I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, before leaving at the age of 15 to the UK to complete my A-levels and University education. I have lived in Nigeria; my country of origin, and in England; my country of naturalisation and residence. Based on my experiences, I can confidently say the full African story is under-told in Africa and abroad. Honestly, in my opinion, it isn’t told at all. The image of Africa sold is one of a poverty-stricken continent with political instability. That is not to say that version doesn’t exist. However, it is only but a small fraction of what Africa is.
First of all, Africa is not a country, but a continent made up of 54 beautifully diverse but yet similar countries. It is full of culture, languages, beauty, strength and many inspiring stories. Even though we have such a rich history individually and collectively, many of our children and adults do not know our story.
I woke up one day and realised I didn’t know much about who we are as people. I couldn’t tell you who the first Nigerian Doctor was or any other key figures in African history. I have seen and read so many stories about African Americans; Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman. I quoted Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. But what about our African equivalent, who were they? Who fought for women’s rights? Who fought for our independence? Other than the usual names like in the case of Nigeria, Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Awolowo, who were the unsung heroes? What about the women? Did they play a part? Who was the first woman to fly a plane?
I sat for a long time and realised I had no idea. The educational curriculum did not include great historical detail. Our history is at risk of getting lost in the generations before us. I realised we have failed to document, preserve and retell correctly who we were, are and are becoming.
This realisation began to stir up something in me; I had a burning desire to tell our story to our children and the world. I read lovely books about great African American men and women; I bought copies for my kids. These stories helped me understand and appreciate the struggles of the average African American. While they inspired me, the stories are not my reality. The struggles and victories of African Americans are real, and one I wouldn’t take lightly. However, they differ from the African story, even more so by country. And while the struggles may stem from the same source, they are different from the African struggle.
Growing up in Nigeria, a lot of the books we read as children were foreign. I was particularly drawn to Enid Blyton, a fan of Amelia Jane and The Famous Five. These were great books, and I enjoyed immersing myself into a world different from mine. They exposed my mind to a world outside of mine and helped me embrace diversity.
However, I found there weren’t that many children’s books that told stories from our world. There were a few books like The Lion and the Jewel; however, these were considered English Literature books studied in the classroom as opposed to leisure books. There weren’t many children’s books which featured black or African children. I did not see myself represented in the classic children’s books or the media I consumed. Quite sadly, it left a lot of children with the subconscious idea that foreign is better.
Coming to the UK to study, I realised the grave error in this. Most of the African countries had imported foreign books, consumed them and learnt about Western culture. We never exported our own stories to tell the world who we are. We didn’t even have these stories for our consumption. This error manifested in the sorts of questions I got from my new schoolmates. They asked if we lived in huts or actual houses. Did we wear regular clothes? The most interesting one was always the shock on the faces of people when they discovered I am Nigerian but spoke excellent English. I also experienced a bit of racism; I was walking home from school in Bristol and had some kids laughing and chanting behind me. I paid no mind to it until I got home and found they spat at me. I had huge phlegm on my winter jacket with spots of saliva. Looking back, I can’t help but think, if we told our story and these kids understood who we are, they might have been a tad bit nicer.
These experiences made me a great believer that diverse books aren’t just for kids from ethnic minorities; they are for everyone. They teach love, tolerance and acceptance; they make the world a better place.
All this is my why, my reason for launching Philly & Friends. It is ultimately my reason for writing a children’s book to be available to pre-order by the end of the year, titled; ‘Remarkable African Women: The Untold Stories of 40 Brave, Bold & Brillant African Women’. It is a book about 40 inspirational women from different African countries — women who made moves to lead, overcome and conquer in their various fields. I want to tell our story, one brave, bold African at a time. Representation is everything. You believe what you see, and you become what you believe. We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. If we are not exposed and haven’t learnt about the world through education, travel, books and media, we grow with a myopic view of life and the world we live. That would be a tragedy.
If you would like to know more about the Remarkable African Women book or follow our progress, you can sign up to our Behind the Scenes Access List.
Here is a test cover for the book. I threw this together to test the name. Final Book Cover will be revealed soon.