Category

Women in Diaspora

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By Miracle Nwankwo

Tomi Adeyemi is an African in diaspora whose intents when it comes to writing is to be innovative about solving problems. She consistently and consciously channels her words as a problem-solving tool for the younger generation. As she amplifies the power of writing, the younger generation enlisted her works as a highly significant ladder to life success. At 24 she is popularly known as an American Writer, who many could not help but admire because of her great works in creative writing.

Tomi is a young, hardworking, determined and successful woman, who by all means, got herself to the beginning of a successful phase with utmost determination, no other sentence better describes this milestone achiever of the African descent. 

Tomi spends most of her time educating and inspiring over 4,500 writers on creative writing at tomiadeyemi.com, a blog she created for that same purpose. Life has not been a bed of roses for this exceptional writer, whose life story confirms the popular saying that “every success attained has a rough tale to it”.  Though she has also had her share of struggles, this courageous and creative diaspora woman has remained unshaken.

Tomi was born on the 1st of August in San Diego, California, into a family with a very humble background who struggled to make ends meet even though there was no single assurance that ends were ever going to meet.  Her father, although a certified physician back in Nigeria, worked as a taxi driver while he waited to transfer his qualifications and her mother worked as a cleaner. Luck smiled on the young African diaspora and she successfully graduated from Harvard University with an honors degree in English literature. 

When life seemed as if there was no hope, her passion to touch many lives, provided her an opportunity to study African mythology and culture in Salvador Brazil. 

Her journey in this field started way back at a very young age and her first story was written when she was only five years old. Considering her early writing passion one could easily describe her as the lady born with a golden pen in her hands.

 “I didn’t really get introduced to it! Writing has always been in me, it’s the first thing I ever did without anyone telling me what to do,” Tomi said. 

Accepting writing as her first weapon to change the world, she always made use of black characters in her writing as a way of teaching the blacks self-love and also improving the image of the blacks before other races. She often writes with an intention and purpose, particularly when it comes to the identities of her characters. 

When Tomi wrote her first novel, which did not yield positive feedback at the time, she became faced with two different options which was to either learn from her mistakes and move on or to remain submerged in self-pity and a long-term discouragement. She chose to stand tall and would not allow the failure to deter her, she instead gave herself a year to write another book which is the ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ that wowed the hearts of many.

She is most recognized for ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ and the book was picked up by Fox 2000 and Temple Hill Productions for a feature film adaptation. The hard work and passion she displayed in her works made her personal website and blog listed by writer’s digest as one of the best 101 websites for writers.

Reading the works of this milestone achiever, it is glaring that she patiently went through the route of self-development, which rapidly elevated her as a reference point to other writers. Tomi’s secret ingredient seemed to be her ability to see every major disappointment as an important stepping stone on her life’s journey. 

Regardless of the successes attained by Tomi, one of her most valued moments still remains whenever she comes in contact with young fans whose lives and belief systems have been greatly affected through her writing.

She discovered writing as a safe haven for her to escape into a world of complete possibilities, but also a sword for her to wield against all the injustices around her. In fact, writing provided the young lady with a voice and agency which became a reason for her existence. 

Tomi has successfully created writings that cannot but help proffer solutions to the existing challenges that face young women in our today’s world. As a unique publication born out of the desire to highlight the giant strides of women we raise our flags high in honour of Tomi Adeyemi – a successful woman in diaspora.

Miracle Nwankwo

“I would have loved to have heard a story like mine. I could have used it as an inspiration to get by. The lesson is to be hopeful, to dream and to aspire for more.’’ Ilhan Omar.

Young Ilhan Omar and her family fled Somalia to Kenya in 1991 during the civil war. While militiamen planned to attack their home at midnight they were advised by older female relatives to escape safely. Omar left with her family, shortly after, she recounted walking through streets scattered with debris and corpses. 

The family settled in the Utango camp, near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa for four years. They were among the first displaced persons to reach the Utango camp, which had just opened. Refugees were kept in tents or makeshift huts before the facility was closed, in about 1996.

While in the camp Omar collects firewood and water for her family, and watched other kids going to school in uniforms. She remembers asking her father if she could resume her education.

The camp was isolated and rudimentary with inadequate provisions and sanitation, as such there were situations of deaths as a result of malaria.

Gratefully, Omar and her family moved to the United States when she was 12 under a resettlement programme.

The family arrived New York in 1992, secured asylum in the U.S. in 1995 and lived for a while in Arlington, Virginia, before going to settle in Minneapolis. Her father started working as a taxi driver and later got a job at the post office.

Omar lost her mother when she was 2 years old, so she was raised by her father and grandfather. Her father and grandfather emphasized the importance of democracy during her upbringing, and at age 14 she accompanied her grandfather to caucus meetings, serving as his interpreter. 

She also had her share of racism. Back in Virginia Omar was bullied in school as a result of her distinctive Somali appearance and wearing of the hijab. Several times, gum was pressed into her hijab and she was being pushed down stairs. In response to these actions her father will always say “They are doing something to you because they feel threatened in some way by your existence.”

Whatever has a beginning also has an end.

Omar gained U.S. citizenship in 2000 and she was 17 years old.

She attended Edison High School. While in school she volunteered as a student organizer. In 2011 she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from North Dakota State University majoring in political science and international studies. She was a Policy Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

She started her professional career at the University of Minnesota as a community nutrition educator between 2006 to 2009 in the Greater Minneapolis–Saint Paul area. She served as campaign manager for Kari Dziedzic’s re-election campaign for the Minnesota State Senate, in 2012. She served as a child nutrition outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Education, between 2012 and 2013.

Omar managed Andrew Johnson’s campaign for Minneapolis City Council, in 2013. After Andrew Johnson won the election and was elected, she was appointed as his Senior Policy Aide from 2013 to 2015. 

However, there was a contentious precinct caucus that turned violent in February 2014, and Omar was attacked by five people and was injured. The day before the caucus, Minneapolis city council member, Abdi Warsame had told Johnson to warn Omar not to attend the meeting, Minn Post reported.

Omar was the Director of Policy Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network, September 2015. While in that capacity, she advocated for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles. In September 2018, Jeff Cirillo of Roll Call called her a “progressive rising star.”

Omar ran on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) ticket for the Minnesota House of Representatives District 60B, in 2016, which includes part of northeast Minneapolis. She defeated Mohamud Noor and incumbent Phyllis Kahn in the DFL primary, on August 9. She faced Republican nominee Abdimalik Askar, who was her chief opponent in the general election and another activist in the Somali American community. However, Askar announced his withdrawal from the campaign in late August and in November Omar won the general election, becoming the first Somali American legislator in the United States. Her term began on January 3, 2017. A journey she scaled upwards till date.

She currently serves as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, giving hope to other young people whose stories are similar to hers.

Pakistani-Canadian journalist Habiba Nosheen is a successful woman of color representing other women of color in the United States.

She was born in Pakistan by her Arab parents in 1982, and spent the early years of her life in Lahore. Her family migrated to Canada when Habiba was nine years old. The family became refuges on their arrival in Canada, but things fell into place after they gained right to residency. 

Growing up in Toronto, Canada Habiba obtained a bachelor’s degree from University of Toronto and master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism as well as from York University, Toronto in Women’s Studies. 

Habiba articulates four different languages fluently─ English, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. She started her career in journalism as a reporter at the CBC Radio Pakistan where she was later nominated to report for the prestigious Kroc Fellowship, on-air for NPR ‘s Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

In 2012, she started her PBS investigation, “To Adopt a Child,” which told the story of the murky side of adoptions from Nepal that left many families caught in the middle. The investigation won the Gracie Award for Outstanding Correspondent and led to a resolution in the Nepalese adoption system, after the government accepted faults for the first time that the whole system has a mistake.  

In 2013, she successfully shot the film Outlawed in Pakistan, she was totally responsible for directing, reporting and narrating of the film which was aired on PBS Frontline. The film was won the Emmy for Outstanding Research and Nosheen’s third Overseas Press Club Award.

Outlawed in Pakistan also premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it was called “among the standouts” of Sundance by The Los Angeles Times. The film also got her the David A. Andelman and Pamela Title Award by The Overseas Press Club which honors “the best international reporting in the broadcast media showing a concern for the human condition.”

Another outstanding piece that brought her many ground breaking awards was her work for This American Life, a radio documentary “What Happened at Dos Erres?”. The pieced put together a massacre in Guatemala that happened 30 years earlier partly by tracking down the men responsible for the killings and interviewing them about what happened that day. 

The documentary was tagged “a masterpiece of storytelling” by New Yorker and it won her various awards including; The George Foster Peabody Award, The Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, The Third Coast Radio Award, The New York Radio Festival Award and two Overseas Press Club Awards in addition to being a finalist for The Livingston Award for Young Journalists.

In 2014, Habiba joined 60 Minutes and she was nominated for the Emmy Award and named a finalist for the George Foster Peabody Award.

Pakistan’s leading newspaper named Habiba Nosheen as one of the “top 5 Outstanding Pakistani Women” in 2014. 

Her documentaries have received various supports from The Fund for Investigative Journalism, The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and ITVS. 

Her reporting has also been published by The New York Times, TIME, The Washington Post, BBC and ProPublica among others outlets.

Two years ago she was announced by CBC as the new co-host of Canada’s leading investigative news-magazine show, “the fifth estate.” She has since been offering viewers deep and enticing stories, of ongoing events, on the fifth estate’s 42nd season premieres.

She also currently teaches journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Habiba is a happy mother of two lovely children.

Elaine Lan Chao continues to unleash her leadership potentials in the various political position of the United States Government.  She did not get up the ladder without a fight, she had her fair share of apartheid struggles, but with the help of her parents’, she was able to overcome and shine.

Elaine Chao was born in Taipei – Taiwan, the first, and eldest child of her parents among six daughters. She migrated to the United States with her mother and two sisters at age eight. Before the migration, Elaine’s parents although Chinese lived in Taiwan. Following the political turmoil, societal upheaval, foreign invasions and civil war in China at that time, which resulted into so many hardships, instability, and uncertainty that caused many to leave the country in search of peace and safety.

Her parents first met in Shanghai during World War II. In 1949, but got married in Taiwan, having relocated separately to the country. A few years later, Elaine’s father received a scholarship to further his studies abroad. He left for the USA, and three years later his wife and three daughters, Elaine, Jeanette, and May to America.

Life did not turn out so rosy, as the Chao family arrived America things became difficult, with no family or friends settling in became a challenging experience.  Elaine was enrolled in Syosset High School in Syosset, New York, on Long Island as a third-grader. The school was not fun as she could not communicate in English. She spent school days alone because she could not understand anything her teacher or the other students said. Having started off her early education in Chinese language, Elaine had been accustomed to writing in the language.

Soon, she learned to speak and write in English with the help of her father who took out his evenings teaching his little daughter by patiently going back over each day’s lessons.

Against all odds, the family grew into a united and loving family and never lost their steadfast belief in the promise of America. James and Ruth were able to empower their girls to thrive in the new country with the hope of a better future. Both parents were an inspiration to their daughters, as they instilled in them the importance of family, faith, education, hard work, self -discipline, self-sacrifice, self-reliance, determination, service and contribution to their community and Society.

At age 19, Elaine was naturalized as a U.S. citizen, and in 1975 she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, followed by an MBA degree from Harvard Business School in 1979. Elaine did have her fair share of achievements, during her days at Harvard Business School, she was the first woman at Harvard to be elected class officer and class marshal. She was an active member of the finance club, the financial accounting club, the international business club, and the transportation club.

After her education, Elaine started her career in the banking industry, she rose to become Vice President for syndications at Bank of America Capital Markets Group in San Francisco, California. She also served as in international banker at the Citicorp in New York, before joining the United States Public Service sector, where she has served over twenty years.

Elaine has served in various platforms and position right from the presidency of Ronald Reagan over America and to this present President Donald Trump administration.

Despite the early struggles to fit in, this woman of colour has set the pace for other aspiring women in diaspora.

Most Women who have encountered difficulties in their lives tend to have incredible inner strength because they turn difficulties to ‘delicacies’.  At the end of those difficulties, they become better and more resourceful persons. In the words of Helen Keller, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved”. Discover the idea that you are meant to learn when you go through moments of difficulties, and you’ll see that it isn’t as fierce as it appears. There’s no energy that can mimic what’s released when a positive, high-stepping woman enters room. A positive attitude is the diesel required as a driving force to bring that conception to reality. The above traits are the possessions of Semhar Araia.

Her Story

Semhar Araia is the daughter of Eritrean immigrants. Her parents came to the United States in the late 1960s in search of education and work. She was raised to be proud of her heritage and developed an early and loving relationship with her homeland. She studied everything there is study about her history, culture, language and more importantly Eritrea’s thirty (30) year struggle for independence from Ethiopia. There were so many instances where she tried to share her root countries story with as many people as possible owing to her special love for her country even as an American as well.

In the ideology of majority of people when Horn of Africa is mentioned, they tend to think of disgusting negative images of suffering, famine and war. Maybe even pirates or Black Hawk Down. They miss the brighter moments of opportunity, breakthrough, and perseverance. The Horn of Africa is a beautifully proud, complex, and rich region. But it has had little success in showcasing its strengths against these negative stereotypes.

Being a member of the Horn of Africa Diaspora, as an Eritrean-American, and as the founder of the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN), she expressed her humility as she was selected and honored as a White House ‘Champion of Change’. In her appreciation speech, she was proud to share her story by throwing a little highlight into the community that she cared so much about. Also, she stated “I am even more proud to share this moment with my fellow Horn of Africa Diaspora colleagues, who I know also share the same passion for this region as I do”

Semhar Araia is the daughter of Eritrean immigrants. Her parents came to the United States in the late 1960s in search of education and work. She was raised to be proud of her heritage and developed an early and loving relationship with her homeland. She studied everything there is study about her history, culture, language and more importantly Eritrea’s thirty (30) year struggle for independence from Ethiopia. There were so many instances where she tried to share her root countries story with as many people as possible owing to her special love for her country even as an American as well.Most importantly, in trying to know the extent of her love for Eritrea, she relocated to the place where she worked for two (2) years. It was in this quest of hers that she realized that she was much Eritrea as was American and that she possesses traits from both continents. In her words while emphasizing on the war of independence fought by Eritrea, “I would go to demonstrations and would be the only child there”. She also reiterated that she couldn’t have picked one over the other as she professed her love for both.

She came back to the United States (USA) more poised to put the things she learnt from her home country (Eritrea) to practice and look for African or African-American women with the same mindset as hers. In a space of few weeks, she met women whose identities, beliefs, and professions were same as hers who was also rooted in Africa and America. They immediately got acquainted as she expressed how great the feeling was. She had somehow tapped into an untapped resource, where she found out a part of America and Africa’s diverse social fabric that she dreamt about as a little girl.

Few months later, she decided to invite the women of like-minds to dinner, so they could begin meeting regularly. This initiative led to the formation of Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN), a volunteer-run organization whose mission is to support women and girls of the African Diaspora focused on African affairs. According to her their goal is to connect, empower and elevate the role and contributions of African Diaspora women in African affairs while celebrating our rich diversity and excellence. DAWN provides Africa-related networking, leadership, mentorship, and professional development opportunities for our members as well as host regular private events and community service projects.

Members of DAWN are inspiring, phenomenal, passionate next generation leaders of African origin. DAWN currently has up to one hundred and eighty (180) members who are Americans and Africans, originating from both continents by way of citizenship, birth, or culture. Diaspora African Women’s Network represents 28 African countries, the United States, the Caribbean, South America, Europe and Middle East. Each woman is a proven Diaspora community leader with professional focus on African affairs. Some are into professions that are often underrepresented in the Diaspora communities, such as public policy, international development, journalism, communications, government, and nonprofit management.

Semhar Araia, while addressing the second generation immigrants (Africans) in the United States insisted that, “We are a gift and an asset to both cultures, to both countries.”There are so many examples of women who celebrate both, who don’t incite one against the other, who don’t need to be more African than American or more American than Africa. I think there’s a way to be both and to celebrate that.”

Her priority was to show that Africa’s greatest strength was its people and communities everywhere. Living in the Diaspora is about owning and sharing your heritage, embracing your multiculturalism and building bridges between your communities and homelands. She wants to prove that the Horn of Africa is full of great minds and promising leaders. Semhar Araia stated, “It is not a place of misfortune nor misery, and most pertinent of all, to show that an under aged girl in Middle America, whose parents are African immigrants from Eritrea that she can do whatever she sets her mind to because she can and because she matters”

Recognition
• The Root’s Top 100, 2009
• Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Foreign Policy Women on Twitter, 2012
• African Union Diaspora Awardee, 2012
• White House Champion of Change, 2012
• Applause Africa Leadership Award, 2014
• Term Member, Council on Foreign Relations, 2014
• African Union Diaspora Technical Expert, 2016
• Member, USAID Advisory Committee for Foreign Voluntary Aid, 2016

Compiled By: E. Charles.

Kamala Harris represents the few whose decision to engage in politics was born out of the desire to give a voice to the voiceless diaspora in America. She became the first California attorney general with African American or South Asian ancestry after defeating Republican rival Steve Cooley in the 2010 election for the position.   Harris was born on October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California to a Tamil Indian mother and a Jamaican father. The family lived in Berkeley, California, where both of Harris’ parents attended graduate school. Although, Harris’ parents were later divorced when she was 7 and her mother was granted custody of the children by a court-ordered settlement.

After the divorce, her mother moved with the children to Montreal, Québec, Canada, where Shyamala took a position doing research at the Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University. After graduating from Montreal’s Westmount High School in Quebec, Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in political science and economics. She began her leadership experience at an early stage in life as she was elected to the liberal arts student council as freshman class representative, a member of the debate team, and joined the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She then returned to California, earning her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from University of California, Hastings College of the Law, in 1989.

Harris began prosecuting murder, robbery, and child rape cases as deputy district attorney for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, serving in the position from 1990 to 1998. Then, as managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, a position she filled from 1998 to 2000, with this position Harris prosecuted cases involving serial felons. Harris used her position to create a significant decline in Crime in San Francisco, with Harris as head; the San Francisco District Attorney’s office increased the percentage of dangerous criminals sentenced to prison by more than half. She also tripled the number of misdemeanor cases sent to trial and prosecuted the parents of truant children, which helped slash the truancy rate by 23 percent. She made California safer by prosecuting transnational gangs that exploited women and children and trafficked in guns and drugs. She led comprehensive studies and investigations into the impacts of transnational criminal organizations and human trafficking in California. Harris is an outspoken advocate for immigrant and women’s rights, and a proud member of the resistance against Donald Trump’s presidency.  In 2003, Kamala Harris made history; she was elected as the San Francisco district attorney, becoming the first woman, black, and South Asian to achieve this feat.

Kamala Harris was a fighter who continued to defend her people in time of crisis. She led comprehensive studies and investigations into the impacts of transnational criminal organizations and human trafficking in California.  She also fought for California families in the wake of the financial and national mortgage crisis, when she challenged Wall Street greed and took on the big banks, winning over $20 billion for homeowners, creating the multidivisional Mortgage Fraud Strike Force to crack down on fraud, and passing a “Homeowners Bill of Rights,” establishing the nation’s most comprehensive anti-foreclosure protections. Kamala was proud to lead the team that helped bring down California’s Proposition 8 at the U.S. Supreme Court and to fight for marriage equality nationwide. Throughout her career, Kamala has been a leading advocate for innovation and reform in the criminal justice system.

She introduced or co-sponsored the legislation to reform our criminal justice system, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, make higher education tuition-free for the vast majority of Americans, protect the legal rights of refugees and immigrants, and expand access to affordable, quality health care by creating a Medicare for All-style program.

She has won so many awards and accolades. Harris won endorsements from California’s political elite while campaigning for attorney general, including Sen. Diane Feinstein, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. On the national stage, Harris had the backing of former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Leaders in law enforcement endorsed Harris also, including the then police chiefs of San Diego and San Francisco.

Harris’ numerous honors, include being named one of California’s top 75 women litigators by legal paper the Daily Journal and a “Woman of Power” by the National Urban League. Additionally, the National Black Prosecutors Association gave Harris the Thurgood Marshall Award and the Aspen Institute chose her to serve as a Rodel Fellow.  She was also elected to the board of the California District Attorneys Association. She received the endorsements of numerous groups, including EMILY’s List, California Legislative Black Caucus, Asian American Action Fund, Black Women Organized for Political Action, the National Women’s Political Caucus, Mexican American Bar Association, and South Asians for Opportunity

Kamala Harris depicts a woman with strength and a heart for the people as she continues to remain a fearless advocate for the voiceless and vulnerable.