By Somtochukwu Henrietta Okafor
AFSC Dayton Youth Civic Engagment Intern
Hi everyone, my name is Somtochukwu Henrietta Okafor. I am Nigerian and also from the tribe Igbo. In my tribe, the name Somtochukwu means, “Join me and praise God.” This name was given to me because of the complications before my birth; after my mum and I were able to make it through that trying time, my parents thought it a befitting name for me.
Arriving in the US
My family moved to the US on February 22, 2014, beginning a major journey in my life and a transition I would not easily forget. I was 15 years old when we moved, but even at that age I was able to know that I would never see life the same way as I was raised to, which is without colorism and racism.
Two weeks after we moved, I was sent to complete my high school education, and at that time it felt like the worst punishment my parents could have subjected me to. I didn’t understand anything and overall felt like I was not welcome.
I decided to talk to my parents about it and let them know I was not interested in going to school anymore, and I just wanted to be home because I felt out of place in school and felt no love and connection to anyone, even people who looked like me.
My mum then looked me in the eye and said to me, “You are a daughter of Zion and therefore be strong and courageous. By being on this earth you have power over everything, so go out there and take what you deserve.” At that point, her statement made no sense to me, and I just went to my room believing I was doomed for life with no purpose and ambition.
Connecting with others
Everything began to change at the end of that school year when I was publicly recognized as an Honor student, and then I met a few African people and we became close friends. The next school year I became actively involved in school activities and clubs, but in the midst of all that I always wondered why there was no club to educate people about African cultures provide a platform to connect with our culture.
One day, I went up to my friends and said to them, “Let’s create an African student Organization,” and that was how I knew I had a passion for leadership. High school finished very well, and now it was time for college. I knew what I wanted at this time and knew who I was as a person.
I immediately joined the African Student Union at my college, and I am currently the Vice President. Everything was going OK until one day, the president of our organization reaches out to us and said something very interesting. He said, “Guys, there’s an organization that’s reached out to us with a mission to unite African students in Ohio, and they want to have a meeting with us.”
Working with AFSC
I was intrigued and started asking a whole bunch of questions that he didn’t have the answer to, and with that I became more and more excited to meet with this organization. AFSC was everything and more of what I expected it to be. We had a wonderful lunch meeting with AFSC Program Director Migwe Kimemia and the New African Immigrant Commissioners (NAIC).
This meeting was an eye opener. I saw that we have not even scratched the surface of leadership when it comes to helping out one another in the community. Everything we talked about in the meeting gave me so much hope and joy for what the future has to offer, and I knew from that point that this was a group I was very interested in helping, in any way that I could, to achieve their goals.
Little did I know that God heard my thought and answered my prayers by coming in the form of African Student Union president, who informed the members about an internship opportunity at AFSC. I immediately rushed at the offer and to the Glory of God, I am the Civic Engagement Intern at AFSC.
This was an opportunity I never thought in my lifetime I would come across, but it has been the most rewarding and fulfilling time of my life being a part of this organization. After I turned in my application, I went on AFSC’s website and read all about them. Upon seeing all the things they have been doing to make this world a better, happier place for us all, I could only pray and hope I would be fortunate enough to be a part of this great organization.
After my appointment to AFSC, I dove into learning everything I could about my role so that I could start preparing myself to do a good job. In this process, I came to the realization of what a wonderful and open work environment I was working in. Migwe gave me everything I needed and allowed me to be creative. I was greatly fortunate to experience a lot of life-changing experiences, such as attending the annual meeting of the NAIC in Columbus, Ohio, where I learned a lot.
I have also met very wonderful people in my short time with AFSC. I have expanded my leadership skills by learning how to effectively communicate with others, and I have had the opportunity to speak to groups of people.
One major, mind-blowing piece of information I learned during a research activity was that AFSC was one of the major contributors and helpers during the Biafran war. This hit home for me because my great-grand parents were alive at the time of the Biafran war, and it was just so special learning about how AFSC went above and beyond to protect the people involved in the war.
Toward a Pan-African youth caucus
AFSC’s current program in Ohio is growing, and, with each passing day, we are getting closer to our goal of creating a Pan-African youth caucus. I see a lot of learning and growing potential for me and AFSC in the future, and I cannot wait to share all the progress with you.
This moment takes me back to the words of my mum telling me to take what I deserve and I, as a representative of African youth, deserve to be mentored, helped, given opportunities, guided and recognized in the world. I deserve to be given a chance to change the things that are not right and end the stereotypes and discriminations associated with who I am.
AFSC’s We Dream a World Campaign is working hard to give African youth the voice and opportunity they deserve to make the world a better place for themselves and the world. I am highly appreciative to be a part of this organization that has given me a bright purpose for the good of the future.