A Tribe Called Quest Colors a Catholic Education

Intern Kenya Young recalls how her Irish Catholic alma mater — with a little help from A Tribe Called Quest — taught her to embrace her blackness.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

It's time for our staff song pick of the week. This time we've got NEWS & NOTES intern Kenya Young. It's her last week with us, and she decided to go out in style with "Bonita Applebum" by A Tribe Called Quest.

KENYA YOUNG: Who would have thought it would take four years in South Bend, Indiana, at a predominantly white, Irish, Catholic university for me to embrace my blackness.

I grew up in Orange County, California. The product of highfaluting private schools where I was often the only brown speckle in the classroom. When I look back, my classmates' words still ring in my ear. You should change your name. It makes it so obvious that you're black or how come all of your dolls are black? We were just kids then. And for the most part, I'm sure they meant no harm. But they, nevertheless, taught me - a round, brown girl - to be embarrassed about who I was.

When you're living and learning with people who just don't know what to make of you and you're not old enough to know what to make of yourself, you begin to accept everyone else's version of you and your culture. So by the time I graduated from high school, I was more open to say hello to a white person on the street than a black person.

Then I packed up and headed to the University of Norte Dame where, oddly enough, I found myself with the help of my first set of black girlfriends. In just a few weeks, I was learning smooth dance moves in a tiny dorm room with Devon(ph), Shaquida(ph), Romey(ph), and Pam(ph). The song, "Bonita Applebum."

(Soundbite of song "Bonita Applebum")

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (Band): (Singing) Bonita Applebum, you got to put me on. Bonita Applebum, you got to put me on. Bonita Applebum, I said you got to put me on.

YOUNG: We blasted that song all night long and had the perfect routine down by dawn. I remember running back to my own room thinking to myself for the first time, I do like black people, and that finally allowed me to like myself. No matter how much my parents love me for who I was, and how hard they try to expose me to black culture, being black in Orange County and being different - and let's face it - no kid likes being different.

Back then my label was minority, not African-American. Hip-hop wasn't cool and Barack Obama was not running for president. Times have changed. Terms have changed. More importantly, I've changed. Somehow college allowed me to break through the stereotypes I'd accepted about black people. I learned real accounts of my people's history from Sierra Leone and Liberia to Malcolm X. And I began to love my people's ways - our laughs, our music, our lingo, our soul.

That's not to say Notre Dame's black students were monolithic. Far from it. They were athletes and scholars, nerds and pretty boys from rich families and poor. But it was these differences that allowed us to appreciate our similarities. We were all on that collegiate island together, all 5 percent of us, and we were family.

So here's to my Notre Dame friends, sisters and brothers. You have no idea how you helped make me the proud black woman I am today. I am happy to be nappy and down to be brown. Fighting Irish? If you only knew.

CHIDEYA: That was NEWS & NOTES intern Kenya Young with her staff song pick of the week. "Bonita Applebum" by A Tribe Called Quest.

We love you, Kenya.

(Soundbite of song "Bonita Applebum")

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (Band): (Singing) Bonita Applebum, you got to put me on. Bonita, Bonita, Bonita. Hey, Bonita, glad to me you. For the kind of stunning newness, I must have beseeched you. Hey, being with you is a top priority.

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today and thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org. No spaces, just nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation or sign up for our newsletter, visit our blog at nprnewsandviews.org.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of song "Bonita Applebum")

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (Band): (Singing) Bonita Applebum, you got to put me on. Bonita Applebum, you got to put me on.

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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