Keisha Brown, PhD, in Guilin, China

(This blog piece is a love letter to my parents and an expression of gratitude for every family member, teacher, professor, mentor, classmate, and colleague that has helped me on this unique journey becoming a Black Asian Studies scholar.)

I first encountered China via Mandarin language studies in 2000 when I enrolled in Gao Laoshi’s class.  At the time, I was an awkward and curious teenager matriculating at Lithonia High School in Lithonia, Georgia. Gao Laoshi or Teacher Gao was my introduction to all things Chinese, including my first trip to China in the summer of 2001 at the tender age of 16. It was the trip of a lifetime. In preparing for my first major international trip, I did not know what to expect, but my faith and trust in my parents and Teacher Gao (the impetus behind this sojourn) carried me through the multiple airports and 16-hour long trip. Upon arrival in Beijing, I quickly realized the journey was more than worth it. I was exposed to a whole new country, peoples, and culture. I was able to visit the historic sites and relics I had only previously seen in textbooks. I felt at home. While I may have stumbled into studying Chinese when enrolling in Teacher Gao’s class, this initial trip solidified my interest in Chinese history and shaped my career trajectory. 

Another crucial component of this equation is my parents, Marvin L. Brown Jr. and Connie Brown. Although early on they could not understand my interest in learning Chinese, they did understand their daughter. They knew I was different, and they supported me. Whether it was shuttling me across the state of Georgia to Chinese language contests or making financial sacrifices to send me to China, my mother and father made it happen. They found a way to support me, regardless of the cost to themselves, so that I could explore my individual interests and find my own path.

I began this blog piece about why I joined the National Association for Black Engagement with Asia (NABEA) as a love letter to those who provided opportunities (my parents) and exposure (Gao Laoshi) because their encouragement, influence, and support sustained me. As a Black woman studying Chinese and modern Chinese history, this journey has been isolating and, if honest, downright discouraging at times. While I was fortunate to have familial and educational support, an organization such as NABEA would have been a welcomed source of inspiration and encouragement when I was as a young Black student studying Asia. Although I could share aspects of this unique journey with others, it was not until recently that I became aware of a larger community with whom I could share the totality of my experiences with. When introduced to NABEA, I realized that my stories resonated with so many others. I was not alone. For me, joining NABEA was a simple decision because here was a community of other individuals I could communicate with. I did not have to sanitize my experiences.

In addition to building a community, NABEA’s mission of being dedicated to connecting Black America with Asia aligns with my ongoing research documenting the history of Black engagement with Asia through an analysis of Blackness and race in Asia. What began as me trying to understand and unpack my own experiences in China has turned into a body of work studying race and amplifying the Black connections to China in what I term Sino-Black relations.

NABEA for me represents a new pathway for all of us who identity as Black engaged with Asia. I am extremely excited to see the myriad ways NABEA will help shape narratives and foster the next generation.

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Why I Joined NABEA – Keisha Brown, PhD
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