Living between my Nigerian and African-American identities

I shoved my research notebook in my desk drawer and slammed it closed.

I’d just completed my dissertation study. I should have been eager to sift through the pages, but that notebook was the last thing I wanted to see.

The year before, I’d traveled to Detroit to purchase it.

This Is Us

Illustration: Niege Borges

i hate those stories

the ones
where women recall
how they once hated
the shade
of their deep dark skin

the same stories
that appear in
Oprah’s documentaries
and characterize
the dark-skinned women
across her network

whenever i hear them
i never understand
how ugly words
can form on the lips
of such beautiful women…

Photographer: Tanya Shrivastava

the sun had set
long before
i boarded the train
for the first half
of my long commute
from Newark, NJ to Queens, NY


when i finally
entered my house,
i met my father,
sitting at the kitchen island
dipping his perfectly rounded
pounded yam
into a big bowl
of ogbono soup…

Photographer: Jon DeBoer

poverty scares me

it always has

i remember
the first time
i met poverty

on the corner
of puritan avenue
and roselawn street
right outside
of my first
elementary school

i could
clearly see
from the
second floor
in Ms. …

You’ve got a blank canvas,
that’s what they keep telling me

they smile when they say it
some of them even laugh

i mirror their smiles back at them

but they don’t know
that my mine is forced
my laughter is too

and my stomach
twists into knots
at the mere thought
of illustrating my own life

which colors shall i choose?
will they complement each other?
what if my brush strokes aren’t precise enough?

i’ve never designed my life

my old life
was a conglomeration
of artwork
from self-proclaimed illustrators
who meticulously drew images
that satisfied their desires

restricting me

i smile when they tell me
that I have a blank canvas

i also fear

i found my voice

buried and hidden
in between
the crevices
of people’s desires.

unrecognizable at first,
i walked right past her.

called me,
compelled me,
demanded me
to finally stand still
and listen.

i dusted her off.

then she took me on a long walk
down a pothole-ridden street.

Illustration: Sacree Frangine

my younger
cousin called me

we hadn’t spoken in 7 months

our call,
she told me
she wants to
see herself
as beautiful

i understood her
i kept silent

some things
cannot be explained

some things

and as we
live through them
fully grasp

my mother
i wear
all black

it should be reserved for those who mourn, she says

i fell
in love
black clothing
on the east coast

New York City

subway passengers
waiting for trains
clothed in all black
laser-sharp focus


an aura

Photo Credit: Lakin Ogunbanwo

I’d barely taken off my coat before my grandmother walked into the living room and asked her infamous question: “Iyore, which day you go marry?”

She placed her hands on her hips and slowly moved her waist from left to right, singing , “Eh eh…I wan shake my ikebe.”


Lakeya Omogun, Ph.D.

Writer | Professor | I write about identity, culture, and language.

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