An aspiring educator, a passionate chef, and a genuine companion, Kolajo P. Afolabi will be remembered by his friends and family as a rising academic with a contagious smile.
Afolabi, a fifth year doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, died Wednesday morning after suffering an apparent head injury while on a morning run. He was 31.
A native of western Massachusetts, Afolabi grew up with humble beginnings.
His teachers cultivated his thirst for knowledge through grade school, and Afolabi was then accepted to Brown University, becoming the first in his family to attend an Ivy League college.
At Brown, Afolabi was hard to miss, said his best friend Annie K. Steele. Towering at 6 ft., 3 in., and bringing his charismatic flair wherever he went, Afolabi was in more ways than one “larger than life.”
It would be at Brown where Afolabi began to pursue his interest in helping students from low-income families gain access to a college education.
“He was a hard worker,” Steele said. “He was competent, but he recognized that it’d taken a lot of hard work to get him where he was.”
It soon became Afolabi’s dream to become an educator at a higher level institution.
In the fall of 2007, Afolabi started working toward his doctorate at the Ed School under the advising of Ed School professor Bridget T. Long.
“He had a strong commitment to improving the lives of students, particularly those who are traditionally disadvantaged,” Long said.
During his first four years in the program, Afolabi became editor of the Harvard Education Review and served on a three-person committee that advised current faculty members during a search to hire new faculty members fluent in the area of quantitative policy analysis in education.
Afolabi was also a teaching fellow for Ed School courses during that time.
Outside of his academic life, Afolabi was a fast runner.
He ran a 5-kilometer race in 18 minutes last weekend, said his partner Bobby J. van Druff.
Van Druff and Afolabi had just bought an old house together in Providence where they lived with their two dogs Lou and Albey. They’d begun renovating their home, room by room, tearing down wallpaper, painting the walls, and putting in new tiles.