Kelechi Eziri: A Devoted Teammate and Community-Builder
Anchored in the “familial” nature of the track and field team, Kelechi Eziri built power among student-athletes of color, linking his Black studies and psychology coursework with his leadership ethic.
I spoke to Kelechi Eziri ’23 on one of the spring’s first truly hot days. We sat on the patio of the Science Center, occupying one of the only tables on a day when campus felt drowsy, trudging to the end of finals through the bright, noontime sun.
Everything was edging up on summer, and, waving at friends passing by every few minutes, Eziri had an air of composure. As told me about his past four, “unpredictable,” years at the college, I got the sense that Eziri had made peace with his upcoming graduation.
Of course, that is not to say he won’t miss Amherst: With a track record of community-building, athletic achievement, and leadership as long and impactful as Eziri’s, it would be nigh-impossible.
Between his mentorship of younger teammates on track and field, his effort to create institutional power for athletes of color, and his thesis research into Black solidarity at Amherst, Eziri has truly given all of himself to the campus — and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Jared Loggins, Eziri’s four-time instructor and a professor of Black studies, praised the resonances between Eziri’s politics and his community-oriented ethic in a note to me: “[Kelechi’s] political commitments are clear, reasoned, and ethical … He clearly loves people and ideas, and beautifully draws people into his orbit.”
At Amherst, Eziri has interrogated what intra-racial solidarity means. As he prepares for a masters’ program in public administration (and then a psychology doctorate), this experience will continually inform him in his effort to strengthen Black communities.
Forging a Path
Eziri attended Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was “predominantly white, and predominantly conservative, even though they tried to brand differently,” he said, chuckling. “I definitely felt somewhat distant from a lot of my other classmates, mostly just due to my circumstances.”
While his peers were within walking distance of the school, Eziri told me about the 30-mile trek he would complete each morning: “My dad would drive us 45 minutes to a bus stop behind this Denny’s … and then we’d do, like, another hour to school.” Later, Eziri started catching rides with a PE teacher, before his older sister got her license.
Eziri grew up in a first-generation Nigerian immigrant family. This, combined with the strong Nigerian community in Charlotte, provided him with a sense of place that he would later seek to recreate by joining (and leading) Amherst’s African and Caribbean Students Union.
At school, Eziri told me his teachers occupied a nurturing role. Three years before Eziri got recruited by Amherst track and field, it was Carol Lawrence, his computer science teacher and Providence track and field coach, that got him to commit to running. “She kind of took me under her wing … [and] honed in that track was the thing for me,” Eziri reflected.
Originally only dabbling in 100- and 200-meter runs (and the occasional long jump), Lawrence pushed Eziri to try the triple jump. “She was like, ‘With legs as long as yours, you’ve gotta do triple!’” Eziri laughed.
Just as Lawrence predicted, Eziri excelled, and by senior year, recruitment calls started coming in.
A liberal arts school, much less a niche college in rural Massachusetts, wasn’t initially on Eziri’s radar. But, serendipitously, Lawrence had a connection with one of the coaches that was expressing interest in Eziri — Amherst’s own Head Track and Field Coach Steve Rubin. “[Lawrence] said, ‘I think he would be good for you, he specializes in triple jump … he’s gonna take care of you over there,’” Eziri recalled.
So Eziri visited, committed, and arrived, planning to pursue the pre-med track — which he did for almost three years. Coming from a long line of doctors, Eziri told me it was “the implicit assumption that I would go into medicine … My dad kind of wanted me to take over his private practice.”
Hearing how he moved through three full years of STEM classes — and remembering when I consulted his Linkedin before the interview how it was stacked full of hospital and medical research internships — I was stunned when Eziri told me he had switched away from medicine only last year. “I dropped pre-med … actually with two credits left,” he said.
I would soon learn that the composure I sensed when we first sat down wasn’t just skin-deep. Eziri’s late departure from his pre-med plans exemplifies the introspective work — and risk-taking — he’s done at Amherst, work that has prepared him to go into the real world with self-assured authenticity.
An “Explosive” Energy
He may have been guided to Amherst by a CS teacher and a recruitment call, but Eziri’s four years here were decisively self-determined. Paradoxically, however, you get the best sense of this when Eziri explains the more “unpredictable” developments, like his switch away from pre-med — or the fact that, right at the start of his final track season, he broke his foot.
“At the beginning of this year, I broke my foot, like, three meets into the indoor season,” Eziri stated simply. Before the injury, Eziri’s performances were shaping up to be a triumphant end to his athletic career, including All-Region marks in both the triple and long jumps. The injury, remarkably, didn’t stop his momentum, just changed its course.
“I did a lot of really cool things [on track],” Eziri said, “but … the things that stick out in my mind are the things that other people did, or that I helped other people do.”
When some staff rearrangements left gaps in the coaching lineup for jumpers, Eziri stepped up. “There’s a certain amount of energy you need to be an effective coach … I think because of the fact that I was so invested in this program at this school, I was able to bring that energy.”
Eziri specifically mentioned jumper Adrian Friedman ’24, “who I love to highlight whenever I can, because he’s had this absolutely tremendous year,” he said proudly, adding that Friedman had improved his long jump PR by a foot and a half.
Teammate Jack Trent ’23 told me that Eziri’s adaptation to his injury exemplified the energy and strength he brought to the lineup.
“Kelechi essentially broke his foot, yet still showed up to basically every meet, team meeting, or event we had with the team,” Trent said, “It's been incredibly impressive to watch him lead from the sidelines as well, because it is so obvious that a lot of the people on the team gravitate towards him whether he is competing or not because of his level-headedness.”
Trent also jumped at the opportunity to laud Eziri’s “explosiveness” as an athlete.
“He is just so powerful that it’s fun to watch him practice because it almost doesn't make sense how he is doing what he does,” Trent said, adding, “his work ethic is tremendous. It feels like he basically can't get through the day if he doesn’t get a workout in — he really loves it that much.”
Equal parts spirited and steadfast, Eziri has also been an indispensable leader off-track. His participation in a 2021 walkout protesting the “pay-to-play” model of Amherst athletics springboarded him into an impactful organizing stint with Coalition of Amherest College Athletes of Color (CACSAC).
Eziri said this was a “really big moment” for CACSAC — it was a material victory, insofar as the athletics departments now funds all personal equipment (from spikes, to jackets), but it was also a turning point in CACSAC’s power vis-a-vis the administration.
“It showed [everyone] that not only are we an affinity group, somewhere where student athletes of color can relate … we also have a certain power,” Eziri reflected. “I think there’s a certain apprehension [now] about saying ‘no’ to CACSAC on things, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to the walkout.”
In the past year, Eziri served as president of CACSAC, and simultaneously channeled more of his academic attention into Black studies. Building on the foundation that the walkout laid, Eziri now had the chance to clarify the purpose, and the limits, of his activism.
Challenging Institutions, Building Solidarity
Eziri is graduating as a Black studies and psychology double major. He attributes much of his switch away from pre-med — and to a course of study that roots his love for medicine in sociology — to Professor of Black Studies Olufemi Vaughan’s “Introduction to Black Studies.”
“He asked me to come to office hours … just because we’re both Nigerian so he wanted to learn about me,” Eziri said, adding that a professor had never wanted to get to know him in that way before. “He’s a very passionate speaker, and he was like ‘I’m not going to tell you you have to become a Black Studies major… but you simply must become a Black studies major.’”
This, combined with Professor of Black Studies Jared Loggins’ “Critical Debates in Black Studies,” sold Eziri on the department. Importantly, he also took note of the resonances between the course material and his life on campus.
Between Eziri’s sophomore and junior years, he played a major role in helping the athletic department create a DEI structure. As a member of the CACSAC’s e-board, Eziri drafted and created a DEI representative position to be instituted on every athletic team; then, CACSAC wrote an application, conducted interviews, and “ran all of the athletic department programming for the entire year until the athletic department, like, hired a paid position,” Eziri explained, with a hint of derision.
If Eziri was already skeptical toward institutional DEI work, his Black studies courses lent perspective to his critical instinct. “Throughout most of history, Black struggles have just been sabotaged by various institutions,” Eziri said. “It’s interesting going to class … hearing about it, and then going into a meeting with the AD [athletic director] or the associate AD … and talking to them, and actually getting nowhere.”
But, as I had learned by now, Eziri is nothing if not level-headed. Despite the administration’s constant bureaucratic stalling (“They’ll find a lot of ways to beat around the bush,” Eziri remarked) and the athletic department’s too-frequent apathy toward the new requirements, Eziri knows he did an “objective good.”
Sporting this healthy cynicism, and “for [his] own sanity,” Eziri redirected energy to community building within CACSAC when he was president during his senior year. “I realized that … where I would best serve our community would just be by utilizing the resources of the institution by doing things for the group,” Eziri said.
By holding events and expanding networking resources “on the dime of the athletic department,” Eziri bypassed institutional resistance to racial-economic equity to strengthen his community from the ground up.
That Eziri wrote his thesis on Black solidarity at Amherst exemplifies his attention to the crossovers between his scholarship and lived experiences. He used ethnographic methods to interrogate “how Black community is influenced by ethnicity [and nationality differences] within Black students,” hoping to unpack the disproportionate “scrutiny” that Black communities face for intra-group divisions.
Eziri focused on interviewing members of different affinity groups to grasp differences in intersectional understandings of “Blackness,” and to destabilize the assumption of “Black essentialism.”
“I get kind of nervous explaining my thesis at times … some people are like, ‘Oh, you’re trying to say there’s nothing within the Black identity that’s worth collectivizing over…’ I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Eziri told me.
Rather, he hopes to emphasize that the shared experience of oppression at a PWI is a significant point of community, while disrupting people’s instinct to label intra-racial stratification — along class, gender, or national lines — as a “lack.”
Chiakh Thiam, Eziri’s thesis advisor and professor of Black studies, praised Eziri not only for his strong analytical skills, but noted his “passion for social justice and engagement with Black experience.”
Through his CACSAC work and thesis research, Eziri has furnished an actionable link between his scholarship and everyday practice. The maturity of his worldview and personal ethic is perhaps best expressed by Thiam’s turn of phrase: “Kelechi is the type of student that many teachers dream of having.”
When I asked Eziri to sum up his time at Amherst, he paused, and then told me the first word that came to mind: “difficult.”
This honesty (and the grace with which he answered my admittedly impossible question) affirms Eziri’s integrity and my initial intuition — that Eziri has not shied away from processing, to use his words, all of the “ups and downs.”
Eziri is still choosing between Villanova and Howard University for his master’s in public administration (though he’s leaning toward the former: “My baby sister runs track at UPenn, so there is extra incentive to go to Philly,” he told me).
And, for all the “unpredictability” of his time here, there may have been some serendipity after all: Eziri will be running track in grad school thanks to leftover eligibility, a consequence of the Covid shutdowns.
After, Eziri plans to pursue a doctorate in psychology, because of a gap he’s noticed in Black-oriented mental healthcare. “It’s really hard going to therapy with somebody who isn’t Black,” he said, “mainly because there’s a lot of baseline things you have to explain.”
“When you have a Black therapist that can really conceptualize your experience … I think that goes a long way to distributing adequate counseling to individuals,” Eziri explained.
His interest in working within Black populations derives from some of the same beliefs that guided his leadership of CACSAC — that community-building is an actionable, indispensable step in the struggle for equity.
Loggins wrote to me that his favorite “non-scholarly KC moment” involved “witnessing him very, very patiently teach one of his friends how to drive”: “To his great credit, no one was harmed in the process,” he added.
If I needed any more convincing that Eziri possessed the care, dedication, and prudence needed to better lives and strengthen communities, this would have done the trick.