Yesterday, I had a wonderful opportunity to share my cultural heritage with children at a school on Chicago’s South Side. My friend and fellow Nigerian sister-in-creativity, Ugochi, invited me to share my life with some eager children who were studying Nigeria as part of their curriculum for the summer.
I along with a number of others shared our stories – personal, professional, athletic, cultural, political, and more.
As I shared in my book, my parents were born and raised in Nigeria, West Africa. I was born and raised in the US of A. So much of what has shaped me has come from me being the child of immigrants – the child of parents who were born and raised in Africa, educated there and in Europe, who then came to America, settled, had me and my sisters, and made a life.
So, I am always happy to share that part of my story. And especially given all that is being spoken about Nigeria in the media these days – I was happy to share a piece of My Nigeria with these children.
Ugochi introduced me as a writer. Which I am. Among other things. She told the children about my book. Which was great. But there was an inner voice asking, “Are these kids going to care to talk about My 52 Weeks of Worship? About Religion or Faith?” After all, I was talking to kids that were in 4th grade.
I wasn’t sure.
But, as I shared my story with the children, I asked the question of a group of 4th graders:
“So, do any of you go with your family to church, or synagogue, or temple, or the mosque on the weekends?”
Hands shot up and voices poured forth.
“I go to the mosque with my family…but I go on Friday,” said one young boy who also shared that he too was the product of Nigerian parents. “It is called Ju’umah.”
“Sometimes I go to synagogue with my father and his family…because my father is Jewish. But my mother is Lutheran, so I am half Jewish,” piped up another little boy.
“I go to church…but I go on Saturday,” said one little girl shyly, as if she was used to people questioning her about why her church attendance schedule was “different.”
“Are you Seventh-Day Adventist?” I asked her. She lit up and said “Yes!”, shaking her head vigorously in affirmation as though she was excited to be seen and understood.
“I used to go to Kingdom Hall when I was younger,” said the last girl in the group.
Chuckling at her inclusion of the “when I was younger” qualifier, I asked her: “Do you have Jehovah’s Witnesses in your family?”
She said yes, with a shy smile.
I was thoroughly humbled by the group. Here in my midst, was a perfect picture of interfaith diversity. We didn’t harp on the moment, and I went on to share my story and answer questions. The kids didn’t seem to think there was anything strange about the beautiful picture of diversity they had just shared with me.
But it touched my heart.
In that moment, I was reminded about the power of sharing the My 52 Weeks of Worship story. Even with children. Because we are surrounded by such a kaleidescope of faith communities and traditions. And, as I shared in #45 of 52 Things I Learned During 52 Weeks of Worship:
Family is the first congregation.
Who knows what spiritual path each of these children will eventually take. But for now, they were happy to share who they were in the context of their family, as I did the same from a cultural and professional perspective.
It was a blessing for me.
What a wonderful opportunity for children to talk about two topics infrequently discussed in schools — Africa (specifically Nigeria) and religion!