By Juliet Ebirim
Since 1976, the month of February has always been celebrated as Black History Month, an important recognition of the achievements and contributions of African Americans in U.S. history. Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month in the US is an annual observance in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. New Africa Broadcasting Network (NABNTV) recently celebrated distinguished Nigerian-Americans who are contributing immensely to the growth and development of the American society and the world at large. They presented the following in a special documentary:
The Black History month in the United States is February, the shortest month of the year. To tell the stories, achievements and contributions made by the black race and still making to the American society, it will take more than twelve months to do so. Black History month will not be complete without mentioning the huge contributions Nigerian Americans have made and still making in the American society.
Nigerian American contribution in the United States dates back to the year 1807. Nearly 40% of the Africans brought to Virginia in 1700s as slaves were from the West African Coast called ‘Bight of Biafra’. This set of early Nigerians came to the United States with knowledge and skills to help build the American nation. Wherever they settled in the colonies, they contributed to the growth and success of the local economy and the wealth status of their owners with their labour.
The most notable and endearing contributions to America are found in food, music, culture, folklore and religious worship. In the American society today, there’s a physical evidence of the lifestyle, culture and artistic nature of Nigerian early settlers. Places like Oyotunji Village in South Carolina and Igbo Village in Virginia are some sites where tourists can visit and see how the early Nigerians built their homes and their way of life.
The modern day Nigerian Americans who we know and call ‘Nigerians in diaspora’ have done so well in the United States as well. Their huge contribution to the American society can be seen in education, judiciary, medicine, manufacturing, science and technology. Here are some short bios of some of these distinguished Nigerian Americans who have made Nigerians proud through their contribution to the American society and the world in general;
Prof. Oluyinka Olutoye (Md, Phd): A surgeon who has made exceptional contributions to the art and science of surgery. He has, without a doubt, distinguished himself in the medical field. Described by NBC News Dateline programme as “a miracle worker, operating where few have ever gone before.” His uncommon operations give many children a chance at a healthy and normal life. In 2016, Prof. Olutoye’s brilliance and gifted hands became a global phenomenon when he led a team of doctors in the surgery that saved a 23-week-old foetus from a life threatening tumor. The team brought the baby (Lynlee Hope) out of the womb at 23-weeks old and removed a large tumor (Sacrococcygeal Teratoma) growing on her tailbone. After which they returned the foetus to its mother’s womb to complete the full gestation period of nine months.
This feat has generated a worldwide recognition of the baby that was born twice. 2016 was not the first time this Nigerian-born medical doctor would perform such medical feat. In February 2015, he was one out of three Nigerian medical doctors that successfully separated conjoined twins in a surgery that made the headlines in American media and the world. The twins – Knatalye Hope and Adeline Faith Mata were successfully separated on 17 and 18 February.
He and his colleagues are still being celebrated for this feat. Prof. Olutoye received much recognition for performing and mastering groundbreaking surgical procedure. He is the 2016 Co-President of the International Fetal Medicine and Surgery Society. Dr. Olutoye has a broad range of research endeavours ranging from basic science research.
Indeed, his success and contributions to Texas Children Fetal Centre at the Texas Children’s Hospital has been phenomenal. Prof. Olutoye Oluyinka, an alumni of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife, has been bestowed with the winner of 2008 Great Ife Alumni Award for Excellence in the Sciences category, in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the area of Human Fetal Surgery and exceptional contributions to his chosen career of medicine.
He has also, by this recognition, been inducted into the Great Ife Alumni Hall of Distinction. Prof. Olutoye was described by the prestigious association of surgeons worldwide established in 1957 as someone who has been outstanding, is a good Nigerian American who has made invaluable contributions to medicine, art and science of surgery in United States and the rest of the world.
Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu: He is a Nigerian-American physician, forensic pathologist and neuropathologist. He was the first to discover and publish the findings of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in American Football Players, while working at the Allegheny County Coroner’s office in Pittsburgh. Omalu is lead author in a study published in November 2017 that for the first time, confirmed CTE in a living person. Omalu’s efforts to study and publicize CTE in the face of opposition were reported in GQ Magazine article in 2009 by journalist Jeanne Marie Laskas.
The article was later expanded by Laskas into a book ‘Concussion’ and adapted into a film of the same name where Omalu, portrayed by Will Smith, is the central character. The movie’s production led to the creation of a foundation named after Omalu to advance CTE and concussion research. He attended medical school, starting at age sixteen at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) in June 1990, Omalu’s book ‘Truth doesn’t have a side: My alarming discovery about the danger of contact Sports’ was published in August 2017 by Harper Collins. He previously wrote ‘Play Hard, Die Young: Footbal Dementia, Depression and Death’ in 2008. Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu is a good, proud Nigerian who has made his own contribution to American Sports Medicine.
Dr. Oluyemi Badero: He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Suni Medical School and has previously served as associate Chief and Chief of Cardiology with Director of Invasive and Interventional Cardiology at SUNY Medical School and affiliated hospitals in New York. Dr. Badero has trained and mentored many medical students, Internal Medicine Residents and Cardiology fellows, most of whom have gone into very successful careers. After emigrating to the USA in 1988, Dr. Badero passed all the three components of the US licensing board exams in one sitting, on the first attempt, barely four months after arriving in the USA. Dr. Badero completed an unprecedented nine (9) years of post-graduate training in four specialties; Internal Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, Cardiovascular Disease and Interventional Cardiology, the latter at Yale University Program, Bridgeport, Connecticut. Dr. Badero is a triple board-certified and one of a very few group of African-Americans in the US that are board-certified Interventional Cardiologists.
Dr. Badero widely published in several pre-review journals and neighbourhood magazines is a recipient of several awards and prizes for academic and scholastic excellence including a congressional award and citation and the Great Ife Alumni Award for Excellence and Distinction. Dr. Badero was recently featured and received an award from the prestigious Castle Colony Best Doctors in the United States in the specialty of Interventional Cardiology in 2012.
He was also featured in US News and World Report Edition of the best cardiologists as selected by their peers in 2013. Dr. Badero is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and an active member of many other professional organisations. Dr. Badero is a good Nigerian-American who contributed immensely to American society.
Uzoamaka Nwanneka ‘Uzo’ Aduba: She is an American actress who is known for her role as Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren on the Netflix original series ‘Orange is the New Black’ (2013 – present), for which she won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2015 and two Screen Actors’ Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series in 2014 and 2015. She is one of only two actors to win an Emmy Award recognition in both comedy and drama categories for the same role. Aduba was born in Boston, Massachusetts.
The daughter of Nigerian parents of Igbo origin. She grew up in Medfield, Masachusetts and graduated from Medfield High School in 1999. She attended Boston University, where she studied Classical Voice and competed in track and field.
In 2013, Aduba began portraying Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren in the Netflix comedy drama series ‘Orange is the New Black’. Aduba won a second primetime Emmy at the 67th primetime Emmy Awards in 2015, winning the award for Outstanding Supporting actress in a drama series. This makes her the first actress to win both a drama and comedy Emmy for the same role.
Aduba’s performance in the third series also earned her another outstanding performance by a female actor in a comedy series win for the 22nd Screen Actors’ Guild Awards. She also earned a Best Supporting Actress Series, Mini-Series or Television Film at the 73rd Golden Globe Awards. Uzo Aduba made a conscious decision not to cave to pressure of changing her name to something more convenient for Hollywood. She told the ‘Improper Bastonian’ that her reasoning had everything to do with something her mum said to her as a little girl. “My family is from Nigeria and my full name is Uzoamaka which means – the road is good.
Quick lesson: My tribe is Igbo and you name your kid something that tells your history and hopefully predicts your future. In grade school, because my last name started with an ‘A’, I was the first in roll-call and nobody ever knew how to pronounce it. So I went home and asked my mother if I could be called Zoe. I remember she was cooking and in her Nigerian accent, she said ‘Why?’
I said ‘Nobody can pronounce it’. Without missing a beat, she said “If they can learn to say Tchakowsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka’. Uzoamaka Aduba is a proud Nigerian-American who has made huge contribution to entertainment industry in the United States and around the world.
Bisi Ezerioha: He is a professional race-car driver, engine builder, engineer and industrialist. Bisi has built and driven the fastest carbureted front wheel drive vehicle in the world. He is currently the CEO and Chief Engineer for Bisimotor Engineering. Born of Nigerian parents, he attended the Anambra State University of Technology at the age of 15 to study Petrochemical Engineering.
After a year of studies in West Africa, Ezerioha transferred to Cerritos College and graduated with Honors in Applied and Natural Science associate degrees, and finally obtaining a Chemical Engineering bachelors and Engineering Management degrees from Califonia State University, Long Beach. He opened an engineering firm – Bisimoto Engineering, focusing on design, manufacturing and sales of high performance parts for motor sports.
Bisi Ezerioha led a team at Bisimoto to build a 2014 Honda Odyssey with one thousand and twenty-nine horse-power showcased at the annual SEMA Show.
At the 2014 annual SEMA Show, Ezerioha showcased his company’s newest creation for Honda America and Hyundai. He showcased two 2015 Honda Fit concepts and a 2015 Honda Sonata. The 2015 Bisimoto Honda Sonata has been recognised as the most powerful Sonata Sedan in history with a record 708 horse-power.
Ezerioha’s accolades include the most powerful naturally-aspirated sohc Honda engines on the planet. His accomplishments have been documented by different magazines and newspapers worldwide. Bisi Ezerioha is a good Nigerian who has made a huge contribution to car manufacturing industry in America and the rest of the world.