Kalonji Saterfield’s vibrant smile lights up the classroom the moment he enters. The communication studies professor greets each student by name and flashes a perpetual cheek to cheek smile putting his students at ease. His confidence and excitement are infectious.
He begins his lesson on emotional intelligence by having students play a game to act out different feelings in a light-hearted and humorous way. For those students that are uncomfortable acting, he joins in and guides them through the game.
Often Saterfield’s classes touch on sensitive topics like sexism, labels, and stereotypes that are not commonly talked about in classroom settings.
“He is definitely one of the best communication teachers I’ve had,” said sophomore Krystal Barrera, who is enrolled in Kalonji’s interpersonal communication course. “He makes sure everyone understands it and gives a lot of examples. He is very kind and helpful.”
But life wasn’t always all smiles for Saterfield, and he learned early that life was not going to be fair as a black man living in America.
Growing up in a small community near Riverside, The Saterfields were one of the few black families living in a mostly white neighborhood.
His parents were conscious of what kind of messages their children would receive because of this, and they wanted Kalonji to know that black is beautiful and powerful. His parents were first-generation college graduates, and the pressure was on young Kalonji, and the children, to earn at least a master’s degree.
He recalls his mother telling him the truth about Santa Claus, and to never believe that a fat white man will ever give him anything for free.
“There’s not a lot of black role models, in reality, or fairytales, so they wanted us to be proud of being African American. Think about what that teaches somebody of color,” Saterfield said.
Because Kalonji’s parents were a big part of his life, their early deaths — his dad when he was 16 and his mom at 26 — left him heartbroken.
In 2012, Saterfield created the Carl & Rose Memorial Scholarship Fund in their honor, that assists students or family members who have been affected by cancer.
Kalonji is growing his brand as a motivational speaker. In March, he delivered a speech about human rights and equity in education. He spoke with the same passion to the 600 academic professionals as he does to his students each class.
“Prejudice, where people are treated as less than equal, is definitely a trigger for me” Saterfield said.
When asked what advice would he give to his future children, he replied the same information that he tells his students every day in the classroom.
“Happiness is a choice. What I want my son or daughter to realize is that you can create your own fun and happiness. Despite all the bad things, the setbacks in your life, you are a powerful human being.”