‘We all share the same universe:’ Professor Akiiki Daisy Kabagarama shares her story on resilience


Trinity Ramm

Akiiki Daisy Kabagarama speaks to an audience about perserving through difficulties on Feb. 10. Her speech emphasized the importance in remainining positive and taking care of yourself and each other.

Audience members drummed their hands on the chair as per instruction from Professor Akiiki Daisy Kabagarama, as she told them to join in, and not be a spectator.   

“I use three languages, storytelling, poetry and drumming,” Kabagarama said.

On Friday, Feb. 10, the Philosophy Society hosted Professor Kabagarama in the CAC theater to speak on resilience and her journey from Uganda to Kansas. 

Kabagarama started her lecture by asking everyone to move closer so they could hear her “Ugandan Iowan Kansas accent.” 


Kabagarama was born and raised in Uganda by her grandmother, who was a “battle survivor,” and had lost her entire family in 1893. Her grandma was adopted and when she grew up, her husband died on a trading trip in Congo. 

“In private, I would see her cry, and then in public, she had to remain strong for her children, for her family,” Kabagarama said. “That was the first trainer in raising above limitations. She taught me how she survived.” 

Uganda was under colonial rule until Kabagarama was 10 years old when it gained independence. 

“We marched in independence marches, and sung songs and people thought we were going to fly because we were free,” Kabagarama said. 

Political turmoil quickly washed away the peace and joy.

“For the first time I heard gunshots, (I) had to run and hide,” Kabagarama said. “I had to learn very fast, to rise above limitations.”

By the end of high school for Kabagarama, Ida Amin, Ugandan military officer and politician, took over and many people died under his rule. Kabagarama went on to university, but she said it was tough during this time. 

Kabagarama said for the first time she dealt with food shortage, and had to run and hide. 

“Ida Amin was chased out by other soldiers, so we had to run, hide, jump over dead bodies,” Kabagarama said. “I mean, you can imagine the chaos during that time … no food in the market. At that time, I had two children.” 

In 1975, Kabagarama graduated from Makerere University in Uganda. 

She then received a scholarship and came to America, where she studied social work, sociology, Community and Regional planning, and more.

However, Kabagarama still faced problems, now an immigrant in America. Her children had to stay in Uganda because she had no money. Two years later, she was able to go back and get them. 

She also faced some language barriers. Kabagarama already knew English, but she knew the “Queen’s English.” She said it was an adjustment to learn American English. 

“You know ‘hot dogs,’ I thought they were real dogs,” Kabagarama said. “Now we’re 41 years in America, I call myself as American as apple pie.” 

Kabagarama received her PHD and then became a professor at Newman University. 

After Kabagarama shared her history, she opened up conversation to strategies for resilience. 

“Start viewing your limitations as an avenue for leading to your success,” Kabagarama said. 


The first strategy: “transcendence.” 

“Transcendence, some of us call higher power that … is beyond us. Some of us call that God, whatever name you use in your language, in your vocabulary. ” Kabagarama. “It’s always good to have that. That helps you get a good night’s sleep.”

The second strategy Kabagarama discussed was “wholistic health.” 

Kabagarama said people are complex and have many different factors to our health such as physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual and more. She said it’s important to pay attention to all of them because they all impact one another.

The third strategy is to “know yourself and believe in yourself.” 

“There is more of you than you know,” Kabagarama said. “That inside of you, I call it, ‘discover your drum beat … that makes you special.”

Kabagarama said we have a beat and a song that was deposited inside of us at birth. 

“Discover that – what makes you unique, that will save your life.” Kabagarama said, “Especially when those limitations come your way.”

The fourth strategy is “preparation and hard work.” 

“Plan something. Go for it,” Kabagarama said, “It may not be easy, but don’t give up. Do not quit. Whatever comes your way, do not quit, stay in there. Get help. Give help.”

The fifth strategy is “vision, plan, and achievable dreams.”

“Without a vision, even the smallest limitation will just defeat you,” Kabagarama said. 

Kabagarama then went to her list or her “A La Carte” of good habits to practice. Among those were simple habits such as “say please,”  “thank you,” “sleep well,” to “learn from other people’s stories.”

“We all share the same universe,” Kabagarama said. “There is knowledge all over to help all of us, but if we don’t communicate with one another, we don’t befriend one another, then we will never know.”