This Harvard-educated scientist quit his job to teach kids about hip hop
Olakunle Oladehin was under an immense amount of pressure to perform academically while growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. As the son of immigrant parents who had moved from Nigeria to provide more opportunities for their family, Olakunle was instructed to do well in school, get accepted to an Ivy League college, and enter a medical profession. After-school activities were limited to those of an academic nature. It wasn’t until freshman year of college that Olakunle first discovered hip hop dance when he signed up for a campus club during the Freshman Year Activities Fair.
A Harvard premed student, Olakunle would immerse himself in dance classes between biology labs. Hip hop dance materialized as his passion, while healthcare research emerged as his profession. Olakunle went on to get a Masters of Science at Columbia University, developing his dance skills on the side and beginning to teach NYC classes.
Leaving medicine for hip hop dance
“If you’re gifted at something, that’s probably a hint that you have a contribution to make to society.”
After over 8 years working in medical research, the opportunity to turn his passion into a full-time role materialized in February 2016. A nonprofit organization called Everybody Dance Now! was seeking an Executive Director, and Olakunle knew the staff member who was interviewing potential candidates. This was a new role for the organization, and one that Olakunle heard about through connections he had built long before the role was available.
Everybody Dance Now! is a national organization that works with youth in low-income communities, using hip hop dance culture as a platform for self-expression and self-discovery. To date, EDN! has served 6,000 underserved youth and was featured on the hit MTV show America’s Best Dance Crew, in their “Champions for Charity” episode.
With no prior arts management experience, Olakunle made the brave decision to quit his research job at Columbia Medical Center and step into a full-time nonprofit leadership position. Offers Olakunle in a recent spotlight by The Huffington Post, “If you’re gifted at something, that’s probably a hint that you have a contribution to make to society.”
Building a network
“Set a goal for yourself to meet at least one new person a week, and everyday if you can. These conversations will inspire you and help you on your own path, whatever that may be.”
Olakunle was new to the nonprofit leadership world and many of his existing contacts were in the healthcare industry. To meet other inspiring individuals in his new field, Olakunle downloaded networking app Shapr, which makes daily intros to 10–15 likeminded professionals in your area. The app has since become of part of Olakunle’s morning routine.
One of Olakunle’s most fruitful connections to date has been Akash Ghai, the cofounder of consulting company Development 3, which bridges the gap between community change programs and resource partners. A 20-minute coffee turned into a two-hour conversation, and Development 3 is now helping Olakunle set up meetings for an upcoming business trip in California.
Olakunle also met a case manager working with refugee children in New Jersey, who was interested in Everybody Dance Now’s mission. Olakunle was able to arrange for an affiliated teacher to offer dance classes this Fall for the group, Bethany Christian Services.
When asked about the most inspiring connection he has made so far, Olakunle cites Cheho Lam, a professional violinist he met through the app whose experience includes playing at President Obama’s inauguration. Cheho is now a close friend, and he was recently included in a dinner that Olakunle put together for leaders in the art space.
“Collaboration is best when people think differently,” Olakunle explains. “Set a goal for yourself to meet at least one new person a week, and everyday if you can. These conversations will inspire you and help you on your own path, whatever that may be.”
To learn more about Everybody Dance Now! and how you can get involved check out http://www.everybodydancenow.org/
Start making your own inspiring connections by downloading Shapr from the app store.