do whatever I can to try to close that gap. And again, seeing a group like this dedicated to that, I’m like, “Yes! There are other people who want to tackle this issue.” I’m also a part of Gentlemen of Quality and SOBHU [Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity]. Between those four clubs and school and track, I mean … practice is technically three hours, really a four-hour process. Then you got to start your work, then if you have club meetings… .
Do you think Colby is the best place for you?
I struggled at first. But when I did an admissions panel I realized that this is the place for me. I was able to talk [about] everything I’ve done, and I recognized the tremendous amount of growth I’ve already experienced from my one year. I realize that this place is going to help me be the individual I want to be. So I’m here to stay.
Okay, I have to ask. Why do you wear a bow tie every day?
The environment I came from was not necessarily the nicest, so when you come in contact with certain individuals they judge you based on what you’re wearing and how you look. I’ve been harassed a couple times, been called certain names, and I knew that that was not who I was. I was an educated person, motivated. I just felt like it wasn’t justified for people to judge me on the basis of my skin or the way I dress. You change what you can, so I decided to slowly adjust my wardrobe. So shirts, pants, shoes, and eventually worked my way up to a bow tie, which I love. The bow tie to me symbolizes where I’ve come from and where I’m going as an individual. I wear it every day and I consider it my armor; it’s how I battle the social constructions in the world. I only have twenty-five at the moment, but I’m trying to work my way up to three-hundred sixty-five so I can wear a different one every day.