I was convinced the invitation was either fake or a mistake. Me? Invited to attend a briefing at the White House? What a big joke, I thought. But it turned out to be real. This morning, I joined about 30 other Africans in the diaspora for a very interesting discussion session with Senior White House officials about some of President Obama’s important initiatives.
I got the invitation on Saturday but my security check and attendance wasn’t confirmed until yesterday (Tuesday), so I kept it hush hush. Once confirmed, I had a new problem. What was I going to wear to the White House? Nothing in my closet seemed appropriate, uh! Thank God the Ann Taylor store at Union station in DC had this simple black and white dress on sale! Yeah, a black and white dress was just the symbol I needed – a black girl in the white house!
As you can imagine, I woke up extra early this morning. The invitation said to arrive at the White House Visitors entrance on 17th street at 8:30 AM. Unlike earlier this year when I attended an event at the U.S. congress, I wasn’t going to let any train delay mess this up. I arrived at the White House gate at 8:00 AM, swapped my flip flops for some high heels and got checked in with a big smile on my face! I am sure the secret service folks were like: “What is up with this one?!”
I feel highly honored that I was selected to be a part of this. To have the opportunity to hear from senior administration officials, and contribute to key issues such as immigration reform, the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, Open data, agriculture and diaspora engagement makes me feel very privileged.
I knew there wouldn’t be a huge crowd at the event, not with all the security checks that had to be done within such a short time, but I wondered how I got on their “radar.” My answer came when I saw “Impact Africa” in front of my name on the guest list. Wow! someone at the White House found my show? You don’t want to know how excited this made me feel! But I did not know the excitement was about to increase because I was going to come face to face with previous Impact Africa guests, who had joined the show via skype/phone. I was excited to meet the inspiring Chris Ategeka of CA Bikes (listen to his episode here), Okendo Lewis Gayle, Founder & Chairman of Harambe entrepreneur Alliance, who has built the strongest coalition of Africans with the brightest and boldest business ideas (listen to his episode here). I also met the most hardworking activist and champion of immigrant causes, Amaha Kassa, the founder & executive director of African Communities together (listen to his and Vienna Mbagaya’s episode here).
It was great to hear key issues from the horses’ mouths and give ideas on how we want the U.S. to engage Africa, but I have to say the best part of the event was the opportunity to network with some of Africa’s best and brightest inside The White House. I applaud the organizers for deliberately creating a networking opportunity on the agenda. I met so many wonderful people, made some serious connections and had the opportunity to sow seeds for future Impact Africa episodes: Decker Ngongang, Echoing Green; Kadiatou Diallo, President of The Amadou Diallo Foundation, who made me start humming Wyclef’s Diallo Diallo song in my head as soon as she introduced herself; Brian Kwesiga, President of Ugandan North American Association; MLK Service award recipient, Dwight Bachman from Eastern Connecticut State University; Co-Founder of the wonderful Moremi Initiative, Mawuli Dake; Beautiful Mrs. Mariam Coquillat, President of Action for Education, who is now officially my aunty from Cote D’ivoire; I am particularly glad that I met Eric Sheppard, President of Diversity Restoration Solutions, who I plan to collaborate with on a huge project that will take African Americans back to Africa, stay tuned to Impact Africa for details. I am also glad I met the respected and dedicated friend of Africa, Mr. Melvin Foote, President & CEO of Constituency for Africa. And you know an amazing event like this is not complete without powerful Nigerians! So I was not surprised when I met Orobosa Owie, the African Affairs Committee director at the UN foundation.
Big thanks to Heather Foster, Jonta Williams, Tseha Abebe and indeed everyone at the White House Office of Public Engagement for organizing this awesome event, I look forward to many more.
Today is another proof that God’s promise in Q19:57 is real, and also strong proof that Impact Africa has a big role and a space to occupy in this global African discussion, and I intend to claim it boldly with God’s help.
God Bless Africa, God Bless America and God bless you all!