I always found myself interested in having meaningful connections with people. Once I established a good connection with someone, I formed an attachment to them.  It didn’t matter where I was physically, I’d always make an effort to reach out and stay in touch. Especially as an immigrant; you learn that home isn’t (or rather, can’t) be a physical place, because of my journey over the last couple of years.

My name is Damola Fowora, and this is my Crystal Stair.

Besides the people, home for me had two distinct qualities: Love & Food.

LOVE

At home, there is a feeling of love and understanding of who you are as a person. You don’t need to hide the different sides of you; the side you show at work, the side you show to your book club or the side you show on the crazy streets of NY.

You can just be your one and true self, as complex as you are and that’s appreciated. At the same time, people in your home are also comfortable showing their complex and true selves to you.

FOOD

There is something about the process and preparation of a meal that brings family or a group together. Whether it’s with family for Thanksgiving or with friends for a BBQ, that entire process of getting ready to cook is… home.  Since coming to the US, I’ve experienced different ways people express themselves through food – but the camaraderie and togetherness is there all the same.  

I consider myself a simple person blessed with unique circumstances and the opportunity to do something great.  Simple in the sense that I grew up in Abuja, Nigeria in your classic family setting; with my parents and two siblings. In many regards, we were your average middle-class Nigerian family – so you could say life was simple compared to the journey of someone perhaps born into a less than ideal socio-economic situation or more complex family background. 

But now, over half a decade later and thousands of miles away from Nigeria, I am doing my best to thrive in my not so simple life as an immigrant.  I’ve come to appreciate those who came to the US before me – the way in which they navigated the social climate and various challenges here.  I have also come to appreciate the challenges I faced when I first came here and the lessons they taught me.

Shortly after arriving in the U.S. for school, the exchange rate of the Naira to Dollar nearly tripled, which meant that whatever my parents had planned on spending on my college education at Howard University, had significantly increased, to say the least. I found myself working at the university during the school year and interning during the summer to get ahead in my classes and to save money. I had to get creative with how I saved money to cover some of my school costs.  This, unfortunately, is the life of an international student living over 3,000 miles from home.

Regardless of the work required to face this and many other challenges, I wouldn’t have persevered through these issues, without my family. My greatest support system has always been with me throughout everything. Praying for me, advising me, sending encouraging words and being a rock through it all. I am where I am through this collaborative effort and look forward to the next phase of this journey and the successes it will bring.

STATE OF BLACK MEN

From my experiences and observations, I believe that life as a black man, to put it mildly, is like running a marathon where almost everyone else around you has some form of a head start. Does this mean that it is impossible to finish the marathon? No; but it makes it significantly more difficult.

Given the state of the game, it is important to readily ask for help. Ask for help to get any advantage you can. Ask ‘oldheads’, ask people who don’t look like you, ask teachers, ask friends. Use the network and people around you to continue to get better. Closed mouths rarely get fed.

Also, always share what you have learned. There is no joy to be gained from those after you who suffer just for suffering’s sake. We grow by helping each other, especially after we have made it.

Lastly, and this goes especially to my fellow immigrants, enjoy the journey. Enjoy the highs, the lows and everything in between. There is some form of value in the things you go through during the journey before getting to the destination. Embrace it, talk about it, learn from it, cry through its dark moments, smile through its happy moments and stay motivated through it all.

Learn to appreciate the person you will become because of this complex journey, and remember that your journey is not just for you, it’s also for those after you.