My Mum Taught Me What Black Excellence Means: Chatting With FSA Labour Relations Assistant Baba Oguntoye
Baba Oguntoye is the FSA’s Labour Relations Assistant. He’s been with the FSA for around four months, joining us after obtaining a law degree in England and working in public law at Hill Dickinson LLP and London Ambulance Service NHS Trust. Member Engagement Officer Matt Greaves sat down with Baba earlier in February to talk about Black Excellence, Black History Month, and his mother. The following has been edited for length and content.
MG: Hi Baba, thanks so much for sitting down with me this afternoon. I really appreciate you making the time.
BO: Thanks for inviting me, Matt.
MG: You’ve been at the FSA for four months, is that correct?
BO: About four months, yes. It’s gone quickly.
MG: You mentioned in your recent Voice profile being outdoorsy. Have you been able to enjoy the Canadian winter?
BO: Definitely. But especially now that I’ve got an all-weather drive vehicle, I’m able to get around in the snow. I’m planning to go skiing next month at Big White. I’m really excited to learn how to finally either ski or snowboard. Vancouver is a great place to be, especially compared to back home. It’s so big and there’s so much to do.
MG: In that same profile, you also mention that your mother is the person that inspires you most.
BO: Well, my mum, her story just motivates me. She inspires me. She reminds me to be grateful for my position and to keep on striving. She was one of seven on her mum’s side, but her dad had 16 Kids. That’s 23 children in the house growing up in Nigeria, and she was one of the girls— never given the opportunity to go to school. Are you familiar with hawking?
MG: Hawking. Like, selling or trading?
BO: Like that, selling. People who are carrying stuff on their heads, walking through the streets, we call that hawking. My mum was doing that up until age 8 or 9 and then her mum intervened because she really wanted my mum to do something else with her life. Her mum decided “you can’t be doing this forever. I will personally put you through school.” And this was when her dad didn’t want that. It’s a long story, but, in short, my mum ended up excelling at school. She saw education as her way out of her current position. Out of all 23 children, she was one of three—and the first!—to go to university. And all of her kids have.
MG: And this was a University in Nigeria.
BO: Yes. It was two universities in Nigeria, actually – University of Lagos and University of Port Harcourt. She did so well in her second degree in Chemistry that she was recommended for a master’s at Queen Mary University in London. She did her PhD there as well. Then she started teaching and researching for, I think, 34 years. She’s very happy that I’m here at BCIT, working in the education sector.
When she finished her PhD—I think it was ‘97—she met the Queen during convocation. And that, for her, was like a crowning achievement. “I’ve actually met the Queen, and I was just this little girl who started all the way back there.” It was such a big thing for her. She still goes on about it!
MG: Where does she teach?
BO: Between ‘97 and 2003, my mum was still in research, working on electro-organic synthesis at the time. Chemistry stuff.
By 2003, I was born and so were my two brothers. My dad was the primary caregiver then, and my mum really wanted to be more involved in raising us. So, at that stage, she thought “how can I still use my skills and have more time to bring up my kids?” And that was when she decided to go into teaching. “Then I can at least teach and have some time to educate my children, so that they can make something of themselves.” She started teaching when we lived in Ireland around 2003. When we moved to Wales the following year, she taught at Coleg Ceredigion. It’s a Welsh school. Then she taught at Minster College in Sheerness, then Oakwood Park Grammar School in Maidstone, Kent. Then she went to teach as the Head of Chemistry at the Deira International School in Dubai. This was when I lived in Australia, so recently.
My mum’s one of those that likes chasing the next thing. So, she went to Dubai for two years, just taught out there to see what life was like. And then she came back and started teaching Chemistry at West Malling School, again in Kent.
MG: You talk about being inspired by her. Is there something specific you draw from her accomplishments?
BO: Two things. One, the drive that my mum has. She used to say to me when I was younger “everybody tells themselves that the sky is the limit. But why are you, mentally, placing any limit on how far you can go? Just push yourself, and you’ll see how far you can go.” That’s something I carry to this day. And, yeah, it’s very important to who I am.
She also taught me what Black Excellence means. Everybody has their different notions, of course, but to me Black Excellence is raising yourself up from where you are and being an example for everyone. No matter where you started. My mum, from where she started—how little she had—is looked up at with such admiration. My friends, people that I know, people that she’s taught, they admire her, look up to her, many without knowing the things that she’s been through. And that wasn’t her intention, either. Her intention was just to improve and be able to ultimately provide for her children. But through doing that, she’s now an example for other people without them needing to know the circumstances. Get yourself to that place and be the image for others. Those would be main inspirations I take from my mum.
MG: Be the image.
BO: Be the image. Yeah, everybody’s capable of so much more than what we give ourselves credit for.
MG: Is there anything you’d like to add?
BO: I think it’s great that Black Excellence Day is celebrated here in Canada along with Black History Month. It’s different than back home. That’s one thing that I got switched up because back home we have October, which is Black History Month. But it’s amazing how you guys honour Black Excellence as well. You’re not just celebrating Black history; you’re celebrating what it means daily. And that, in itself, I feel is more effective than just Black History Month. It’s ongoing.
MG: Thanks for your time, Baba.
BO: Thanks for having me.Leave a reply →