Monday, June 13, 2005

Inspiration From My "Little Brother"

Me and my "little brother."

A couple days ago I got an email from my youngest brother Nnadozie that got me thinking about what I should do about the sudden notoriety that I am receiving from the GQ article and the appearance on Good Morning America. (Most of what follows is from a letter I wrote to my father in Nigeria.)

I really didn't know what to expect to happen from the article about our story, but I knew that I had some things that I considered important and that I wanted it to accomplish. Now that I have lived one of my dreams- going to Nigeria to meet the family I have there- there are some things that I need to make happen.

First, I hoped that this would somehow make it easier for me to bring my family to Nigeria to see where some of their ancestry is from. I think that is so important for my children. We all want to learn more about our family and ancestors and the history of the village, and neighboring villages and all the other surrounding areas. Perhaps "the story" could even help me do more business here at home so that I could afford to make that happen sooner.

Second, I would like to somehow make an impact on the children of Aboh village and the surrounding areas who attend the school founded by our family. I would like to find a way to bring supplies, textbooks, and other items that the school needs. (Perhaps even computers, a generator- or even internet access.) In the big dream category, I would ultimately find a way to put together a scholarship program that would award top students with opportunities to go to college either in Nigeria or perhaps even in the United States.

The common bond between my family I grew up with and the rest of family that I have now is the importance of education. I grew up in a family that was also filled with educators. My great-grandmother was a teacher. Her Daughter, my grandmother, was an award winning teacher in the Omaha Public Schools and was also taught in universities in both the United States and in Liberia. My mom and dad were also career educators in the Omaha Public Schools. Education was also very important in the O'Connor family. And my grandfather, Francis Ogike was the founder of the school in Aboh Village, which my father and his brother ran until the Nigerian government took it over some years ago.

If I accomplish the scholarship idea, I would name it the JHOO Memorial Scholarship. (J-Johnson after my grandfather Frank Johnson who worked very hard to be sure that his four children had the opportunity to go to college, H- Hanger after my grandmother Ione Williams Hanger, the teacher and University Professor, O- O'Connor after my grandfather Thomas O'Connor, and O-Ogike after my grandfather, Francis Ogike who founded the school in the village.)

The other thing that I would like our story to accomplish is to continue to show Nigeria in a positive light. It is unfortunate that so much of the news we get in our world focusses on the negative, so when we get news about Nigeria in the United States, it is rarely anything positive. Most people here think only of Nigeria from the Nigerian 419 email scam letters they see on their computers.

And yet when I traveled to Nigeria I found it a wonderful place to be. I realize that I may have seen it from a perspective that most people will never have, and yet even when we just went around to talk to people- whether in Orlu, or Lagos, or Port Harcourt, I saw great people living their lives the best they could. I saw commerce. I saw progress. I saw creativity. I saw hope for the future of the country. There were so many wonderful people, living their lives in a place where they are free to make the most of their opportunities. I pray that Nigeria continues to be free and that the government can remain and become more stable and democratic.

There was one thing about Nnadozie's email that got me to thinking again about something that has already been in my mind but didn't really have a theme until I was invited to go on Good Morning America.

When the GMA people told me that they wanted me to come on their show, and told me that I would be appearing with my wife and my mother, Kathleen- I was glad that I wouldn't be up there alone. It would have been cool if they would have also called my father and my parents that I grew up with too. It all happened so fast that I really didn't think to mention it. Plus in hindsight, I realize that the segment was only eight minutes- long for GMA- so in a way I understand. You can only fit so many people on the set at a time.

I have always referred to this story as "our story" and while everybody is focussing on me and the "prince" angle of it, I do always have this in the back of my head. The prince part, while it may make it more interesting to people in the United States, is not the reason that this is important to me or our family.

To me, the reunion of family, the gratitude I have for the parents that raised me, and the future opportunities that may come to me and the rest of my family (all three sections) are all much more important to me. I don't really understand the "prince" part so much yet, so it is difficult for me to even think about that. Though it may be sigificant to my Nigerian family and to the people of Aboh-Orlu, it is also the one aspect that, if it were missing, wouldn't change the way I feel about this reunion. I am most happy to have found my family that stretches around the world and I want to focus on that.

Nnadozie has also pointed to the fact that so far our story has been told mostly from my perspective. I can understand that- I am the one who sought out and found this final piece to the puzzle that is me. Plus, GQ is an American magazine and GMA is an American program, and they will focus on the American in the story who made this great journey and found something wonderful.

But I also realize that there are other voices that will be very important in telling the whole story. For example, my parents that raised me have played such an important role in my life and still do- I see them as heroes. If there are other opportunities to show our story, from different perspectives- for example including my parents, or my father in Nigeria, or any of my nine brothers and sisters- it will definitely add a lot to the complete picture.

I especially hope that this can provide opportunities for my realitives in Nigeria. I'd really like to be able to help my "little" brother in his desire to come to the United States for a visit. I truly think the GQ article will play a positive role in making that happen. I am taking it to my congressman (John Kline-R, whose office has been very helpful already) and both Senators (Coleman-R and Dayton-D) to hopefully get letters of recommendation for his visa to be approved.

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