Torchbearer: Lola Adele-Oso — Nigerian. Maryland, USA.
The Executive Director/ Co-Founder of Act4Accountability and Diaspora RiseUP, an architect, tech founder, organizational development consultant, writer, and a clean beauty skincare line creator — Lola is an entrepreneur through and through.
Work it Like Michael Jackson
“Rebirth. Every transition is a rebirth. MJ changed culture. His work ethic is legendary. That always stuck with me. His early music was game-changing. Every album had a message that made us dance AND made us think about life, love, and our role on earth. You especially heard it in his later albums — wow! Him and Quincy Jones created masterpieces — each with its distinct personality and all from the same person. That’s how I see myself. I am multi-layered and I accept that as a strength. Oh, you think you already figured me out? Watch this space. There is more to come.
I feel liberated! I look back and I wish I had been bold enough to release myself from aspects of being socialized (as an African woman) sooner. It took some reconditioning and self-exploration. It was doing the work to uncover answers to, ‘Who is Lola?’ It meant starting over MANY times to know that women like me can always start over in service of the life we really want.”
My Job Is Not My Identity
“It was heartbreaking to walk away from architecture, after losing my job in the 2008 market crash. I was depressed because I mourned the loss of an identity. For the longest time I was Lola, the architect. It took time to understand that what I do is not the foundation of who I am. When you’re African, you’re either a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. To say, ‘I’m a community organizer.’ They ask — ‘What is that exactly? Do they pay you? What are you organizing? Are you organizing a party? So you’re an event planner?’ They are trying to figure out a way to slot you in.
Now when people ask me what I do I say: ‘I’m an entrepreneur.’ I have fun with it.”
Strong Black Woman?
“I sometimes cringe at the ‘strong black woman’ analogy. I understand the origins of the phrase but the label is a badge that is quietly hurting many of us. It’s this narrative that Black women have to be super human, taking and taking while we’re internally breaking and calling for help. Guess what? My Superwoman cape is at the cleaners. I am learning to ask for help. I am prioritizing ME and learning the power of NO. I’m more vulnerable and honest in conversations with God, close confidants, family and myself. It’s very cathartic and helps me feel lighter.
Every hardship is there for a lesson and reason — however, there’s a process. We often want to run away from the chaos. Sitting in the mess is an important step for growth and healing. In that messiness is the path to your new beginning. When you get through, it is beautiful.”
Acting for Accountability
“My life changed in 2014 when 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria. After two weeks of watching and waiting, I connected with those mobilizing #BringBackOurGirls in Nigeria because I was tried of feeling helpless. I woke up extremely angry and I said ENOUGH. I set up an event Facebook page for a protest on May 6th, 2014. Soon after the page went live, people started to sign up. I knew I had to organize so the event would not look like a ragtag group of people because the press would find that one person and use the image to define the moment. My architectural and community organizing hats came back on — 300 plus people showed up at the protest. I recruited volunteers to help with the planning, outreach to press, web development, and generating our list of demands. I had a script for different people. I assigned different roles and we created an event program.
All this happened in 5 days! I did not get much sleep. People don’t know that I received death threats during this period. I received calls threatening my life and those of my family in Nigeria. Some people thought the opposition party in Nigeria was sponsoring our activities. Those threats had the opposite effect. I was not going to cower.
I wasn’t prepared for international attention. Arriving at the Nigerian embassy on the day of the event, I had cameras thrust in my face. It was — ‘Hi, I’m with Sky News. Hi, I’m with BBC. ‘ It was overwhelming and till today, I am proud that we played our part in amplifying the voices calling for action. That day during a White House press conference, President Obama was asked if he knew about our protest and what America was doing to help Nigeria with the kidnapped girls. President Obama came out and said he had spoken with President Jonathan and that Nigeria is open to accepting some intelligence on the girls. Please understand, this is all two weeks after the kidnappings. So our noise sparked some action.
The next day, our event made the cover of The Washington Post! The t-shirts my best friend and I designed.”
Use Your Voice
“Some people in the (Nigerian) community assumed I hated the government, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t care about personality politics. I could give a damn about who’s the head of state in Nigeria. I do care that if on your watch 200 plus citizens are kidnapped, thousands are being killed and there’s all this upheaval in the country. That’s when I have a problem with your leadership. I care if you are unqualified to fulfill the responsibilities of your job as President. That’s all I care about — our citizens and our nations deserve better, period.
Enough of settling for less than mediocrity! We deserve greater and we should demand better. It’s not acceptable to say that’s just how we are. It doesn’t mean it’s right, and it doesn’t mean we should accept it. How do we build a new generation of people who are active, engaged citizens in their own governance? Those of us in the (African) diaspora — how do we stay engaged in the issues that effect the Continent’s growth and development? We may be thousands of miles away and we still have a voice. Let’s use it for good!”
You Are the Government
“During the (Bring Back Our Girls) protest, Athena Jones from CNN asked what’s the name of the organizing group. I thought, ‘Huh? What group?’ The protest was named, “Action for Accountability” and just like that a light bulb in my head went on. I replied, ‘We are Act for Accountability.’
Through Act4Accountability, we’re not afraid to be activists and truth tellers. It doesn’t matter what issue we champion — we come from the accountability angle and demand transparency. It’s not only accountability for our elected leaders; it’s about our social accountability. Many of us as African citizens have abdicated our responsibility. We speak about government as though government isn’t made of people from our communities. I’ve observed civil servants working in government say, ‘The government is just not functioning.’ But wait? Don’t you work for the government?!? You are the government! This disassociation is part of the problem. People don’t own their role in the problem and are looking for someone else to fix things. You can be part of the solution.
That’s what we’re trying to do — be that group that says we care about accountability of our leaders and ourselves. We believe in people standing up for truth, themselves, and their future.”
Focus on What Matters Most
“I try to drill down until I get to what matters most. I ask myself that question a lot — what matters most? Even when you’re feeling emotionally wrought, or if you want to snatch some edges. It’s my pause. It’s a way of resetting and connecting to what’s most important.
If you know what values drive you — you can figure out the career part. It might not be today or five years from now — you’ll figure it out. Take the time to do your internal work and shed those layers that are voices from other people. It’s hard, and it’s the most beautiful thing when you start shedding that emotional and mental weight.”
The Unwitting Hero’s Journey
“If you think of the monomyth or ‘The Hero’s Journey’ by Joseph Campbell and that cycle — I’ve seen it transpire in my life many times. I’m in the midst of a cycle right now. I just came out the initiation period where you battle through adversity and now it is time to move on with the lessons learned. I was that young woman deathly afraid of public speaking — tears would fall down my eyes while I presented. I was never the one that would be on a public stage. I answered the call to adventure, like Joseph Campbell puts it, and it has lead to the speaking at World Bank and South by South West (SXSW) and I know this is still the beginning. I encourage others to take a look at the Hero’s Journey and understand where in their process they are. If your life is not where you want it to be, remember, you write your own story.”
Challenge Yourself But Be Kind
“Know yourself and then challenge yourself. We can easily get comfortable. If you’re not learning anything new, then what’s the point? Spend time knowing the good, bad and ugly about yourself and accept it. Then be kind to yourself.
I wish I had been braver sooner. I also remind myself that everybody’s race is different. The wisdom and the things I learned, is what helps me today. The non-linear path my career has taken has allowed me to become comfortable with ambiguity. As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to withstand a healthy amount of ambiguity and be willing to take a certain amount of risk. If you can’t tolerate not knowing, then I don’t know if entrepreneurship is for you. As much as you plan, you will have to be ready for your plan not to go the way it’s supposed. You will stumble onto the right answers and approach in the process. If you know yourself, then trust that you will figure it out. It’s also more fulfilling if that thing is something bigger than yourself and also in service of making things better for others.”
— Lola Adele-Oso
Enjoyed Lola's journey? Then let us know! Here are other inspiring moments.
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