On Canada Day (July 1), I was featured on CBC’s Up Close segment.
“Up Close tells the stories of 150 black women from cities across Canada who are making a difference in this country. Whether it is forging new paths or reshaping already existing narratives, they are committed to empowering themselves, and paving the way for the next generation of young, black leaders who are making this country better.”
I am honoured to have been recognized as one of the 150 women making a difference in Canada. Read my story below:
I was born in Nigeria to Igbo parents; I’ve only ever identified as Nigerian. When I moved to Canada in 2010 at the age of 17, I learned that I am also black. As a black Canadian immigrant who grew up in an African country, the change came with its pros and cons. Some people made fun of my thick Nigerian accent and my heritage. I clearly remember my classmates in my new high school in Oakville, Ont., who asked if it was true that Africans lived in trees; or if I could hear their accents when they spoke, as they believed only foreigners had accents, but not North Americans. I only remember these experiences fondly, attributing them to ignorance and youth.
As an adult, I have been fortunate; I’ve not had to deal with any negative racial bias. I’ve however come across “ignorance” in my everyday life as a young professional based in Toronto. On one such occasion, during a visit to an immigration lawyer with my sister to apply for my citizenship, the lawyer we hired commented that my sister and I looked like “good children, with clear white eyes, with no indication of drug abuse.” From all indications, the man must’ve been in his late 50s, which would imply he must have met other black individuals with not-so-clear eyes; I was unsure of what to make of this ‘compliment’, but I attributed his stereotyping of two professional black women, my sister and I, to ignorance. I believe that people are largely shaped by the environments they grow up in. It follows, that if they are only exposed to immigrants with negative traits, they conclude that I, being a successful young woman who works as an auditor in the biggest professional services firm in Toronto, Canada, must be an anomaly.
When I newly moved to Canada, I felt that my difference – Nigerian, Igbo girl with dark skin and a resonant voice – made me exotic and unique. I had been to what was arguably the best high school in my home country; I had been prepped and primed for greatness all my life. I was ready to conquer. I took my excellence in all my academic endeavours – graduating top of my class in a private high school in Oakville, Ont. and later graduating with distinction, with a Bachelors of Commerce (accounting) from Carleton University – for granted.
One of the advantages of being a black Canadian immigrant who was born and raised in an African country, was that I did not have a chip on my shoulder. I did not grow up in a society that expected less of me based on the color of my skin. After spending seven years in Canada, I now understand that there is not one story that defines the experience of black women living in Canada. I have come to learn that one of the skills people need to succeed is confidence in themselves and their own abilities. However, it is difficult for anyone to have high expectations of themselves if they do not have positive role models who have toed the path they aspire to. Without great models who look like you, it is much more difficult for you to dream big. After spending close to 10 years as a black female immigrant, I have come to realize that my purpose is to inspire women like myself to dream, to act, and to strive to achieve their full potential.
As one of the founding members of the Black Female Accountants Network, I meet young black female accountants and aspiring accountants from all walks of life, who have largely abandoned their dreams because of a lack of role models/representation. I also meet several black females who are more inspired to live their truth and inspire others around them because of the color of their skin. Through my personal finance and investing blog Investmentconversations.com, I speak to several black females all over the world about their career and money troubles, and I have come to realize that many problems people face are because of the limitations they have placed on themselves.
I have learnt so much about myself: what inspires me, what I want and, equally as important, what I do not want from life, by surrounding myself with phenomenal black women. My experiences and those of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter in Canada have shaped me. I am a strong, independent woman; I am driven to achieve my full potential, and I intend to make sure that every woman who looks like me, knows that the future has her name on it.
** This article was first published on CBC.ca