‘We Cannot Stand Idly By While Thousands Of Innocent Girls Remain Under Serious Threat’
I live in America now, unfortunately, a lot of what is reported about Nigeria, are not so great stuffs. I’ve been back here for the first time in eight years and I can see incredible changes; I can see incredible improvement and progress.”
These were the words of United States-based Nigerian actor David Oyelowo when he visited home last year for the premiere of Selma, a 2014 American historical drama film, which is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by James Bevel, where he played lead role.
The western media would always profile Oyelowo as ‘a British actor…’ but on this visit, the Hollywood star, in the presence of thousands that saw the movie at the Rock Cathedral, Lagos, made it clear that he’s proudly Nigerian.
“We are a mighty nation; I lived here for seven years of my life. My dad is from Oyo State and my mum is from Edo state. It was a very rare marriage; maybe not so rare anymore as it was when my parents got married 40 years ago. But their marriage and love for each other had been exemplary to me,” he said.
As far as the talented actor is concerned, foreign media have not been fair to Nigeria, which has resulted in the negative image the country has internationally.
“I just want the world to be aware of what is going on. For me, it’s to find a way where love overcomes hate; it’s going to be an incredible thing for this nation and the world generally,” he said.
Therefore, it’s not a surprise that few months after his visit to fatherland, the award-winning actor has announced the inauguration of David Oyelowo Leadership Scholarship for Girls, which will provide scholarships covering educational expenses for girls directly impacted by acts of terror in all its forms, especially in his home country Nigeria. Recipients, according to the actor, will include victims of terror attacks and debilitating gender-based inequality.
In recent years, extremists have kidnapped, raped and terrorized thousands of girls in Africa’s most populous country, especially the case of the missing Chibok girls. Though a large number have since escaped or been rescued, they are still not truly free and now face a different kind of isolation. Considered “tainted”, many have been rejected by their families and communities. Their educations have been disrupted, and they cannot afford tuition at high-quality schools.
“We cannot stand idly by while thousands of innocent girls remain under serious threat,” said Oyelowo. “With our help, these bright and resilient girls can blossom into Nigeria’s most inspiring leaders in government, education, business, entertainment, and so much more.”
To the actor, the way to combat oppression and injustice is to be intentional in calling it out and then seeking to affect sustainable and long-term change.
“That is what these Leadership scholarships are all about. We seek to nurture a generation of strong female trailblazers whose positive impact will be felt across Nigeria and around the world,” he said.
The scholarship, which started with preliminary plans in August 2015, has so far been funded by the likes of The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, Participant Media and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon. Three scholarships will be awarded for the 2016/2017 school year; the number offered in subsequent years will depend on capacity and available funding.
This year’s recipients will attend the Anglican Girls Grammar School (AGGS), a secondary school for students aged 10-15, in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. AGGS is an academic center of excellence known for its emphasis on science and math.
For girls, who have endured nearly constant instability and insecurity, this all-girls boarding school offers a safe and nurturing learning and living environment. However, future scholarship recipients will be placed at other high-achieving schools in Nigeria.
Instituted in partnership with the LA-based non-profit organisation, GEANCO, Oyelowo, in an interview with The Huffington Post, reevaled that Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls in South Africa inspired his scholarship programme in Nigeria, but was propelled to action following the 2014 abduction of 276 school girls in Chibok.
“For me, being of Nigerian descent myself, being a father to a daughter, I just feel so drawn to this particular group of girls in Nigeria who have been disenfranchised, who have been attacked, and having their very basic rights stolen from them,” Oyelowo said during the interview.
“And so, forming this partnership to start this scholarship that is going to have actual direct impact to girls who have been displaced through these acts of terror, is something that was kind of a no brainer for me, because I’ve been looking for places to be effective rather than just be angry about some of the injustices that I see in the world.”
Speaking on the initiative, Afam Onyema, GEANCO co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, said he has high hopes for the scholarship, which is an extension of GEANCO’s dedicated work to support the vulnerable within Nigeria.
“My dream eventually is to have this scholarship be regarded in the same way that the Rhodes Scholarship is,” Onyema told HuffPost.
“I want these girls to become the president of Nigeria, and I want their bio to be, ‘and she was a David Oyelowo Leadership scholar. I want to instill that sense of dignity into these girls and say, ‘whatever you wanna do we’re gonna help empower you to do it. And we’re gonna walk with you for as long as we possibly can to help you live the life that you deserve to live,” Onyema added.
A trained stage actor, Oyelowo has quickly become one of Hollywood‘s most sought-after talents. He was born in Oxford, England, to Nigerian parents (his father, Stephen, worked for an airline company and his mother for the railway). Oyelowo graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), and received the Scholarship for Excellence from Nicholas Hytner in 1998.
Oyelowo first impressed audiences on the stage when he starred in The Suppliants at the Gate Theatre playing King Palasgus, for which he received the Ian Charleson award commendation. Following this, he played the title role of Henry VI, becoming the first black actor to play an English king for the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company). The role won him The Ian Charleson Award and an Evening Standard award nomination.
David received numerous accolades for the recent independent film, Middle of Nowhere, which screened to rave reviews at last year’s Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals. The emotionally inspiring film portrays the universal dilemma of how a person maintains oneself as they commit to loving and supporting someone through hardship. David has received nominations for Best Supporting Actor for the 2013 Independent Spirit Awards and the 44th Annual NAACP Image Awards on behalf of his work in the film.
He also was seen recently in Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed drama Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones. Lincoln has already been the recipient of many awards, which include being named one of the top films of the year by the National Board of Review and AFI Awards.