Tell us a little bit about yourself
My husband and I have lived in Northbrook for over 17 years with our three children. We have thoroughly enjoyed the people, places, and things we have been involved with as residents of this beautiful town. Professionally, I have an MBA in Finance and have worked both in corporate finance and in banking. I have always supported various charitable causes in the community. I recently became a director of the Northbrook-based organization, Hunger Resource Network, a non-profit with the mission of alleviating hunger in the Chicagoland area. Most recently, I was elected to the Board of trustees for our Village of Northbrook. I am deeply humbled by this position and the trust put in me by the residents of this Village.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria to Dr. Solomon and Mrs. Philomena Obi. I lived there until I was about 5 years old, and then my family immigrated to North America. We moved back to Nigeria where I completed high school and my undergraduate degree. In my younger years, we really moved around a lot. I believe those experiences gave me my adventurous spirit and raised my comfort level with people of different cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds.
Who has served as the greatest inspiration in your life?
My parents, who both have recently passed, remain my greatest inspiration. I can confidently say that they have been an inspiration not only to their children but are considered true hometown heroes in their native country. When they returned to Nigeria, they made it their mission to help its people in many ways. They built a hospital, sponsored many children’s education, and provided seed financing for people to start their own businesses and take care of their families. I attribute all of my philanthropic passion to growing up in a household with parents that truly cared for others and took actionable steps towards helping them better their lives.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is very powerful and meaningful to me and to our country. In our busy lives, we sometimes forget all those whose shoulders we stand on. It gives me an opportunity to sit back and acknowledge the struggles of our ancestors, those that persevered against all odds. In addition, I use this month to also recognize where we are today and what can be done to make the future a better one for the next generation. Of course, these thoughts happen many times throughout the year, but it is important and a great privilege to have this one month completely dedicated to the black experience.
What historical events or episodes do you particularly remember hearing about?
There are so many events that I remember hearing about that it would be impossible to name them all.
Here are a few:
- Rosa Parks arrest after refusing to get off her seat on the bus on Dec 1, 1955
- The Montgomery Bus Boycott from Dec 5, 1955, to Dec 20, 1956, 13 months
- Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech at The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC August 28, 1963
- John Lewis, a young civil rights leader, was almost killed while marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965
- Martin Luther King shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis TN.
On a side note, I actually visited that exact spot while in Memphis, very powerful, it is now a civil rights museum
Did those events or episodes impact your larger consciousness and/or your personal growth?
Being an immigrant from Africa, it was very tragic at times to read about the history of the civil rights movement. You must understand that I came from Nigeria and Nigeria is run by people that look just like me. Being a third-world country, I saw poverty first hand, but it was never about the color of our skin, just the economic inequality of the haves and have nots. It really comes as a very rude awakening for me when racism rears its ugly head. So, I really have a sense of awe, admiration, and appreciation for my fellow African Americans and our history and heritage. It makes me very proud that Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Barack Obama, to name just a few, were all black individuals that were courageous and challenged the status quo and themselves personally to make this world a better place for all of us. The black man is still working hard to have a seat at the table and be considered as an equal. To quote John Lewis we must continue to “get in good trouble, necessary trouble”...the struggle continues.
What do you see as your greatest contribution as an African American leader?
My greatest contribution is yet to come…stay tuned.
As a society, how can we foster the most effective leaders for the future?
I believe the most effective leaders are those who have empathy, can see a situation from all sides, from the eyes of the person going through it, and from the eyes of those around it. I try and do this every time I have to decide to vote on a project, a regulation, or any decision in front of me. I also believe leaders must be representative, a microcosm of those they lead. That is why DEI is taking on an even more important role in our society. It is not enough to understand what it means, but just as important to make sure that the leaders of your town, government, corporation, country are representative of those they lead.
As Trustees, we take this very seriously. That is why we now have a DEI moment at every board meeting. Even I, an African American have learned so much from these mini-presentations.
How does it feel to be the first African-American trustee of Northbrook?
Wow! It feels exciting, awesome, and sometimes a little overwhelming when that question is asked. I typically don’t go about my Trustee duties thinking “I’m the first African-American here, so what should I do?” However, it is very important to acknowledge and appreciate this fact. I do my best to use this platform to raise the social consciousness of my fellow residents and those I interact within this position.
Did you feel there were additional barriers or challenges that you had to overcome in your campaign?
The campaign was an eye-opener for me. Remembering it, brings back so many emotions, anxiety, sadness, anger, joy, and satisfaction. Becoming a Trustee was the greatest opportunity to give back to my community. I was absolutely humbled when the opportunity arose. Unfortunately, some parts of the campaign became riddled with ugly politics. It really took some of the joy out of it. I have never really considered myself to be much of a politician, but I remembered my parents always telling me that I could do whatever I set my mind to do, so I pushed on.
What advice would you give African-American students and future leaders about becoming involved in local politics?
If you don’t participate, who will? Don’t wait for others to help make this world a better place. Everyone has an opportunity to lead in their own way and in the communities where they live or work. Get involved in your own little way and you will see yourself grow in confidence, courage, and knowledge. One day you may become a world leader. Looking back, it all started from that one tiny step forward… just ask President Barack Obama.