In a tribute to Black History Month 2023 in the UK and Ireland, the spotlight is firmly fixed on black women, with a special focus on the remarkable journey of Dr. Yewande Okunoren-Oyekenu, the Multi National Volunteers Coordinator of the Special Monitoring Mission of the International Human Rights Commission for the United Kingdom and North America Region.
As the month of remembrance and celebration unfolds, it's an opportune time to reflect on the complex history that shaped the lives of black people. A striking reminder is that many of their ancestors were not only victims but also, in some cases, played a role in the transatlantic slave trade. This history continues to cast its shadow, particularly in regions like Yorubaland.
Despite progress and success stories, a troubling truth emerges – when opportunities arise to uplift fellow black individuals, reluctance often prevails. Dr. Yewande Okunoren-Oyekenu herself acknowledges the role of both white and black mentors in her journey. She points out that her achievements, including her upcoming induction as a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, were made possible by the support of individuals from different backgrounds.
She attributes her membership in prestigious organizations like the British Pharmacological Society and American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics to the guidance of her Black Professors at the University of Ibadan.
Dr. Okunoren-Oyekenu's path to success, like many others, was marked by challenges and humility.
She recalls her early days of studying biochemistry at Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University), where she often had to explain complex concepts to her classmates in Yoruba. Despite facing obstacles and a detour through a pre-degree program, her determination led her to excel academically and eventually achieve her goals, culminating in a successful career spanning from neuroscience in the UK to healthcare leadership in the US.
Her story underscores the importance of recognizing one's roots and cultural heritage. Dr. Okunoren-Oyekenu hails from a Royal Family in Sagamu, and she highlights the irony of institutions screening out potential candidates who cannot speak English fluently or pass interviews, despite the contributions of their own families, such as donating land for hospitals, schools, and factories.
As Black History Month unfolds in the UK and Ireland, Dr. Yewande Okunoren-Oyekenu's journey serves as an inspiring testament to resilience, determination, and the pivotal role of both black and white allies in breaking barriers. Her dedication to her hometown, Sagamu, and her commitment to improving science education in the region stand as a lasting legacy.
This Black History Month, celebrate not only the past achievements of black individuals but also the ongoing efforts to build a more equitable and inclusive future.