Wilson Okello

February 11, 2020

Fifteen years ago, Wilson Okello stepped up to a microphone for the first time. He immediately fell in love with the art of spoken word.

“I also fell in love with the connection, not only to the craft, but to the community that spoken word allows for,” said Okello, an assistant professor of higher education in the Watson College of Education. “I have used it as a teaching tool and as a way to connect with people ever since.”

Okello typically starts his class with either a poem or reflective meditation as a way to approach the material in a personal way, he said.

“I want to introduce my students to the possibility within the art to be able to tell a different story; to be able to share their own story,” Wilson continued. “I want my students to think about, particularly as it relates to a course I teach on social justice, how we might be able to use this art, this craft, to speak to issues.”

There is power in spoken word, said Okello, who grew up surrounded by oral tradition. “I think minoritized people, black people in particular, have always willed the word in ways that kept our history and allowed us to move it across generations,” he said. “I see it as a vehicle for being able to express ourselves.”

Okello, the middle child of three siblings, grew up in an environment that supported education. His two siblings also pursued careers in higher education.

“My parents always pushed education. They saw it as an opportunity to fulfill dreams,” Okello said.  “We have so many cousins and so many people who we know that look up to us, and so, particularly coming up from the area that we came from that was steeply impoverished, we know there are a lot of eyes on us. We think about creating pathways for them. Our pursuit of the careers that we are pursuing will hopefully build a bridge for them.”

Okello was drawn to higher education because of its interdisciplinary nature. His teaching, research, and service explore Africana/Black, literary, feminist and performance studies to press upon education, and simultaneously, enrich our communities, he said.

“I desire for the students with whom I engage to walk away with more than recorded information; instead, I want them to be able to do something with what they know,” said Okello. “I hope they know that they can be curators and arbiters of the ideas, art and knowledge our world so desperately needs.”

-Venita Jenkins