October 12, 2006
Baton Rouge, LA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- When most Division-I football players are asked where they would like to be in five years, the National Football League is usually somewhere in that response - especially from someone who was a blue chip prospect, rated among the nation's best in high school and, as a redshirt freshman, has four years to impress NFL scouts.
Rahim Akir Alem is not most football players.
"I want to be a professor on the academic level because in this country that's the center of ideal progress," Alem said. "I want to be a part of that; plus I want to make my money doing something I believe in."
When someone talks to Alem, 2006 Southeastern Conference Freshman Academic Honor Roll member, they come to the conclusion that the concepts he believes in - from individualism to social consciousness - shape every aspect of his life, from what he does to what he is called.
In spring 2006 Alem decided that Al Jones Jr., his birth name, did not represent who he was socially or culturally, and he needed a name that did.
"The name change was not religious; it is a statement letting people know that I'm an African, not an African-American," Alem said. "America will never accept me, and what would make me want to claim a country that has treated me and my people this way?"
One could expect Alem to be very socially conscious since he is the son of Al Jones Sr., the principal of the Desire Street Academy whose executive director is former Heisman Trophy winner and New Orleans Saints quarterback Danny Weurfful.
Jones Sr. said although he was surprised by his son's decision to change his name, he was not upset because he gave the name to his son, and Alem could do whatever he wished with it.
"Parents teach their children to grow up and be independent-minded and think for themselves," Jones said. "I raised him to be independent and strong, and that's what he is doing."
Alem also said he changed his name because he believes the black man in America has no identity, and he hopes people will look at what he has done and is doing and seek liberation for themselves.
"If you look at people's names around the world, you could hear that name and know exactly what they are," Alem said. "Excuse me if I'm stereotyping, but you would know where Ying Ping is from; but if I give you a name like Brandon Smith, who is that? He could be black or white."
Somari Camara, an activist and LSU graduate student, said Alem inspired him to change his name from Donald Lewis.
"Here was a young dude, [who] was a freshman at the time, saying this is what I'm about, take it or leave it, and that inspired me," Camara said. "I think Rahim feels more African than he does American, as do I, so our names should reflect that."
Camara and Alem both were involved heavily in this past year's protests of the purple-and-gold Confederate flag.
Alem was one of few athletes who vocally took a stand regarding the flag, and he said the racist reactions toward that was an eye-opening experience for him.
"I know that's what they say behind closed doors with their associates, but for them to be so bold about it in public - that's what shocked me," Alem said of the remarks heard during protests. "Not them actually calling me a nigger because that's what I am to them."
Although Alem received some backlash for his stance regarding the flag, he also gained respect from some of his peers for disregarding what people thought about him and standing up for what he believed in.
"Just to be outspoken and to do something like change his name, that's beautiful to me," Camara said. "To do that type of thing in a society where neither whites nor blacks speak out reminds me of Muhammad Ali."
Alem considered transferring from LSU after coming to Baton Rouge, which he said is a totally different city from his hometown, New Orleans, even though it is not far in distance.
He said he did some serious thinking and found a life lesson while deciding to stay.
"It's hard being me around so many close-minded people," Alem said. "But now I've come to the conclusion that white people are going to be white people, and I'm going to be me. And I asked myself, 'Am I going to run from every place that I'm not accepted?'"
(C) 2006 The Daily Reveille via CSTV U-WIRE