Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Step It Up and Other News

Step It Up

I flew to Miami, Florida this afternoon for the bi-annual board meeting of the USNC UN Women, the United States National Committee for United Nations Women. Our meeting starts Saturday morning and finishes at noon on Sunday.

USNC President Lalita Janke -  USNC UN Women

USNC President Lalita Janke

In our winter newsletter, our president Lalita Janke thanks us for past work and encourages our renewed commitment to our mission of raising funds for UN Women. She says, “Our combined financial support of UN Women’s initiatives allows them to expand programs that teach economic and leadership skills; empowering  lives, giving women their  dignity and training them to reach their full human potential and encouraging governments to pass laws that protect women and girls.”

I was present at the event where UN Women was introduced to the world five years ago. It was formed out of several UN agencies and departments, made into a single entity. The first executive director was Michelle Bachelet, former and current president of Chile.

Today UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka urges countries to step up and sign on with a commitment to take action toward gender equality with “bold steps to accelerate change in the lives of women and girls.”

It’s been 20 years since the Beijing Conference.

I knew a few women who went to that. It was a game changer for action on women’s rights. UN Women notes that there has been progress in these 20 years but we’re still far from equal rights for women in so many areas – equal pay, protection from exploitation in work and life, and seeing women in government.

The Step It Up program of UN Women “asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. NOW is the time to Step It Up!” UN Women says.

The U.S. has made the commitment; Nigeria has not.

The latest country to sign on is Bolivia, bringing the total to 90 countries.

Devalued and Dismissed

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is powerful. I read it a couple of months ago and discussed it with my Mount Holyoke Alumnae book group. This week my other book group, Baker’s Dozen, discussed the book.

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me

I couldn’t attend because I was meeting with a third book group – this one a group that reads books by international authors. They had read Adichie’s Americanah, and had invited me to lead the discussion at Fairfield CT Library.

Kathleen, a member of Baker’s Dozen, also couldn’t attend. She sent her comments. “Black Americans are undermined, devalued, dismissed, ridiculed, disrespected, subjected to hardships and limitations that others are not. Most profoundly, this web of evil is virtually invisible to those who are not its victims! And so the title of the book is appropriate.  The chasm between those who see and understand (because we are presented with these systemic barriers and challenges and assaults constantly) and those who don’t understand (because, for them, the barriers actually don’t exist and the system works as it should) is profound.

“It is easier to devolve into questions of intent ( I am not intending to be racist) or denial ( I don’t experience it so it’s not there ) or critique of the messenger ( he’s too angry when he speaks of it) or denial ( just because things are hard doesn’t give people license for special treatment) or dismissiveness ( at least blacks aren’t killed in this country by the thousands as in other countries). . .
“And in 2016 as we watch wave after wave of killings of black citizens, and as we watch our brave and good President suffer the disparagement and disrespect at a level that has never been matched, we have a lot to think about. Most importantly it’s my prayer that we will renew our efforts to unmask this evil in all its forms and unravel the sinful and evil effects.”
Thank you, Kathleen.

No Sugarcoating From Charles Blow Either

Charles Blow talked about a speech he gave to a group of ‘at-risk’ young black men in an op-ed in The New York Times this week.

Charles Blow, NY Times photo

Charles Blow, NY Times photo

“I didn’t sugarcoat things for these boys,” he said. “I gave them the unvarnished truth, the same way I would for my own boys. For me, it is very important to help children place themselves historically, even when that history is painful, because within that truth they can anchor themselves and from it they can aim themselves.”

I love the phrase, “they can anchor themselves and . . aim themselves.”

For myself, to know what holds me in the world, what history is mine, i.e. what provides my anchor, is necessary to give me a platform from which I can go out, or “aim myself.” I am enthralled by this image! I think it may help me as I search for the theme of my future writing, maybe another book?

But this wasn’t the focus of his op-ed. Rather, it was how important the image of a black president is for these boys. He says, “As I told them: For many young people like you and like my own children, the first president they consciously registered was Barack Obama, a black man.”

That’s a powerful image for black teens and twenty-somethings. And for all of us. Our president doesn’t have to be a white man, and maybe we will even learn that the president doesn’t have to be a man!

Major Anniversary in Nigeria

I was reminded by Max Siollun that this week marks the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s first coup and the death of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

His was one of the first Nigerian names I knew. I learned it in Peace Corps training in 1962. I was married with a small son when he died. That coup was the first step leading to the Biafran War.

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. As always, you offer a thought-provoking read. Thank you.

  2. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the first Nigerian coup, and since I was there that day and wrote about it in my book, Far Away in the Sky, I was interviewed at length two days ago by a Nigerian journalist, Ladi Olorunyomi. The war that followed left a lot of pain on both sides and unresolved issues. Facing the issues has largely been avoided for the last 50 years, but now many people feel that for the sake of healing, a discussion should go forward.

    Concerning another approaching 50th anniversary with unresolved issues, I gave extended personal accounts of the civil rights battle at Ocean Hill-Brownsville in October of 1968 in the book. It’s distressing to hear the same feelings pouring forth today from young black people for whom there has been no fundamental change.