Africa week aims to inspire youth

Seun Adebiyi LAW ’09 answers to many titles — among them, Yale Law School graduate, future Olympian and cancer survivor.

Adebiyi spoke as part of the Yale African Student Association’s annual Africa Week, which runs from Nov. 1 to Nov. 10 and was themed “Culture Shifters of the African Renaissance.” Along with speakers like Adebiyi, the week’s lineup features seven events, such as film screenings and lectures from artists, public health officials and economists. YASA President Shamillah Bankiya ’14 said the week’s organizers made an effort to choose speakers who could relate to college students and inspire them to become involved with African development.

“Having young people speak, it’s more relatable,” she said. “You can make a difference however young you are … We’re inviting young people to make a difference.”

The week began with a talk from George Ayittey — a noted TED speaker and president of the Free Africa Foundation — who said Africa’s problems come from widespread corruption, though the continent can improve its future with a new generation of African leaders.

On Monday night, Adebiyi spoke to an audience of 12 students, most of whom were YASA members. His lecture, titled “The Challenges and Opportunities of Setting Up a Registry in Nigeria,” described his background at Yale Law School, where he first began to participate in skeleton, a sport that involves sledding on an ice track and one in which he will compete at the 2014 Olympics. After graduating from law school, he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and later started the first bone marrow registry in Nigeria. Adebiyi said it became clear that a “huge gap” exists along racial lines for blood donors. Seventy percent of blood donors in America are white, he added, which means African-Americans face a harder time securing a genetic match — only 13 percent are successful in finding donors.

Adebiyi said he is hopeful for the registry’s future success, but he said he is frustrated at the pessimism of African leaders.

“[There is] a mental paralysis within elites and experts — a huge gap between what can be done and what people think can be done,” he said.

Bankiya said Africa Week is funded jointly by the Council of African Studies, Office of International Students and Scholars and the Traphagen Alumni Speakers Fund, and the events primarily rely on African Studies professors and Yale alumni to assemble speakers. She added that she hopes the events will provide more visibility for YASA and African students on campus.

Ameze Belo-Osagie ’16, an international student from Nigeria who attended Ayittey’s talk last week, said she agrees that youth hold the power to change Africa, but she thinks some value Africans who leave for education- or business-related reasons over those leaders who remain in Africa. Belo-Osagie, who also attended Adebiyi’s lecture, said she found Adebiyi’s talk both relevant and accessible, and she appreciated that he spoke more broadly about succeeding in a challenging environment.

Ajua Duker ’15, a YASA board member who attended Adebiyi’s lecture, said she found the talk so inspiring that she is now considering moving to Africa after graduation.

Africa Week will end this Saturday with a fashion show at the Afro-American Cultural Center.

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