How Family And Cultural Traditions Put A Premium On Education
African immigrants to the U.S. are better educated on average than people born here or the U.S. immigrant population at large, according to a Migration Policy Institute Report.
In 2015, 39 percent of sub-Saharan Africans (ages 25 and over) had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29 percent of the total foreign-born population and 31 percent of the U.S.-born population. Nigerians and South Africans were the most highly educated, with 57 percent holding at least a bachelor’s degree.
GHOGH podcast host Jamarlin Martin is of Nigerian descent — “Yoruba through my dad’s side,” he said.
Martin asked some of his podcast guests of African lineage to explain. “Why are you guys killing it?”
Angelica Nwandu, founder and CEO of The Shade Room, is a first-generation Nigerian. She built a multi-million dollar media platform despite being shut down several times by Facebook while Russians and Cambridge Analytica were allowed to market anti-Black ads.
Nwandu’s Nigerian dad was a professor. “I remember when we were living with him we couldn’t watch TV,” Nwandu said on the GHOGH podcast. “He would sit us down and have competitions on who could read better. I grew up with that influence and the emphasis on education and the emphasis on being successful.”
Nwandu’s parents moved to the U.S. in the ’80s to pursue the American dream, “and it turned into the American nightmare,” she said. “Even when I was removed from that environment and put into foster care, I still had people around me (who said), ‘Listen, you may be a foster child but you are Nigerian and you’re going to be successful.'”
Foster care was the “best thing I’ve ever gone through,” Nwandu said. “I know you won’t hear that a lot, but it really refined my character and stretched me and it made me who I am today.” On a full ride to Loyola Marymount University, Nwandu studied accounting, got a job, and was working towards becoming a CPA when she realized she wanted to be a writer.
“That’s what I had done my whole life. I was a poet,” she said. “I said it to the world. I told everybody I knew. My mentor connected me with a screenwriter who was working on a script. Her name is Jordana Spiro. She’s an actress. And we wrote our first script. It went to Sundance, which was amazing. That gave me all of the juice that I needed to believe that I could pursue this career in writing. Sundance gave me a grant to write. That allowed me to leave my job.”
Nwandu made her first foray into film with “Night Comes On”, which premiered earlier this year at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. The film won a NEXT Innovator Award at Sundance. It’s available On Demand.
Tayo Oviosu is founder and CEO of Paga, the leading mobile payments company in Nigeria. His parents’ generation encouraged him to focus on education and better himself. When he had an opportunity to study abroad, he was determined to focus on doing well. “Austin was the first place that I ever had alcohol and that was like two years after undergrad,” he said. As an undergrad, “I did nothing other than study and be part of student life, running for Senate and things like that at USC. I think for a lot of Nigerians it’s that sort of pressure — we’ve got to do well, we’ve got to make the most of the opportunity we have. I don’t think we’re somehow genetically better positioned than anybody else.”
Rodney Williams is the founder and CEO of Lisnr, which is revolutionizing data-over-sound transmission with ultrasonic technology. He was born partially deaf, couldn’t speak and found out at 4 years old that he couldn’t hear. Williams attended school in Baltimore — “fun times as you can imagine,” he said — and then attended undergrad at West Virginia University. He earned two degrees there and then went to Howard University for an MBA. His family is originally from Jamaica. “That’s important,” Williams said.
Williams never let his environment, challenges and opposition define him. “I went to West Virginia, one of the most racist schools, racist environments, that you could go to. And I saw tons of my classmates drop out because of issues outside of the fact it’s a good school and you should just finish. I just think that we gotta stop doing that. We gotta be more introspective in how we build each other in the communities around us.”
Twenty-two years ago, Hillary Clinton (in a 1996 speech) called African-American youth who joined gangs “superpredators”. Her political opponents used that against Clinton in 2016 and there was a backlash.
“I thought that was a compliment,” Williams said. “I was the only person that was like, ‘I love being a superpredator’. If this was the jungle and I was a superpredator, I was the person that was going to eat your face. I just think we tend to take these negative things that are just small examples of the subset of who we are as people as defining characteristics of why something is.”