by Joy Mohammed
I am sure that when my father boarded that one-way flight from Nigeria to America, he was envisioning his large family filled with rich doctors, lawyers and engineers, successful in their own right.
Not me, sitting at home with my afro wrapped, writing about why America is not quite good enough. After meeting other Nigerian children, it was clear I was not alone in this life. All of my friends — rather, cousins — had the same social plight of being caught between two worlds: the one of their desires, and the other of their parents’ rigid expectations. But they chose not to disappoint their family.
My parents weren’t too rigid in their expectations, though; I had choices. There was medicine, nursing, pharmacy or engineering to chose from. I needed only one. They surrounded me with cousins who had taken the path that they wanted and hid me from creatives or risk takers. I, to the chagrin of my parents, settled on education, specifically guidance and counseling, and started my own nonprofit to mentor youth and fund scholarships. I had to pull on my happiness and confidence in my position to get me through the side eyes and questions. But I feel like I may be in good company.
Here are five other children of Nigerian immigrants who are making a difference:
1. Tunde Olaniran, musician
Tunde Olaniran is a musical genius. He is hip-hop; he is pop. He is Gaga, Fela Kuti and M.I.A. all in one. Did I mention that he is gorgeous, and his music is purposefully gender-inclusive? I had the privilege of seeing Tunde perform at MOCAD in Detroit, Michigan, this summer, and he is also an amazing performer. His music surrounds a lot of issues about black identity and self-love, and serves as a guide book for avoiding toxic people. The best part is that he performs in traditional Nigerian lace and George fabrics of distinguished Nigerian royalty. Seeing him perform at El Club in Detroit on New Year’s Eve was the best way to start 2017.
2. Ngozi Opara, owner of Heat Free Hair
When I was looking to add some length to my natural hair, I stumbled upon Heat Free Hair. Before hair brands like HFH, natural girls looking to wear weave had to settle on European-inspired styles, since hair companies could not get our unique texture right. Ngozi traveled to Asia to learn hair from the same people who were making a killing in Black beauty supplies without ever knowing us. She returned with her own brand of hair to help black girls wear hair that is texture true, without heat damage. I, personally, am very grateful.
3. Evelyn from the Internets
Nigerians have their own brand of humor. But there are few funnier than Evelyn from the Internets. She is the voice of second-generation Nigerians and American black girls all in one. She has teetered on the line between the two worlds Nigerian children know very well. So well that Beyoncé even noticed, and featured her review of Lemonade in her latest tour.
4. Tunde Wey, chef
Tunde Wey is the owner of a New Orleans, Louisiana, restaurant called Lagos. I visited this restaurant when it had a Detroit pop-up and in NOLA. If every ethnicity can have takeout for Saturday nights, you can now have Nigerian food now, too, thanks to Tunde Wey. Print out the menu and put it on the fridge with the Thai and Indian. I suggest the egusi soup and jollof rice.
5. Ndubisi Okoye, artist
I was driving in southwest Detroit and stumbled upon the beautiful mural below. I looked at the bottom and saw the signature. I could clearly make out “Okoye.” Oh, shit! We have a Nigerian. I went to Ndubisi Okoye’s website and learned that not only did he do the mural on the wall in SWD, but he has done art for J. Cole, Dodge, Nike and more. This guy is the real deal. If I told my father I wanted to be an artist, this would be the type of artist I would have to be.
I am so proud of the Nigerians who have set out to create, versus staying the course. These people have helped create a cultural identity for Nigerians other than the rigid professional. Mine eyes have witnessed the new Nigerian-Americans who are pursuing careers in their passions, not to the expectations of their parents — or anyone else, for that matter. And getting paid for it. Who can be disappointed in that? My father.