erhabor-ighodaro-family-web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS — It didn’t take long for Erhabor Ighodaro to figure out that the social and economic struggles he left behind in his native Nigeria mirrored the social and economic ills of the United States — or at least Miami.

“It was a cultural shock to see people living under bridges and the destitution of residents in Miami in a system that is supposed to be plentiful,” said Ighodaro. “It was naive to think you are coming to make money and the streets are paved with gold.”
That reality made Ighodaro determined to excel in education, studying for a total of at least than 15 years until he received a doctorate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution in 2008 from Nova Southeastern University and embarked on a career in public service.
Like Ighodaro, Nigerian-American immigrants are mostly highly educated and have been living awhile among us,  quietly. While their community involvement dates back more than 30 years, some have recently become more visible, moving into politics, partnering with educational institutions and spreading their culture.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey says some 731 people report Nigerian ancestry in Miami-Dade and a little more than 1,000 in the tri-county area.
Nigeria is the most populous country in West Africa and its people are ancestors to many who live in America and the Caribbean.
But, as the people — who Texas found out were the most educated immigrants in that state — try to assimilate seamlessly into their new homeland, they have to fight against what they term negative images of Africa, in general, and Nigeria, in particular.
Negative stereotypes, says Nathaniel B. Styles Jr., executive director of the African Caribbean Cultural Arts and Tourism Corridor Initiative, are the main reasons Nigerians have been keeping a low profile. But they are involved in the community.
On Nov. 1, Styles signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the West African state of Oyo to showcase cultural tourism and community development between Oyo and his organization. One goal of the partnership is to establish the Oyo State Cultural House in Miami.
Before going to sign the memo, Styles in August received the blessing of the Florida Legislature in the form of a proclamation presented by then state Sen. Larcenia Bullard. It acknowledged a 2006 bill that designated 43 city blocks in Miami-Dade as the African Caribbean Cultural Corridor and Osun’s Village.


The corridor includes a section of Northwest Seventh Avenue between Northwest 36th and 79th streets. The village, which will develop into an Afro-centric arts, culture and economic development community, will stretch from 54th to 60th streets.
While these ongoing efforts may be somewhat invisible until they are fully realized, two recent events in South Florida’s Nigerian American community were hard to be missed.
On Aug. 14, Ighodaro became the first Nigerian American elected to office in South Florida. He won Seat 3 on the Miami Gardens City Council vacated by Andre Williams. The rookie councilman has already begun to show his value as a longtime public servant and a Nigerian.
“He’s not a one-dimensional person,” said Miami Gardens Councilman David Williams Jr. “He comes with some type of a benefit and lots of assets and his experience in criminal justice can only help us grow and make us a stronger city.”
Williams was quick to show his support for Ighodaro and the cultural background he brings to the city. One of the many hats Ighodaro wears is serving as president of the Nigerian American Foundation, one of several Nigerian organizations that brought the celebration of the 52nd independence anniversary of Nigeria to Miami Gardens. Nigeria gained political independence from England on Oct. 1, 1950.
Florida United for Nigeria, a committee of Nigerian organizations, hosted a week of activities that culminated on Oct. 6 with a parade and awards gala.
This second annual Nigeria Independence Day parade and community event featured bands from Miami Carol City and Booker T. Washington high schools and a Nigerian float.
On the first day of celebrations in Miami Gardens, Williams had a resolution approved naming Oct. 1 Nigeria Day.

“We have a large Hispanic population but we have other ethnic groups that need attention as they try to move their agendas forward and I am so glad he took the lead,” Williams said. “From a cultural standpoint, it’s a great opportunity for young people to go around the world without leaving our city, to hear the dialect, see the dresses. There were speeches and it was relevant commemorating many years as a nation. By talking and dialoguing with the people in the parade, eating different foods, it was truly a lesson in cultural diversity. That is something you can’t teach from a book. There is one thing to read from a story but it another thing to have the experience.”

Since joining the council, Ighodaro has spearheaded plans for a Savior March slated for 11:30 a.m. Saturday, in conjunction with Mount Zion AME Church in Miami Gardens. The march, which is open to the community, will start at the corner of Northwest 152nd Street and 22nd Avenue and move to the Bunche
Park neighborhood.

“Bunche Park, the last couple of years, has been a haven for mayhem and violence, so that’s why we want to march there to show we want to stop the violence,” Ighodaro said.

He will focus on crime and reducing violence through a Community Violence Intervention Program, in conjunction with Miami Gardens-based Florida Memorial University, where he teaches Criminal Justice.


“I strongly believe that focusing on education and the family can help reduce violence,” said Ighodaro, who has worked in public education since 1998, when he became chief of staff to the late popular Miami-Dade County School Board Member Robert Ingram.
Styles is also focusing on educating Miamians, mostly by helping them understand who Africans are and from where they came.

Also, through an invitation from Style, for three years now Emmanuel Abiodun Aderele, a percussionist, educator and dancer, has been an international Artist in Residence with the Osun’s Village & African Caribbean Cultural Arts Corridor. He teaches people how to paint, dance and cook in the ways they do in Yorùbá, a part of Oyo.

“I live my daily life as an African; that is what I promote,” said Aderele. “When I see people in the streets, I tell them, ‘You are from Africa. You are just born here.’ They don’t tell our history properly.”

*Picture above: Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, right, rear, and his family pose with Miss Nigeria Florida 2012  Ayoyemi Ajinmatanreje, left, rear, during a recent celebration of Nigeria’s independence anniversary. His wife Shannan Ighodaro is at center, rear, and their children, Idia, left, and Esosa are in front. PHOTO COURTESY OF ERHABOR IGHODARO