Tracing Our Roots with Brent Ifemembi


Text: Naomi Shimada
Photography: Tyler Davis


Family, says Brent Ifemembi, is how he stays in touch with his cultural background. Ifemembi is a Senior double majoring in Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. Culturally he is Nigerian-American. Both of his parents emigrated from Nigeria, and moved to the United States before he was born. He was born in Long Beach, CA, grew up in Los Angeles and went to high school in Texas.

Culturally… I would be classified as Igbo. Igbo people are an ethnic subset of the general population of Nigeria with their own language and dialect but I believe that my experiences growing up in the United States, especially in the South have shaped me to be a blend of both Igbo and African-American.

Family is how I keep in touch with my background.  It sometimes feels as if I live in two different worlds, because when I step out of my home I am viewed as a black American, but I can reconnect with my cultural background in the times I spend at home and around family. Around my family, I can enjoy the food (which is great btw) and experience the cultural events that were a significant part of my life growing up.


Food and music are important ways that Ifemembi incorporates his roots into his everyday life. 

After four years of searching, I’ve realized that African restaurants do not exist in Pittsburgh. But I try to bring the African touch to my kitchen whenever I go to the grocery store whether its buying plantain or making some traditional stew. I also embrace my roots in the music I listen to. While I mostly listen to American artists, you can still find me blasting Wizkid, Tekno, Davido, Tiwa Savage, etc!


He is a part of the SPIRIT Fashion Show this year after seeing it last year and being impressed by it.

Last year was my first time attending the SPIRIT Fashion Show. I had a lot of friends who were modeling and designing for the show and I bought a ticket to support them. They had always told me to be a part of the show but I didn’t become serious about joining until I saw the show in person. I was amazed by the quality of the production and the pieces created by the designers and it seemed like everyone involved was having a great time!


In keeping with this year’s theme for the fashion show, Ifemembi believes that it’s important for Africans to stay in touch with their culture.

I believe our roots and culture help shape the foundation of who we are as people, therefore it is important for all Africans here and across the Atlantic to stay in contact with the culture and values. As a Nigerian-American, family and faith were ingrained as a large part of my core values, and I want to share the same with my American brothers and sisters. Also, it is the knowledge of our culture that strengthens the meaning of what we do with our lives.


For Ifemembi, his culture has taught him a lot.

The Ibo’s have a saying that “Igwe bu ike” meaning that our collective strength is our power.  Growing up, I was taught to treat everyone (cousins, friends, classmates, etc.) like my brother and sister… in fact, in Igbo there is not a word for cousin. This has shaped how I interact and treat people every day.