There’s an emotional association when you become in tune with your passion. A feeling of elation and many times emancipated when choosing to follow your dreams come full circle. Kemi Osukoya, the founder of US-based magazine and online media Africa Bazaar, and a former business staff writer at the Wall Street Journal illustrates her evolution as a journalist, stigmas of being an African-American woman, all the while finding solace through a complicated relationship and the turbulence of motherhood.
In African culture, you are to pursue the profession your elders want and for Osukoya, a Nigerian-American, being a journalist was a secret narrative she locked away. Through personal evolution, she overcame adversities meandering her way through a media-driven industry which questioned her merit, abilities, and cultural differences.
The magazine is hope. When I launched Africa Bazaar, it explored hope for Africa, but it was also hope for me. The way I describe it is a speckle of light.
Have any personal obstacles led you towards journalism and media?
I moved from Africa to New York when I was 20 years old and met my now ex-husband. That relationship led me down a dark and dreary path wanting to end my life, but I decided to turn it around and went back to school to study journalism. During my freshman year, I read a book entitled Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, a novel which entailed the author’s adversities of sexual assault and how writing saved her life.
I thought about my son and what my family had given me in Nigeria, so I pushed forward and completed my studies. School was my safe haven where I was able to make new friends and become less isolated.
You pride yourself on changing the dialogue about Africa through news media? What do you mean by this?
In one word, “Hope.” The magazine is hope. When I launched Africa Bazaar, it explored hope for Africa, but it was also hope for me. The way I describe it is a speckle of light, and that speckle of light gives you hope to get through the darkness, difficulties, and obstacles along the way.
African culture not only depicts who you are as a person but is a representation of the brand you have built. Have you ever felt compromised in expressing who you are as an African woman and a journalist?
One day while on the train a man was reading the Wall Street Journal which happened to have my story on the front page, so I looked over and asked the gentleman, “Hey! What do you think about the story?” He proceeded to say, “This is really good do you know the person who wrote this story?” I mentioned I wrote the article and of course he didn’t believe me, so I pulled out my credentials before walking off the train. I like doing that. I want to surprise people, and I’ve used people undermining me to my advantage getting me into places many wouldn’t go as a journalist.
Tell us about your transition as an editor for the Wall Street Journal to becoming the Editor-in-Chief of Africa Bazaar Magazine?
I left the Wall Street Journal is 2007, where I started to explore writing more about Africa; stories that involved Africa centered around war, poverty, and the usual stereotypical narrative. After a conversation, I had with a friend one thing led to another resulting in the launching of a company. I started conducting research and took a trip to Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa to see firsthand what was taking place on the continent. By that point, I had been in the United States for several years and somewhat lost touch as to what was going on, so this is how Africa Bazaar came about.
Aside from doubts of Africa Bazaar’s success did you find it challenging to provide funding to produce the publication?
I was taking a massive risk as the magazine was self-funded. I believed in what I was doing and knew these stories needed to be told. Later, one of the writers sued me stating that he was the one providing funding for the magazine. Luckily– I was transparent and had the documentation to prove my case. The judge recognized the writer was trying to run me out of business. The case was dismissed, but the damage was done because a lot of our advertisers at that time pulled out. It took me a while to overcome this situation and set the magazine back a great deal.
Being a Nigerian woman in the United States, have you ever felt disconnected or isolated from the African community?
Yes, a lot! Last year, while at an event I was questioned why I wasn’t dressed in traditional African attire. I like African attire, and I am proud of it, but even in Africa, I didn’t wear it much. My grandparents who raised me didn’t find anything wrong with this, but it wasn’t okay with many Africans. They questioned why I was dressing in non traditional attires, so it became an issue but I’ve grown used to this sort of treatment, and it doesn’t faze me.
You’ll be attending ‘Women in Africa,’ what does this mean to you?
I’ve attended many women-based summits, but I’ve never attended one in Africa. What makes this summit unique is, “Africa is built on the backs of women” and to be amongst those women is incredible and life-changing in itself.
As the millennials would say, “The future is female.” Are you a feminist?
I wouldn’t consider myself a traditional feminist, but when it comes to empowering other women and supporting other women, I’m right there.