The highlight of the month of June 2014 for me will surely be the four days spent in Atlanta Georgia attending the Points of Light Conference 2014. Imagine a massive congress center; thousands of participants, and lots of events. I call it a carnival because it was a celebration of the change individuals and organizations are making in communities all around the world. The host city-Atlanta is a Southern jewel, what they say about the South is all true; the warmth, good food! (sigh) and a beautiful weather. There was also so much to see, the Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, and the CNN Headquarters. It was an amazing experience in so many ways. From all these experiences, I will like to share four events and moments that stood out for me. These were moments of inspiration, reflection and challenge. Inspiration by the commitment and passion for social change, reflection about my life, choices, views and commitments and the challenge to live life truly, wholly and fully.
The first was at the Women Fire Place Chat where successful women from several industries shared not just their success stories but their challenges and how they ‘work the boardroom in heels’! The candor in the conversation; of women telling other women what success feels like and the sacrifices and challenges they would have to make and face. Much more; inspiring us –women to recognize the opportunities around us despite the restraints the society seek to place on us based on our gender. Anna Cunningham spoke candidly about her life and her work. A word that I took away as a growing young female leader is the power of instinct. This is an inbred intuition which is scientifically proven to be especially powerful in women. During this Chat, I learnt how to trust my gut not just in identifying opportunities, making decisions, or during interpersonal interaction. But also to follow that gut feeling that drives me to do more and be more…no excuses. Just do it!
The second moment was during the Celebration of the Black Male Achievement event on Main Street, with speakers such as Lamman Rucker, Kweku Mandela among others. Lamman spoke of a CODE for success: Courage, Opportunity, Discipline and Excellence, through which he inspired black young men in the audience to aspire to be more. According to Lamman, a young man being idle and hanging around with gangs is only preparing to go to prison. Another member of the panelist spoke of the power the women in the lives of young men play, as sisters, mums, wives or girlfriends. It is the power of positive pressure; making demands of certain positive behaviours on which relationships with these young men would be based.
I love the arts, especially spoken word poetry. The artist Ayodele Heath gave a wonderful rendition of a spoken word piece on what he learnt from his dad about being a Man. The strength and passion in those words; tracing the benefits of having a father and outlining those seemingly simple skills that can only be effectively passed on by a father, spoke deeply to my heart. This brought me to tears, especially as it was in celebration of fathers’ day. It reminds me also that the memorial of my dad’s passing is actually a few days away (tomorrow, June 26). Ayodele’s words did not only resonate with the remembrance of my dad’s memorial, it was a call to arms for young men in the audience to aspire to become the kind of man that can inspire the upcoming generation. Art is powerful, and this power was fully explored in passing on inspiration at the Conference; The performance of Maya Angelou’s Poem ‘I rise’ was phenomenal! Kristian Bush of Sugarland sang about dreams coming true…how on a certain Tuesday, he sat with friends to compose a song that eventually went platinum. He said something striking..’ I always think; what I ate that day, what did I drink, what happened that day that allowed me make that platinum wining song’. He eventually said, the day was as normal as any other. Life just requires us to show up and try. You never know which strike will hit home. This was my third moment of inspiration.
The last moment was sharing about what the culture of service and volunteerism meant in my home country Nigeria on a panel with other atlas corps fellows from India, Pakistan, Columbia, Mexico and a Meridien fellow from Spain. It was inspiring to hear how similar and different the culture of service is in different nations. However, there was a common thread in all of our existence; the human need to serve; to help another; to live not only for oneself but to live through others. I heard a word from a speaker at the Conference; service is not charity; It is enlightened self-interest. We need each other to survive…that is a lesson not just for my personal journey but for my country Nigeria, as the nation falls deeper into politically fuelled religious crisis, my hope is that we see that serving, protecting and caring for others is not about charity, but that we will all survive or fail