Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Alumnae Seminar – Thirty-Eight Years Strong

Thirty-Eight Years of Alumnae Seminars

Several times over the last twenty-four years, since living in Westport, I’ve attended the annual Alumnae Seminar put on by the Seven Sisters Alumnae in Fairfield County. It is always from 9:30 to 12:30, includes presentations by three or four experts, often from the Seven Sisters, and concludes with a lunch.

Speakers at 38th Annual Alumnae Seminar

Speakers at 38th Annual Alumnae Seminar

Mount Holyoke College, my alma mater, is one of the seven sisters. The seven were all colleges for women; today four are still single-sex. A committee of sixteen volunteers plan and put on the event.

They choose the theme, invite the speakers, prepare the publicity, and make all the arrangements.

This year’s theme – Reclaiming our Democracy – drew a crowd of people interested in our political process and government. The audience, as usual, was mostly women in our fifties to seventies. A few husbands always come along.

Melissa Kane, Democrat and a Mount Holyoke alum, is running for First Selectman of our town of Westport. Toni Boucher is a Republican and has been a member of the state legislature for years and is now a state senator.

Part of audience at today's Alumnae Seminar on Reclaiming Our Democracy

Part of audience at today’s Alumnae Seminar on Reclaiming Our Democracy

Douglas Amy is Professor of Politics at Mount Holyoke. The other expert was Erik Fogg, CEO of ReConsider Media, author of books on politics, and consultant in a variety of capacities in politics.

Melissa and Toni spoke about their own political lives. They also suggested ideas for reinventing their parties. Doug Amy talked about “Ways to Strengthen Our Democracy,” and Erik’s remarks were on “The Causes of the Current Crisis.”

All the speakers, and I believe all in the audience, agreed that our political situation today is in a state of crisis. But it is not sudden. Today’s situation, Erik Fogg said, is the result of twenty-five years of growing divisiveness.

Fogg’s and Amy’s comments about today’s political situation were fascinating. We are the oldest continuing democracy, but our constitution was written more than 200 years ago. More recent constitutions do not allow for some of the forms of unfair representation that we have enshrined in our founding document.

One example is the violation of one person, one vote, in how the electoral college works. It gives more power to small states.

But to change the constitution to do away with the electoral college, as many agree would be right, is nearly impossible.

Today I learned about a movement called National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

It is far from achieving success, but it is on the right path, it seems to me. The states that have joined agree that they would give their electoral votes in a presidential election to whichever candidate wins the popular vote.

My favorite moment was when Erik Fogg dug into his briefcase to bring out his copy of the constitution. He wanted to answer a question about the legality of interstate agreements related to the National Popular Vote Compact. He knew it was the 4th Amendment, but couldn’t recall the text! He found it and read it to us!

As always I saw Mount Holyoke alums I’ve known for a long time, including one classmate.

Stories of White Supremacy and the Unitarian Church

At The Unitarian Church in Westport on Sunday morning we listened to, and talked about, stories of white supremacy. I will write about this next time – I’m waiting to get a copy of the comments from speakers!

Harvest is Over and the Yam Barn Is Full

Happiness is a full yam barn!

Happiness is a full yam barn!

I loved the picture that a friend from Clem’s village posted on Facebook.

He was happy to have a full yam barn at the end of the harvest season.

We see yam barns when we go to the village. They are not enclosed as you might expect from the word barn. They are structures of bamboo poles. The yams are stacked and tied on.

Nollywood – The Nigerian Film Industry

PBS Newshour usually mentions one or two stories that do not air during the broadcast but are on their website. Today Judy Woodruff told us that there was a feature on the Nigerian film industry called Nollywood. Of course I had to look at it and share it with you.

Emily Witt's book on Nollywood

Emily Witt’s book on Nollywood

Elizabeth Flock who wrote the story is a reporter and producer for the NewsHour.

She interviews Emily Witt who has just written a book about the industry. Flock says, “In her new book “Nollywood: The Making of a Film Empire,” journalist Emily Witt argues that Nollywood is positioned to become a global brand much like the films of Bollywood or kung fu movies.”

That would be great! I admit to not yet watching the films, but after seeing one trailer and part of one nearly hour-long episode in the article, I’m ready to indulge.

Witt says, “there’s something unique about Nigeria in the sense that it has a really strong sense of cultural pride. Nigerians just like Nigerian stuff better than from other places. It’s true for the fashion, the music, the language, as compared to other countries in Africa.” I like that.

The article says that Nollywood is producing 1500 movies a year. That’s amazing. Have you seen any?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. I was interested in the yam barn photo as the yams are much longer than the yams we see here in the supermarket!

    • You are right, Elizabeth. They are completely different. The yams we have here are similar to sweet potatoes. The Nigerian yam is much larger. They can even be two feet long! They are white inside, not red or orange. The peel is inedible.

      My favorite way to eat yam is to have it pounded into a consistency a thicker than mashed potatoes and eaten with a palm-oil based stew with meat, fish, or chicken, vegetables, and lots of flavor.