“Her misfortune has been our good fortune.” United States Senator Richard Durbin chose those 7 words to capture my unlikely journey from an unemployed, undocumented chemical engineer to a respected immigrants’ rights activist and an internationally recognized social entrepreneur.
When I was brought to the United States from Nigeria at age 14, I never dreamed I would spend my days innovating around global migration. However, as I ran into the seemingly impenetrable wall that divides those with “papers” and therefore access to the “American Dream” and those without, I was forced to examine my part in building the more perfect union we all desire. In a moment of clarity and born out of necessity, I resolved to focus my energy on tearing down that wall. I became one of the committed who daily strive to find solutions for themselves and their communities - those whose strength is born out of resisting the powerlessness that comes from struggling through untenable situations.
An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. These men, women, and children are emblematic of an urgent humanitarian crisis and an unmistakable defining moment for governments and their citizens. Will we as a global community call on the better angels of our nature and work to alleviate this grave human suffering?
USAIM for IOM, the U.S.-based partner of the UN Migration Agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has a storied history of taking on this challenge by supporting humanitarian relief programs for vulnerable populations displaced by natural disasters and conflicts; as well as assisting survivors and victims of human trafficking around the globe.
When I was asked to join the Board of Directors of USAIM for IOM, I welcomed this uncommon privilege to positively impact the state of the world by giving voice and value to the voiceless. I plan to use my unique perspective as a migrant living through the struggles that millions across the globe also face, in support of innovative solutions that are grounded in reality.
The Award-winning novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said, “nobody is ever just a refugee. Nobody is ever just a single thing. And yet, in the public discourse today, we often speak of people as a single a thing. Refugee. Immigrant.” The millions of us refugees, migrants, and displaced people, are more than just our circumstances.
I believe that advocacy falls short when those we are fighting for are not invited to the battle. Including those directly affected by an issue shows an authenticity of purpose and promotes a sense of pride that ignites a desire to live beyond the limits of their circumstances.
I am proud to join forces with USAIM for IOM, an organization that recognizes this immutable fact, and I am humbled to have the opportunity to be a beacon of hope for all those whose cares have been our concern.
Throughout my career, I have seen that although great minds may think alike, brilliant minds spark innovation when connected. There is too much left to be done to build a more equitable world for any of us to work in isolation. Our ability to achieve change is refined and its impact multiplied through exposure to a diversity of people also working for change. Serving on the Board of Directors of USAIM for IOM means partnering with a community of innovators from every corner of the globe united in the single mission of building a better world.
My struggles with a broken immigration system first led me to advocacy but understanding in a very real sense that millions of others face similar situations fuels my passion.
Senator Durbin is a man I greatly respect and would hardly contradict, but on this one point I must add that my misfortune has most definitely been my good fortune, because out of the ashes of my dreams denied came my life’s true purpose.