Wednesday, October 14, 2020

14th Annual Nigerian Independence Day Celebration Pivots to First-Ever Drive-Thru Cookout

Ruth Samuel | October 7, 2020 | Story #6 for MEJO 253


14th Annual Nigerian Independence Day Celebration Pivots to First-Ever Drive-Thru Cookout


RALEIGH, N.C. --- On October 3, hundreds of people gathered in the parking lot of Reign Lounge for the Triangle’s 14th annual Nigerian Independence Day Celebration, which took place in the form of a drive-thru cookout due to COVID-19.


Nigerians are the largest African immigrant population in the nation, with over 1,000 Nigerian-born residents in Raleigh alone. Event organizer 38-year-old Uchenna Richards saw this cookout as a necessity to bring in 60 years of independence.
 
Lagos native Richards said, “The first year we did it, we just did it for fun. This year because of COVID-19, we’re doing a drive-thru cookout. At the beginning, it was more like, ‘Let’s just get people to just drive through, get some food and go.’ Some people didn’t want to leave, so we figured, we’ll start off by telling people if you want to stay, park down the street.”
 
Richards, a Greensboro resident, has lived in the U.S. for the past 25 years, and graduated from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. Tired of traveling out of town to celebrate his home country, he spawned this idea with his friends in 2006, and the event has been held in the Raleigh-Durham area ever since.
 
“I tell people this is the one event where you can get Nigerians of different tribes and there will be no problems,” said Richards, who is Igbo. “Growing up, our generation versus the parents’ generation, there was this big tribalistic problem. When it comes to independence, for that weekend and that day, everyone puts everything aside.”
 
For the past 14 years, Richards and his peers have pooled their money together for tents, reservations, and paying the caterer: PK Suya. While Richards recalls approximately 100 attendees at the inaugural celebration, they served over 500 people last year.
 
By 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, there were 300 visitors. Richards says the event is not about generating revenue, but rather about generating community and checking in with one another.
 
“This event is about getting to meet people, fellow Nigerians, and socializing. The United States is a very individualistic country so it’s really nice to be able to socialize and connect with fellow Nigerians, fellow Africans generally. I still really miss Nigeria,” said Mirabelle Uma, a 29-year-old recent immigrant from Abia State.
 
Uma, a graduate student at UNC Greensboro, attended the event last year and said she was impressed with the turnout this year, despite no vendors or prizes. East Carolina University student & Durham native Amaogechukwu Egbuna came home for the weekend to attend the celebration with her mother & aunt.
 
The 20-year-old said, “A lot of graduation parties didn’t get to happen, a lot of baby showers didn’t happen either. You know, Nigerians, we love to throw parties and celebrate and a lot of people have had small home gatherings, so this is a really excellent idea.”
 
Apart from celebration, the event also featured educational components. In addition to passing out masks, members of the Nigerian Nurses Association of North Carolina (NNANC) were handing out informational pamphlets on hypertension and domestic violence. In 2018, domestic abuse in Nigeria saw a 134% increase according to the Pulitzer Center, a media organization centered on underreported global issues.
 
Amaka Ofodile, a nurse with over 16 years of experience, said, “This event is in solidarity with our country, Nigeria. The origin of this organization is stamped on domestic violence elimination, and we want to do everything to curb it. We want to continue to educate our Nigerian community on how to stay safe, especially with COVID-19.”
 
Furthermore, an elder in the community spoke about the importance of voting in the presidential election, considering the visa ban on Nigeria and other African countries. Richards said that although the ban hasn’t directly affected anyone in his family, it’s still important.
 
“I’m a registered Democrat, but I came here as an immigrant. If a Republican overnight decides to support immigration, I’m down for it because that’s another way me, my family, and friends that are suffering back home can come to this country and enjoy and benefit like I have. I’m part of the people who are going to vote Trump out,” he said.

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