“To have courage means breaking away from one’s political or ideological tribe. And those of us dedicated to truth-seeking recognize the limitations of our beliefs,” writes MC student Kelsey Ogbewe in one of his pieces on Medium, the platform where he publishes essays about his experiences with religion and his social justice activism.
Two of his teachers in elementary school and high school saw his potential and encouraged him to continue making sense of the world through writing and through spoken word poetry ever since. At MC he is majoring in English or communications and plans to transfer to a four-year institution.
Ogbewe was recently interviewed by WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, about growing up in an evangelical church and leaving it four years ago to focus on social justice issues. Speaking to @MontgomeryCollege, he expanded on his experience and views.
After moving from Silver Spring to Gaithersburg in 2001, Ogbewe spent the better part of his childhood and teen years in the Evangelical church. “As I started getting more involved in the church, that produced in me a passion for other things, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and other activist movements,” he recalls. “Part of that was because of what I was reading in the Bible about issues of equity, justice, and fairness.”
However, around 2013 Ogbewe started receiving pushback in his multiethnic, but Euro-centric church. “I was trying to understand myself as a Black man in America and a Black man in Christianity, wondering where I fit in in this particular culture,” he said. When he raised issues concerning BLM, police brutality, and racial justice, with church leaders, “they didn’t really sit well.”
I continued my activism because I still carried the ideas of justice and equity, and the ideas of seeing your fellow man as your brother or sister. Those ideas never left me, even after I left the church.
A youth leader at the time, Ogbewe started quoting Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, he grew increasingly distanced from church leadership. In 2017, he left to join a progressive church in Anacostia. There, he found a community more politically involved and he made great friends. But, the travel to D.C. became unsustainable.
“I continued my activism because I still carried the ideas of justice and equity, and the ideas of seeing your fellow man as your brother or sister. Those ideas never left me, even after I left the church,” Ogbewe says.
Ogbewe says he continues to think deeply about humankind and the forces that bind people together, provide purpose, and form a community, such as the religious community he left. “The more I study human history and the more I read different religious beliefs, the more I realized that spirituality is important to human society; it’s how we try to understand the world around us,” he says.
Despite his left-leaning positions, Ogbewe doesn’t affiliate with any political party.
“My religious agnosticism connects to my political agnosticism, meaning I don’t find myself tied to a particular ideology politically. Many younger folks like myself are not party-affiliated as much as we are concerned with equity, justice, fair treatment, and inclusion,” he says. “I personally would say that my goal moving out of the church is to be less dogmatic and more open to ideas.”
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As he balances studying at MC part time and working at Amazon, Ogbewe makes time to write about social justice and to weigh in on complex issues such as how college campuses can balance free speech with equity and inclusion. His hope is to transfer to Howard University or to the University of Maryland and pursue a career in writing.