Ah, the diaspora gap. It's shrinking, sure, but man do we still have lots of work to do. Lately, I've been finding myself lighting my candles with my wine, chatting with the ancestors, and finding new stand-out content to encourage myself to be more intentional in finding ways of getting closer to our eternal greatness of home besides the obvious visit (thanks COVID). And by this, I don't mean just going out and purchasing a shirt with the continent. I mean truly touching basis on what it means to be black in the hills of Ghana, or the markets of Nairobi, or the beaches of Zanzibar.
Or even Zamunda.
Amazon Prime Video
My curiosity set my sights on one of the most anticipated movies of this generation, Coming 2 America, the sequel to the 1988 cult classic, Coming to America. And the excitement of it's release, hilariously has everyone in full African mode.
The film, set in the lush and royal country of Zamunda, follows King Akeem and his trusted confidante Semmi as they embark on an all-new hilarious adventure that has them traversing the globe from their great African nation to the borough of Queens, New York–where it all began. Eddie Murphy reprises his role as the ever-charming Prince Akeem and leads an all-star cast of our faves, including Arsenio Hall, Wesley Snipes, James Earl Jones, Teyana Taylor, and more.
In partnership with Amazon Transportation, Amazon Prime is taking the royal treatment up a notch by adorning 220 delivery vehicles, four trucks, and one plane with specialty wrapping featuring King Akeem. (Check out more photos of the fleet here.) They can be seen in eight key U.S. regions to celebrate the Zamundan Royal Family's return to America. On top of that, Prime Video has partnered with local Black-owned restaurants to provide over 5,000 meals to those in need. Yet another reason this film is one for the books!
If you're like me, you were excited to throw on Amazon Prime Video to immerse yourself in the motherland as we revisit what's been going on in Zamunda since 1998. And honestly, this inspired me to explore other people's stories about venturing to America from Africa. What country did they migrate from? What was their purpose? Were they looking for love like Akeem? Did they want different opportunities? And if so, did they find it?
I found three Africans who were all open to discuss their journeys of coming to America. Here are their stories:
*Some responses have been cut or edited for clarity.
"A lot of people ask me, 'Why America?' or why I chose to move here. Well, I went to SCAD, which is the Savannah College of Art and Design. We had a career fair at our school where they came to visit so they were just putting the name out there and it really stuck with me because I really, really just wanted to go to a creative school.
"In Kenya, at the time, there weren't that many schools that did that, mostly because Kenya is traditional so there's not that many schools that focus on the creative industry."
"What's odd to me, is when I tell Americans this story, it shocks them, like 'What do you mean you just left to go to a different country?' But I feel like it's kind of normal in Kenya to do that. Or maybe if you're from a third world country, it's kind of normal to try to go after experiences outside [the country]. But for Americans, they find that to be crazy. I dealt with it, though, and I have some family here and a lot of my best friends were coming to the States as well, so I never really felt alone.
"But anyway, because it's really hard to get financial aid as an immigrant, I had to apply to lots and lots of scholarships to minimize my cost. I studied branded entertainment which is a cross between advertising, TV production, digital marketing and because it's a new field with social media and a huge part of our culture, it's considered a STEM degree.
"Ultimately, I just really wanted to experience the working world and the working culture here, so I guess you could say I came [to America] for opportunity. And it's really intense; the working culture here is insane, people are constantly, constantly working."
"But I do feel like it's growing me as a person. I've changed a lot and I'm here to stay (for now)."
Courtesy of Damilare 'Dami' Kujembola
"I'm originally from Lagos, Nigeria, where I was a practicing entertainment lawyer. Entertainment law wasn't as popular to specialize in because it wasn't as lucrative as oil and gas or corporate law. However, I was attracted to the idea of being one of the pioneers within this space, so I decided to pursue a master's degree in Los Angeles, the world's capital of entertainment. So in 2014, I received a scholarship to pursue a master's degree at USC.
"The plan was to acquire my master's degree within a year, gain some practical experience, make connections in the U.S., then move back to Nigeria to help develop the entertainment industry by effecting advancement of the law. But God had other plans."
"Moving to Los Angeles was very tough for my family, as I am the first-born and we have a strong bond. I remember seeing my mother shed a tear for the first time in my life, and my dad's parting words were for me to 'remember the son of who I am.' Those words have stuck by me to this day. After a while, I realized the master's degree program left me feeling unequipped to make an impact in the entertainment industry back in Nigeria. Also, during this time, I noticed the African community had a small presence in Los Angeles.
"It was difficult for me to find African food, get a proper haircut or even find mentors who had gone through a similar experience. This wasn't because they didn't exist. It was just hard to find if you did not know anyone. Also, a lot of people had very little knowledge about the continent and there was a lack of representation for the culture. This was my opportunity to make a difference."
"After graduation, I was offered a job by one of my professors, who was the GC of a top digital media startup. During this time, I learned about so many opportunities that could be available for African entertainment, so I decided to transition from practicing law to representing the continent and the diaspora. My business partner, Timi Adeyeba, and I formed Amplify Africa to create community for Africans in the Diaspora, to educate more people about the cultures, reality and opportunities on the continent, to create representation for African interests in the diaspora and to help regain the diaspora's trust in the continent.
"As our team expanded, we realized the yearning for the continent isn't exclusive to African immigrants, as there are other people whose ancestors were forced off of the continent into slavery and who have, over time, created their own culture."
"As a result, we have expanded our vision to bridging the gap between the continent and the Black global experience of the African-American, Afro-Carribean, Afro-Latinx, and Afro-European communities. We, now, boast about being one of the biggest media companies for the African diaspora. We've produced over 100 events in 13 cities around the U.S. pre-COVID, including the Afro Ball, a Gala in partnership with U.S. Congress, who provides Certificates of Recognition for Africans and people of African descent excelling in their respective fields.
"Although I haven't seen my family in person since 2014, outside of video calls, this is the year that I can finally reconnect with them. So, I guess you could say my purpose in moving to America, was to find my purpose. And the sacrifice was well worth it."
"I moved here about four years ago in 2016 when I was 19 years old, but that wasn't even the initial plan. When I finished high school, the plan was for me to go to the University of Zimbabwe to study law, because that is something that I always wanted to do. I was passionate about it, I was on the debate team, and I was good at it, so that was all I knew.
"I went to the city in Harare—that's the capital city and where the university is—and we filled out the application and we completed all the requirements and even got my ID."
"It just so happened that that after testing exceptionally well on my high school exams, my sister (who was in the States already) called my mother and told her, 'Why don't we try to bring Penny to the U.S. to come to school? She's a smart girl and she'll go places over here.' I never took her seriously and kind of brushed it off, but she was so persistent. So, I looked up colleges where she stayed in Virginia. But it was so expensive to go to a four-year college.
"I found a community college near where she lived and submitted my application as an effort to at least try. I knew in my heart I didn't want to be in Zimbabwe [and] I didn't want to go to school in Zimbabwe. So I applied and got in. Before I left, I didn't tell anyone, I just disappeared. I didn't want to jinx anything or I didn't want to make a big deal and things suddenly didn't work out.
"The best feeling was when I arrived in America and our plane was landing and I said to myself, 'I'm here.' And it's funny because the first thing I noticed was that the air smelled different. It was one of the best moments of my life."
Things have been going pretty great for me. I love it here.
Featured image by Shutterstock
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After college, I successfully landed an entertainment news role. I was passionate about my work and grateful for obtaining a job in my desired field. But like most entry-level positions in the creative industry, the pay was left to be desired. I quickly realized that I needed a second job to pay my bills.
Multiple career fairs later, I started a position with an insurance company.
My new role felt like my first “big girl” job because it had full benefits, and I couldn’t have been more excited. Plus, I could work this job during the day and my other gig at night. I excelled in my new role – exceeded the required enterprise accuracy score, received several cash awards, and was consistently selected to train my team members on different learning variances.
Everything was great initially, but unfortunately, the job that guaranteed financial stability became a nightmare after a while.
The first red flag was that this insurance company had an extremely high turnover rate primarily due to the relentless workload; therefore, teams were forced to consolidate and change leadership constantly. I was quickly burning out but overlooked the deteriorating company culture because it allowed me to keep my journalism gig and offered endless overtime. Also, the manager I had at the time was great – he provided opportunities for growth and mentorship.
It wasn’t until I reached my fourth manager that I had my first experience with a hostile work environment.
After several months on her team, my manager started the process of “quietly firing” me despite excelling on the team.
Team Building refers to quiet firing as a “passive-aggressive approach to performance management.” Supervisors will create unpleasant work conditions, which can cause an employee to suffer mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically.
She stopped providing feedback, blocked promotional opportunities, and eventually denied my yearly raise. I felt hopeless. I couldn’t properly do my role some days because my manager spent most of her office hours avoiding her team. All issues on the team were ignored, and any work-related questions went unanswered.
Whenever I walked into the office, it felt like a dark cloud was cast over me because most of my day would consist of doing others’ jobs or explaining to other managers why I was reaching out to them instead of my own. It wasn’t until I worked myself nearly to death that I realized this job wasn’t worth it.
My health declined rapidly. I started to experience excruciating body aches and fatigue, and my hair was falling out. Clocking into a job where I was just a number, and work still had to be completed despite my failing health was exhausting. I ignored constant pleas from friends and family members to get help out of fear of being unable to pay my bills.
The last time I was admitted to the hospital, my manager called me, and instead of asking how I was, she asked when I was returning to work. The team’s numbers decreased drastically, and upper management wasn’t happy. My manager couldn't care less if I was okay as long as I made her look good. I’m not sure why it seemed like a shocking revelation at the time, but it did. The next time I went into the office, I resigned.
After a few years of forcing a working relationship that wasn’t meant to be, I finally left.
And in all my years of working, that job was the only one I ever walked away from. Although the toxic environment influenced my decision, something about quitting made me feel like a failure. Truthfully, I felt guilty for quitting at first. I believed it was irresponsible to quit without a backup plan. However, I later learned that my manager's hostile tactics, which I loathed, ended up being a blessing.
The entire experience made me realize that God had repeatedly shown me to leave that toxic job, but I was too afraid. It wasn’t until He made me sit still that I learned that this door was meant to close. Strangely, I’m happy my manager acted the way she did because I would’ve never had the courage to leave since that job equaled stability; I was complacent because I could pay my bills.
And that’s the life of so many currently – staying in an uncomfortable position because it offers stability.
That job also taught me the importance of pivoting. It doesn’t matter what your plan or backup plan is; you must be able to pivot at any time – be flexible and adaptable. The last lesson it taught me was never to settle for a job regardless of pay. I am no longer afraid to turn down a job if it’s not a good fit.
My physical and mental health is far more important than a job that can easily replace me at any moment.
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Feature image by FG Trade/ Getty Images