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By Omolayo Ojurongbe MPP'24

MPP student

"To migrate is to be human, and to be human is to migrate."

Growing up as a Black Nigerian American, I grappled with the complexities of my identity. My parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria, navigating an entirely new racial landscape. Identifying as Nigerians, specifically Yoruba, they instilled in me the essence of my heritage through my name, Omolayo, meaning "child of joy." Thus, my identity is deeply rooted in my Nigerian heritage, while being Black shapes how I perceive myself. Migration, an integral part of the human experience, has granted me the privilege of existing within two identities that are profoundly meaningful to me. Attending the Sanford Distinguished Lecture featuring Isabel Wilkerson, followed by the inaugural Black Policy Conference, provided profound insights into the complexities of our past and present.

The theme of the Black Policy Conference, "Representation: Past, Present, and Future," underscored the importance of learning from our history.  It was a beautiful experience to be in a space where we could all be in community with one another and learn about ways we can achieve restorative justice through reparations, health reform and affordable housing. Though we exist in a multiethnic society, unfortunately, systemic racism persists today. Therefore, as a collective, including those in both majoritized and minoritized groups, we must unite to reconcile our shared history.

Wilkerson's lecture set the tone for the weekend, offering a compelling overview of how historical injustices have shaped our current reality. As Wilkerson asserts, the legacy of slavery permeates our political, economic and social structures. To overcome the inequities of our society, we must draw inspiration from our ancestors and commit to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in all facets of life. Throughout her lecture, Wilkerson masterfully brought together diverse backgrounds and perspectives, illuminating the interconnectedness of our experiences.

Black Policy Conference team
At the Black Policy Conference

The Black Policy Conference convened a diverse group of attendees, including the founders of the Sanford student organization Policy in Living Color. As one of the planning members, it was amazing to witness the journey of the conference from its original proposal by Brittany Gabriel to the concluding event, our Black Alumni mixer. Our amazing panelists offered nuanced perspectives on how we can pursue domestic and international equity as a community.

Additionally, our reparations panel served as an impactful culminating lecture, emphasizing the imperative for reparations in achieving genuine reconciliation, addressing the racial wealth gap, and providing essential resources for Black individuals to thrive in conditions that respect their humanity. The inaugural Black Policy Conference marks the beginning of a transformative journey at Duke University, where Black thought leaders converge to inspire and empower our community.

People may migrate physically, but their cultural values remain deeply ingrained. As Wilkerson aptly noted, "The South is not one big monolith. They may have left the South, but the South didn’t leave them." The Black community and the African Diaspora should not be defined solely by slavery and colonialism, but celebrated for our rich culture, communal values and resilience in the face of adversity. To reconcile with the wrongs of our country’s past, this effort cannot be achieved solely by Black individuals. It takes a united front with our diverse society to achieve true equity and justice. Migration, she emphasized, is not merely about geography, but about the pursuit of freedom and opportunity. By educating ourselves and future generations about our history, we pave the way for equity and justice.

group with duke attire
Proudly sporting Duke attire

Reflecting on Wilkerson's words, "Transplant a plant to see if it can grow differently because it can respond to the warmth of other suns." I think of my parents who transplanted themselves to the United States in pursuit of new opportunities. Despite facing storms along the way, they multiplied plants through their legacy, while watering and teaching me the importance of our cultural values of love, respect and community.

Our ancestors’ migration journey shapes who we are, but it is our commitment to justice and equity that defines our collective future. As we continue to plant the seeds of our ancestors, may we cultivate a world where diversity is celebrated, and every voice is heard.

Omolayo Ojurongbe MPP'24, a native of Prince George's County, Md., is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy at Duke University's Sanford School for Public Policy. With a focus on education policy, Omolayo is dedicated to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and justice reform. Growing up in a mixed-status family, she has faced personal hardships, driving her deep passion for social policy. Specifically, Ojurongbe aims to promote access to higher education and address racial and economic equity for marginalized groups. She firmly believes that achieving racial and class equity through education reform can foster empathy, understanding and community building in our diverse society.


Sanford Lecture: Isabel Wilkerson Speaks of The Origins of Racial Division to Bring Hope for Reconciliation

Isabel Wilkerson, an esteemed American journalist and author, visited Sanford recently to meet with students and present the 2024 Terry Sanford Lecture. 

Read the event recap