Molefi Kete Asante, son of a peanut warehouse worker and a maid, grew up reading a collection of short stories by Charles Dickens influencing his career aspirations.
Asante, a member of Oklahoma Christian University’s 1964 graduating class, is a leading name in African American studies and currently serves as a professor for the Department of Africology at Temple University.
The fourth of 16 children, Asante, born Arthur Lee Smith Jr., grew up understanding the power of higher education. His family, primarily located in Valdosta, GA, urged him to work at an early age to save money for future tuition.
His academic pursuits and activism were highlighted during his time at the Nashville Christian Institute. From there, Asante was able to earn his high school diploma and become a participant in the Civil Rights Movement, joining Fisk University in a student-led march.
Not long after his time as an Eagle, Asante pursued graduate work, earning his master’s degree from Pepperdine University and presenting a noteworthy thesis on Marshall Keeble, an African American Church of Christ preacher.
Asante earned his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1968 in communication studies and worked at the university for a short time as the director of the Center for Afro-American Studies. He later accepted a position at the University of Buffalo.
As the department head in Buffalo, Asante advanced the ideas of international and intercultural communication. He wrote and published the “Handbook of Intercultural Communication,” which was the first book in its field.
In 1969, Asante published one of his first studies in communication, “Rhetoric of Black Revolution,” which was followed by “Transracial Communication,” explaining how race complicates human interaction in American society.
Asante was then elected president of the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research in 1976. His work in communication made him a prominent adviser, allowing him to direct more than 100 Ph.D. dissertations during that time.
To emphasize the nature of African American oratorical style, Asante wrote “Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change” in 1980. The literary work discusses the conflict between cultural hegemony, the oppressed African culture and a lack of voice found among Africans—a prevalent theme in his philosophical work expanded on in his book, “The Afrocentric Idea,” which was published in 1987.
Asante has additional works on Afrocentric theory including, “Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge,” “Racism, Consciousness and Afrocentricity” and “An Afrocentric Manifesto,” which were written in 1990, 1993 and 2007 respectively.
In “Racism, Consciousness and Afrocentricity,” Asante discusses why he decided to change his name away from Arthur Lee Smith Jr.
“UCLA graciously consented to allow me to visit Africa in my capacity as the Director of the Center for Afro-American Studies,” Asante said. “When I finally reached the library at the University of Ghana, Legon, I asked the librarian whether my book had reached his campus. He replied, ‘Yes, but I thought the author Arthur Smith was an Englishman.’ He could not understand how a person with an African phenotype could have an English name. I vowed then and there that I would change my name.”
In an article provided by the staff of the Utne Reader, Asante was identified as one of the 100 leading thinkers in America.
“Asante is a genial, determined and energetic culture liberationist whose many books, including ‘Afrocentricity’ and the ‘Afrocentric Idea’, articulate a powerful African-oriented pathway of thought, action, and cultural self-confidence for black Americans,” the writers said.
In 1986, Asante proposed the first doctorate program in African American studies to the administrative board at Temple, receiving almost immediate acceptance and leading the way for other universities to follow suit.
Oklahoma Christian junior Drew Wright stated Asante’s legacy has redefined his thoughts on education.
“I think Asante has proven that we can all make a difference,” Wright said. “We have the ability, as Oklahoma Christian students, to leave a legacy bigger than us that can inspire students long after we graduate.”