Omowale, The Child Has Come Home
Firechat with with Tope Fajingbesi Balogun, author and founder of United for Kids and of She-Eo
Member of the American Delegation to the 2019 Women in Africa Summit
The day Social Entrepreneur and Nigerian-born Tope Fajingbesi met with Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, she still thought she would end up working in the White House developing a project she calls Omowale (literally: the child has come home). The former accountant turned author, activist and serial entrepreneur is participating in the 2019 American delegation to the Women in Africa summit in Marrakech (June 27-28), along with former co-host of The View and lawyer Star Jones, Vital Voices President Alyse Nelson, media leader Ann Walker Marchant, Cartier Women’s Initiative Award North America judge and angel investor Birame Sock, Founder of Shea Radiance Funlayo Alabi, filmmaker Felicia Taylor, New York based ethical designer Ingrid Bruha and EBW founder Ingrid Vanderveldt among others (full list of delegates: check out http://www.wia-initiative.com/ and app).
How did you meet with Hillary Clinton?
It was insane. I had been working in Michigan for Hillary’s Presidential campaign since August, and on November 7th, the day before the 2016 election, she was going to wrap up her American tour in Michigan. I didn’t even think about asking to speak to Hillary because there were 250 organizers in Michigan. Why would it be me? I just wanted to be in the room and chant like everyone else. But, two days before she came, the director emailed me and asked: “We would like you to fill out the security form again.” I asked him ‘Why?’ I had already got cleared to be on this campaign. He answered that they wanted to publish one of my write-ups on the campaign website.
So, I sent the security form back.
Later that evening, I received another email, which said: “It’s not about writing. You’ve been requested to speak from Brooklyn’s headquarters.”
“Me? From Brooklyn.”
And I said, “Speak, for what, for what?”
The meeting in Michigan and a speech in Brooklyn. An experience of a lifetime!
I thought the meeting would be me and a gazillion other people. But I was told it would be me, Hillary, and Michigan’s Senator Debbi Stabenow. At the center, the security service ushered me one way and directed every other person another way. I’m looking for my colleagues, my boss, and the agents said, “No, no just you.” All of a sudden, I’m backstage with all these men in dark suits wearing an earpiece, and next thing I know, Hillary comes in. I shook her hand and told her ‘I think you’re going to win tomorrow.’ She asked me where I was from, and I told her, ‘Nigeria.’
Then came the speech you delivered in Brooklyn at Hillary Clinton’s headquarter. How did you prepare it?
I started writing my speech and re-wrote it seven times. I had all but three minutes to speak. Three minutes! And I wrote this speech seven times. I gave it to them, and they said it’s fine.
I was going to be the first to speak. My husband had been sending me pictures of the stage and of all the press—CNN, BBC, everybody. Then they called my name, and when I came out of the U.S. flag, I threw my speech away.
What did you say?
I spoke out of my heart. Honestly, that explains everything I have done professionally.
Starting with this participation in the last Presidential campaign? Why was it so important to be part of it?
I had been invited to the White House by Barack Obama to attend a meeting for 100 influential Muslims in America, and I promised to myself that I would go back there someday.
To go back to the White House with a purpose?
Yes, there was a deeper project. I wanted to join the White House staff and work on a project I had planned and which I would have called, “OMOWALE.” It is a Yoruba word that means, The child has come home. I wanted to create a project where African-American youths could go with expertise as well as funds to partner with African youths to open up businesses as simple as barber salons, music studios or schools.
I wanted us to launch talks with the governments of Nigeria, Gambia, and Ghana to help the youth to create small businesses that would allow them to get back into land that was stolen from them.
That is really what I wanted to do if Hillary Clinton had been elected.
Do we need to change the narrative between Africa and America?
Absolutely, but I think that there is no narrative you can change if the way Africa is looked at—not just in America but also in Europe, everywhere—as this recipient of aid and not as a trade partner. But it would be different, if we have a way for the African diaspora to drive U.S. engagement. In order for the U.S. African relationship to have any meaning, it also has to have the input and the active participation of the African diaspora that wants to go home anyway and who would love to have the best of both continents.
What about you?
I’m conflicted. I think that because I’m African, I’m Nigerian, and I have to pick. Now I spend six months in Nigeria and six months in the U.S.
Are you a feminist?
I am a humanist.
If you’re not a feminist and you’re a humanist what does that mean?
I feel there is no comparison between a man and a woman. Men and women are two different things; they’re both good but they’re good in different ways. So, I think that fairness, equity, respect, and love should not be based on gender; it should be based on everyone’s right.
What about economic empowerment, the opportunity to get an education and to get funding?
Everybody should get that right.
So, gender equality?
Absolutely, I shouldn’t miss an opportunity because I’m a woman.