Veterans Affairs: Discovering Culture Through Education

This post is part of a series covering an educational trip planned by University of Pennsylvania students for the men and women enrolled in the Veterans Upward Bound program. You can find more information here and here.


All of the Veterans Upward Bound students had different aspects of their Washington trip that they were most looking forward to. Yahanna Bey, who served in the United States Marine Corps from 1969 through 1971, was particularly enthusiastic about the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The museum features an exhibit entitled “African Voices,” which chronicles African culture and history, two subjects that Bey is greatly interested in learning all he can about.

“If you don’t know the road you came down, you don’t know where you are going,” Bey said.

Bey was eager to take in all the information the exhibit had to offer about his African heritage. He even brought his own notebook and a pen to make sure that none of what he saw and learned could be forgotten.

Bey made notes on parts of the African Voices exhibit.
Bey made notes on parts of the African Voices exhibit.

“I know, for me, it took about two years of my life to understand my culture after being brought up and oriented in the western society of North America,” he said.

Bey has invested time and effort into tracing his family’s origins and African lineage.

“In these last two years, I have found my culture and my people,” Bey said. “And that is from Ghana. A small place called Kumasi in Ghana. That is where my ancestors are from.”

Bey expressed that, for him, the artifacts and pictures on display are more than just a documentation of the past. They represent something much larger – a sense of one’s self.

“This section of this museum, a lot of history is here,” he said. “Even the pictures, maybe, can tell more than what is written on the walls. Those who have a vision to see will be able to see those things for what they are beyond the walls of this museum.”

Bey made sure to acknowledge that his enrollment in VUB is something that provides him with a chance to further his education. Veterans earn their access to an education through their military service. VUB helps them put those benefits to good use.

Bey stands with his fellow veterans on the group's tour of George Washington University.
Bey stands with his fellow veterans on the group’s tour of George Washington University.

“Being a part of the Veterans Upward Bound program has done a lot for me thus far,” Bey said. “Because I’m not a graduate from high school, I come to this program to get courses that will prepare me for college as well as get a GED. Upward Bound plays a very significant part of my being here (the exhibit) and I’m thankful for that.”

Bey also knows that the University of Pennsylvania students who organized the trip worked hard to secure funding and create the itinerary that made the whole event a success.

“I’m enjoying myself. I appreciate the Wharton Business School students for what they have done, you know, to galvanize themselves and to put this trip together for us veterans. We are very appreciative. I know I am.”

– Text and images by Bob Dieckmann and Zachary Rendin.


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