Like a sizeable amount of other Nigerians, I was born in the U.K. and actually didn’t move to Lagos, Nigeria until I was 5 years old. I cried my eyes out when I heard the news that I would soon be leaving my friends and life in London to move to back home. I had no idea where this place was and my older relatives that visited us from there, “talked funny.”
I had no say in the matter, and made the 3270 mile journey, kicking and screaming, at least according to my adolescent memory. When I arrived, it was a definitely a culture shock. The music was different, I could not stand the constant power outages and the lack of access to my favorite British foods was frustrating.
However, the transition into life in Lagos became much easier as I made friends at school and developed relationships with my grandparents and other relatives who I am very close to – cousins and children of family friends that I played with.
My Mother still teaches at the grade school I attended, the American International School of Lagos (AISL). What was great about AISL was the fact that I was able to make friends with kids from all over the globe and learn about their cultures. During most summer breaks, my mom would take my two younger siblings and I, on a trip abroad, mostly to the U.S.
My Dad usually stayed back home to keep an eye on the house and car since he didn’t trust the driver or house girl to act right if the whole family was away for an extended period of time. (Still laughing about that). New York City! As soon as we would land at LaGuardia, my siblings and I were ready to head straight to the mall to rack up on school clothes and party outfits to take back home. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and begin Operation Stunt 101 with my newly acquired gear.
The Secondary School I attended, Home Science Association Secondary School was at that time, a new private Nigerian school. My class was its first set of students. This was my first experience at a school where everyone looked like me. I immediately clicked with three guys, Ose, Ekene and Ejike. We were inseparable. Due to our self-identified coolness and rep, we saw ourselves as the Boys 2 Men of the school (definitely because of our style…not our singing ability).
Heavily influenced by Black American culture that was exported overseas, in high school we listened to a lot of RnB and Soul, so Boys 2 Men, Jodeci, Silk, Blackstreet and Shai were in heavy rotation, especially at our house parties. This genre was most likely so popular at that time because it was the perfect opportunity to slow dance with the girls from my school and neighboring schools.
I remember watching the video for one of our favorites, “Baby I’m Yours” by Shai. The video was filmed on Howard’s campus and opens with a shot of the main Howard University sign. That was my first introduction to HU but I didn’t really take much note of it at the time. The next time wouldn’t be until I saw a Howard University sweatshirt being worn by Mohammed, a cast member on MTV’s Real World III: San Francisco and figured I would look it up because now I was curious and I was in the process of researching universities anyway.
At the time I was also watching “A Different World” religiously, complete with my own pair of Dwayne Wayne flip glasses. While I was living in a country of 170 million people who for the most part, looked like me [read: were Black], I never considered that going to a university in the States would afford me the same experience. After doing some research, I was excited about the possibility of attending a real life version of Hillman College. It was then that I made my decision to attend HU.
In 1996, I moved to Washington, D.C., from Lagos, Nigeria to attend college. This was a pivotal moment. Arriving on Howard’s campus was the start of a point in my life where I had moved out of my parents house, moved to another country and was learning more about myself. I met and befriended Black people from around the world. Up until then I had never met anyone from the Caribbean.
I had not even met that many Africans from countries outside of Nigeria. It was amazing to discover all the differences in our various cultures as well as all of the similarities. I hung out with everyone from bookworms to weed heads. Aspiring rappers to aspiring politicians.
The more I learn about African history and the history of Black people in the Diaspora, the more I understand why people devote their lives to the study of this subject matter. It’s truly fascinating stuff and it has given me a new appreciation for my people and my own homegrown Nigerian culture.
The music that my parents used to listen to that was once unappealing was now the hot ish New Afrikans and Afropolitans were bumping, jumping and funking to. My love for all things Black American culture now included an appreciation for the fashion, music and style made in Lagos.
Nigeria is the new hot scene – the music dominates the African pop music industry. The fashion and the movie industries are also billion dollar money makers. Nigeria is HOT, pun very intended. Somewhat like my immortal country men before me, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, it took my Coming to America to change the game – shifting my entire outlook.
While I’m no scholar or historian, these topics have become an important part of who I am and I feel a responsibility to do my part to move us as a people in the right direction. Many people feel the same way and have a variety of solutions they feel are the way forward.
Just as I have an appreciation for our history and culture, I also appreciate the process of creating capital and how it can be used as a tool improve the lives of my family, friends and community. So, for me, business ownership and group economics make the most sense, in the U.S., in Africa or in any other part of the world where a people with so much potential are on the bottom of the economic totem pole.
This is a huge force behind what has led me to start my own business. It is what drives me start other businesses. It’s why I get satisfaction from encouraging others who have started a business and those who are considering doing so.
Everybody won’t get it. For some reason, the idea of shopping Black doesn’t sit well with everyone. However, what I do know is that for many compelling reasons, more people are Shopping Black than ever before. It’s time to get our wealth back, one Naira, Dollar, Pound and Yen at a time. #shoppeblack
-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson
Artwork by Glen Marrero