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Joshua Odam

Interviewed by: Nicole Dotzenrod
Posted: 2/10/2015

While growing up in New York, sophomore University of Massachusetts student Josh Odam was taught the importance of communication and public speaking skills from a young age.

“The art of oration was really emphasized in my family,” he said. “Higher education was something that was stressed, but not stressed as heavily as being able to articulate yourself, being able to communicate and express your thoughts in a clear and coherent manner – that was something my family made sure I was able to do.” he said.

In high school, Odam participated in debate and theater to practice speaking coherently and persuasively in front of a crowd, which he said is vital to being a successful leader and competent individual.

Odam said his parents also encouraged him to have something to believe in and fight for. “My parents always wanted me to stand for something, in terms of being a man of my word and making sure I had some sense of conviction,” he said.

Social justice was also emphasized in his family, and Odam attributed this to his ability to dig below the superficial to view inequities that his peers might not have had the lens to see in high school.

Odam began to see subtle differences in educational institutions when he transitioned from private school to public school, which he attended from 7th grade until he graduated from Baldwin High School. “It became very clear when I went to a public school that the institution of the school was tasked by the state to control black and brown bodies as young and as early as possible. I always questioned as to whether public schools are the root of the prison-industrial complex,” he said.

Odam recalled Montessori students being able to move freely from class to class and sit wherever they wanted, whereas public school students were lined up in rows with assigned seats, and they had to ask to use the bathroom. At Montessori school, students had a personal chef with healthy dishes, but at public school, bagged lunches were brought to the school by a food distribution center.

“Montessori schools were trying to cultivate a nurturing, autonomous, independent environment, trying to instill a spirit of free thinking and critical experiential learning, whereas public school was order, discipline, memorization, regurgitation and standardization.”

Odam’s educational experiences influenced him to want to study alternative forms of education outside of standardization and memorization.

“There had to be something more to education besides this standard, robotic method that we incorporate right now. I wanted to learn ways to engage students who might not have access to the institution otherwise.”

Odam is currently the Policy Advocacy Coordinator for Student Bridges, which advocates for access to success for underrepresented students of color, first- generation students, and low-income students.


Previously on Spotlight

Josh Odam

Josh Odam3