Journalism professor to write book about South African king, activist

GVL / Courtesy -
Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

GVL / Courtesy – Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

Anne Marie Smit

Grand Valley State University multimedia journalism professor Jeffrey Kelly Lowenstein is currently in the process of writing a book about Khulu Radebe, a South African king whom he was able to meet last summer. 

Radebe is a significant, yet little-known figure in South African history who helped facilitate the Soweto uprising against the apartheid government in 1976. His protests against racial segregation landed him in prison, and it wasn’t until he was 50 years old that he discovered he was the king of one of Africa’s largest nations.

After talking with Radebe, Kelly Lowenstein decided he wanted to pass on his story. 

“I really like to tell stories that I think wouldn’t otherwise be told,” Kelly Lowenstein said. “I like to tell them in a way that will hopefully spark some change.”

In order to engage students with his research, Kelly Lowenstein applied for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ (CLAS) Supplementary Start-up Fund, one of the two start-up funds that GVSU offers to new, tenure-track faculty. Kelly Lowenstein was one of three faculty members to receive a start-up fund. 

Susan Mendoza, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, explained that start-up funds aim to establish a faculty member’s research agenda as they arrive at GVSU. According to Mendoza, the goal of start-up funds is for students to work with faculty on current projects, while also building the capacity for future research. 

“Sometimes, we’ll have undergraduate students transcribing interviews so that later undergraduate students can engage with those transcriptions and do additional analysis,” she said.

Employing students for undergraduate research allows professors to teach students valuable skills on an individual, hands-on basis. Students planning to attend graduate school, in particular, can benefit from the one-on-one teaching that faculty-led research provides. 

“The value of undergraduates working with faculty members is they learn the craft of research,” Mendoza said. “They’re learning how to ask good questions and how to find good answers.”

Courtney Hartline, a junior majoring in sociology and political science, will be Kelly Lowenstein’s undergraduate research assistant for the fall and winter semesters. Hartline will primarily be fact-checking the transcriptions of Kelly Lowenstein and Radebe’s conversations, but she will also be conducting interviews with Radebe’s family and hopefully presenting her findings at the 2017 Great Lakes History Conference in October and the GVSU Teach-In in November.

What drew Hartline to Kelly Lowenstein’s project was the opportunity to refine her research skills in preparation for graduate school. She is also fascinated by Radebe’s story and his connection to other important South African political figures.

“King Khulu’s story begs to be told,” she said. “He met Nelson Mandela and other important African figures that we learn about.” 

Ultimately, Kelly Lowenstein’s motivation behind the book is to discuss Radebe’s activism as part of the African National Congress and his attempt to enact change in a time of political unrest.

“I’m excited about this story because it’s fascinating but also because he really sacrificed for the African National Congress,” Kelly Lowenstein said. “Many of the people who fought for the liberation of the country are really questioning, ‘Where are we going? What’s going to happen next?’ Hopefully his story can help push for freedom.”