Nigerians living in Boston, Massachusetts come together in an annual cooking event to celebrate their heritage and to connect with one another
By ABDULRAFIU LAWAL/US
It was an afternoon of food, fun and family-friendly activities. This, perhaps, explains why, in spite of the scorching sun, Nigerian youths in company of their parents came from every nook and cranny of Boston, Massachusetts, United States, US to assemble at Franklin Play stead Park in the Mattapan/Dorchester neighbourhood, Saturday, July 9.
Beyond the food and fun, this group of young Nigerians came out en masse defying ethnic and religious differences to mark the 16th Nigerian Youth Organisation, NYO, cookout. The annual cookout is an event the organisation uses to raise funds to support its work to educate and empower Boston’s Nigerian and Nigerian-American youths.
As they recited the Nigerian national anthem in unison, the desire of the youths many of who were born in America, to have a Nigeria of their dreams was evident in their passion. In fact, the pitch of their voices particularly went up as they sang, “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain; to serve with heart and might; One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity”. It was clear that these groups of Nigerians were not seeing those divisive tendencies of religion or ethnicity, which their parents saw when they were growing up in Nigeria.
Looking at some of the parents who have been in the US for over two decades, it was easy to see the feeling of nostalgia in them as they look forward to returning to their fatherland someday after retirement. Olawunmi Akinwunmi, executive director, NYO, says the annual cookout brings together Nigerian community in Boston to show solidarity for the organisation’s efforts to equip Nigerian youths with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to positively impact both Nigerian and American society. She noted that the event is also an opportunity for those interested in learning more about the organisation to fellowship with NYO members and see the giant strides recorded by Nigerian youths in the US in various fields of human endeavour.
“Today, in our midst we have lawyers, doctors, engineers and architects who have been part of this event right from their days in secondary school. This is about continuity, after all, our parents were doing this for us some years back but now we are taking an active part in shaping our future and that of Nigeria”, she says.
Setti Warren, mayor of Newton who graced the occasion, described the event as “a step in the right direction because there is an urgent need to invest in things that can gives us a future”. Warren who is running for the United States Senate in 2012 from Massachusetts under the platform of the Democratic Party says there is no other way to guarantee a better future for youths than investing in education. He added that this belief is partly responsible for his decision to offer himself for service to the people by joining the race for the Senate.
“The difference between me and others in the race is how we used opportunities of good education given to us by our parents, this country and the desire to give same or something better to the younger generation in order to maintain the tradition of excellence which this country is known for”, Warren said. Speaking in the same vein, Tito Jackson, councillor, District Seven, in a goodwill message says there is need for events like this which brings together youths who are the leaders of tomorrow. ”There is a lot of violence in our community, but we all know that good and evil cannot live together so we have to continue investing in things that will make life more meaningful for all of us,” Jackson said.
Rahman Oladigbolu, a Nigerian youth and founder Oracle Films International who was at the event to publicise his award-winning film, Soul Sisters, describes the cookout as a wonderful experience. “I am seeing many Nigerian youth, most of them born in America. They are not like us born in Nigeria but it is an opportunity for us to connect and share our experiences for the betterment of our country,” he says. Oladigbolu whose film will be screened at all Silverbird Cinema across Nigeria and in Brooklyn by September says America is about people been able to maintain their identity and he is inspired that Nigerian youths are setting the pace by giving hope to Nigerians in America. “Nigeria is not yet positively viewed in the media which is affecting our youths. Most of the things we see in the media are from the world of entertainment. We have Nigerians doing well in other sectors. They don’t look at them as Nigerians but as black persons. It is changing gradually”, he says.
Chikaelo Ibeabuchi, a board member of NYO, says part of the driving force that has kept the organisation going for 16 years is the desire for continuity and also the need to appreciate the struggle of their parents in making it in America. “We want to excel and make our parents proud because many of them worked extra hard to give us the opportunity of been raised in America. Some had two or more jobs just make to us live a comfortable life. So we want to be a voice for Nigerians and take the opportunities at home to place our fatherland in the comity of great nations,” he says.
The event paraded several things that tried to bring Nigerians present as close to home as possible. One of such is Cecilia DamaLizotte, a food vendor who came to sell Suya, a delicacy made from roasted beef with some spice and it is the Nigerian equivalent of the American barbecue. DamaLizotte says she brought Suya because all Nigerians love it regardless of faith or ethnic affiliation. She added that this is the fourth time she is taking part in the cookout as a food vendor. “Each time I bring it, I always sell out. It is a great inspiration for me because I am opening a Nigerian restaurant here in Boston in September known as Suya Joint. I have been doing it on part-time basis, but now I have decided to go into it in full force. It will afford people the opportunity to eat good Nigerian food and mingle with others under an atmosphere of conviviality,” she says.
Shola Muyide, NYO treasurer, bemoans the challenges confronting the organisation especially lack of funds. According to him, it costs about N700,000 to host the event every year but raising the funds for this year’s event was like squeezing water out of stone. “Some years back, parents and their children volunteered to help with organisation, food and monetary donations but this year it took last minute effort of some people to have this cookout. Donations and volunteers are drying up which is not good for the future of this event. We need the support of parents to make this happen next year or else this tradition might die,” he said.
Muyide says the NYO needs a cultural centre for youths to meet to exchange ideas as they only meet on social network currently. He calls on organisations and philanthropists to come forward and support this noble idea. Offiong Bassey, a Nigerian-American singer, poet and producer who performed at the cookout says it is a family re-union. She held the youths spellbound for about 40 minutes as she rendered melodious songs. “I wanted to share my gift with my people and my country. Nigerian element is part of my music. I am feeding the people that fed me. I am giving back to the community”, she says.
On the other hand, Collins Bruns, an American from Massachusetts who is attending the cookout for the first time describes it as informing and entertaining. He says he first learnt about Nigeria in primary six when he was asked to draw a map of the world. “I have never really had a Nigerian food this is my first time. It’s really nice. Everyone is really warm, good food and good music”, he says.
For Bolade Owolewa, a mother of four who despite her tight schedule has managed the SAT preparatory classes for Nigerian youths in Boston as a volunteer for almost two decades, there is no greater investment for a parent than investing in the future of their children through education. “Sometimes I have to call parents to remind them to bring their children for the SAT classes but it is worth the trouble. It is about their future and ours”, she says. SAT known as Scholastic Assessment Test is a standardised test for students wishing to gain admission into universities in US; it is America’s equivalence of the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board, JAMB examination in Nigeria.
Owolewa who combines volunteering with her job as an assistant asset manager at Massachusetts Housing, Boston says she was motivated to start the classes by the fact that not many black people and Nigerian children were gaining admission into top-rated universities in America. Said she: “I started volunteering in Nigeria as a very young girl. I really enjoyed it a lot. It is a passion I have. I love it when I see a spark in a child’s eyes. I volunteered every Wednesday after school while in secondary school. We visited the Ibadan Home for Motherless Babies, carried them, hugged them, read to them and played with the children for two to three hours. I strongly believe in giving back, because I also benefited from it. It is very rewarding for me to see that I was able to make a difference in a child’s life.”
This year and for the first time in the event’s nearly two-decade history, the cookout featured the first annual NYO football tournament, sponsored in part by the Africa Soccer Summer Tournament. Taiwo Kuti, one of the coordinators, says football remains a vital tool for unifying people and they are using it to tell Nigerians to embrace peace for the development of the nation.
Founded in 1996, Nigerian Youth Organization of Boston Incorporated is a non-profit organisation that works to empower Nigerian youths in Boston through educational and cultural programmes and activities that encourage youths to develop their individual and cultural identities and use their talent and skills to achieve personal and professional prosperity.