Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My family is originally from Nigeria. My mother immigrated to the U.S. for school and settled in Minnesota, where she attended the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities School of Nursing. So, I was born and raised here in the state. I have lived in St. Paul my entire life. I went through the St. Paul Public Schools, went to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities for my undergraduate degree, did my Masters at the University of St. Thomas, and continue to work in the Twin Cities today.
I currently work for the University of Minnesota as a Grant Director for a federal TRIO program. Federal TRIO programs are college access programs that help first generation and low-income students prepare for college after they successfully complete high school, or support them as they earn their college degree. My program works with the Minneapolis and Duluth Public Schools. I’ve been with the University for a little bit over two years now. Prior to this, I did the same type of college access work at Century College in White Bear Lake and Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park.
I really have an affinity for the city of St. Paul, I actually just purchased my first home on the west side of the city. I’m really excited about that! And I represented St. Paul as the Winter Carnival Queen of the Snows in 2015 and was the first black woman to be the Queen of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. So St. Paul is definitely in my core, in my heart, I love the city.
What are your favorite things about life in MSP?
What I really love about living in MSP is access to opportunity. I’ve been very lucky to find wonderful positions of employment that have been able to sustain me, but also have been very core to my values. I’ve seen that ring true for my sister, my mother, and my friends. There is also the “city feel” and the ability to be in a metropolitan area. And while there are struggles and challenges to overcome, this has felt like a place where I can grow, advance and thrive.
How could MSP improve?
We don’t do the best job of retaining folks, especially People of Color who come to MSP to work. I was born and raised in Minnesota and my family’s here, my mother is here, so there’s a foundation for me here. I do think that we perhaps are not welcoming to people who come here for opportunities and I think, well, what is it that we’re missing the mark on? Or why is it that folks feel like they can’t make connections? What could I, as someone who has lived in the Twin Cities her whole life, be doing to make people feel more welcome or to develop relationships and friendships? To help people establish themselves. That’s certainly something that we should be thinking very critically about.
What do you like to do for fun in MSP?
Especially during this time (of COVID-19), a lot of us have been very appreciative of our ability to be outdoors in the Twin Cities. I’ve always loved going for walks around different neighborhoods, going to the lakes, hanging out and taking walks there with friends or on my own. So, if there’s even a slight silver lining that has come out of this, it’s reconnecting with the outdoors in the Twin Cities. I live in Cathedral Hill area of St. Paul, so I love going to local restaurants on Selby Ave. I love Grand Avenue. I love the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in the Fall. I just love going to that! I love going to the farmer’s market. I was a theater major in my undergrad, so I love going to see shows at the Guthrie Theatre or at smaller local theaters.
What inspires you about the students you work with?
Oh, so many things! Even despite COVID, many of our students who have just started college in the fall of 2019 are still enrolled. So, I think of that tenacity. They are so resilient and understand what their goals are and are diligent about working towards them. We are going through a really tough time and it could be enough for a student to say, now I’m done. But we have so many students who say, no, I still want to pursue these goals. I still want to think about college. I still want to apply for scholarships. Seeing them do that in the midst of everything is really wonderful and gives me a lot of hope for the future.
How did the murder of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed impact you?
This has been really, really difficult. I would talk to my mom and my sister a lot about this and just think, why did this feel so different? Because it’s not as if this hasn’t happened before. Maybe it’s a combination of it happening in the Twin Cities. Maybe it’s a combination of the fact that with COVID, you don’t have to run around like you do in normal times. When you could say – I’ve got to go to work. I’ve got to do this. I gotta do that. We were all concentrated and able to internalize what was happening, and it’s been really tough.
I personally struggled a lot with it because I’d just think about people’s humanity. And the fact that regardless of the situation, this is a person. This is a person who deserves their humanity to be seen. As a woman of color, as a black woman, how easy it is for somebody to not see my humanity, and not take the chance to consider that I’m trying to do good work in my community, that I’m trying to volunteer and I work hard? People could make judgments about me in a split second, that could end or incredibly change my life. That was a really hard thing to overcome. How do you keep going if these situations can continue to happen and people can continue to try to justify them? Then what’s the point? I had to really reckon with that for myself.
In the work I do, I have to find a way to overcome those feelings, if I’m going to be impactful for the people that I work with or the youth that we serve. That was really hard. It still remains to be seen what the outcomes of this are. Sometimes when these things happen, the immediate outcomes are performative. It’s like, are we really going to talk systemically about why these things keep happening? Or we’re just going to institute a Diversity Task Force and that’s all great, but if we’re not getting to the core root of why this continues to happen systemically, then a Task Force is just a Task Force.
This felt different than the other times and not only because George Floyd happened here. Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, the COVID-19 pandemic that is disproportionately impacting communities of color – especially the African American community – all these things happened in succession. All these things compounding at once was really tough. I don’t know if there’s a solution or if I have any big words of wisdom. This has brought to light the things within the community we have always known and now – will we, as a society, be bold enough to make the systemic changes that we need to make so that these things don’t happen as much or ever again in the future?
What is your call to action to somebody reading this?
From the stance of somebody who’s lived in Minnesota her whole life, my call to action to other native Minnesotans is to let people in and to be willing to develop and cultivate friendships with people who might be new. Even if it’s just, “Hey, if you ever want to hang out or explore different parts of the city on the weekend, let me know.” Be more open and welcoming, especially if you know somebody who is coming into your workplace or is a new neighbor. Maybe I’m taking a cue from my experience. As I’ve been slowly moving into my condo, people have been so wonderful, nice, welcoming, warm and inviting me into the community, and that’s been really great.
Be willing to extend warmth and friendship to somebody who’s new so people can establish that foundation of support, especially when people move here and it’s maybe just them or them and a partner. If they have people they can go to for advice or to spend time with, that may increase their willingness and desire to stay.