Dr. Kalonji Nzinga is a cultural psychologist, rapper, and educator exploring how young people’s holistic development is influenced by the cultural lifeworlds and scenes that they inhabit. His work explores how the histories and cultures of our communities are inherited in our bodies, minds, and practices. This research program counters a Eurocentric bias in the learning sciences that has disregarded the thought traditions and intellectual lifeways of communities from the Global South Side (third world/POC/the hood).
As an educator, Dr. Kalonji researches and designs learning environments that aim for cultural legitimacy; 1) they draw on thought traditions that are endogenous and sacred to communities of color, and 2) they empower learners to cultivate optimal functioning of mind, body & spirit, heal intergenerational trauma, and remake worlds in their image. This has led him to explore the axiological dimension of learning environments, how the ethical and aesthetic values of communities are (re)produced within learning environments. In trying to better understand their ethical sense-making, cultural worldviews and psychological adaptations, he has had the privilege to learn from youth across the Global South Side; including East Palo Alto-California, Chicago-Illinois, the Palestinian West Bank, Ghana-West Africa and most recently a community based partnership with Denver’s North High School and Manual High School.
One major strand of his research has attended to young people in hip-hop scenes and how their participation as hip-hop artists, critics, writers, composers, and producers provides them with philosophical orientations, literacy skills, and technological savvy to engage in self-authorship, cultural production, and community artivism. Using methods of validated psychological instruments, clinical interviews, cognitive think-alouds and ethnographic observation his research investigates the philosophies and voices of youth hip-hop practitioners.
As a rapper and hip-hop practitioner himself, Dr. Kalonji also produces music that draws on Black ancestral legacies, depicts the sociopolitics of the hood, and explores visions of Afrofuturist healing. His research has informed the design of learning environments for all ages, multimedia arts exhibitions, and is published in the Journal of Cognition & Culture and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He is currently the Director of CU Boulder’s RAP Lab (Ritual Arts & Pedagogy), an interdisciplinary hub for the study of hip-hop praxis.