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Apple Valley seniors travel world through stories

Diversity Series gives cultural insight at Apple Valley Senior Center

(From left) Isaiah Oladapo Sokeye, Mary Adewuyi, Afolasade Olufunke Sokeye and Adetunji Kolawole Adewuyi show off their traditional clothing after hosting a presentation on Nigeria at the Apple Valley Senior Center on Thursday, Sept. 22. A section of the presentation outlined the differences between distinctive styles worn in each region of Nigeria. Photo by Amy Mihelich

Nearly 50 people gathered into a lecture-style room at the Apple Valley Senior Center on Thursday, Sept. 21, to learn more about the culture and traditions of their fellow community members through a presentation on Nigeria.

Mary Adewuyi, Afolasade Olufunke Sokeye and her husband, Isaiah Oladapo Sokeye, are three Nigerian members of the Apple Valley Senior Center. Among the many activities in which they participate, all three are active members of Velvet Tones — a nonprofit community choral group of senior adults, 55 or older, who practice at the Senior Center.

Their presentation, part of the Senior Center’s Diversity Series, gave them the opportunity to share a bit of their culture and history with their peers.

Adetunji Kolawole Adewuyi, Mary Adewuyi’s son, gave most of the presentation, but his mother and her friends sat in the front row where they could chime in when needed.

He began by introducing himself and explaining that he brought his family from Nigeria to the United States to be closer to his mother. Nigeria is the 14th largest country in Africa but, with 186 million people, it is the most populous. Adewuyi explained that because the population is so dense, Nigerians have moved all over the world.

“Sometimes we say: ‘Where you don’t have Nigerians, it is not habitable,’ ” he said.

Adewuyi talked about the history, geography, languages and politics of Nigeria. He outlined the three branches and two tiers of government. He discussed the distinctions between the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba people, and he summarized stories of presidents, national heroes and freedom fighters.

Adewuyi also talked about Nigeria’s wealth of natural resources, multitudes of farmers and abundance of artisans.

“When I say we are blessed, we are blessed. And we are some of the happiest people in the world,” he said. “We are always optimistic.”

After about 45 minutes, Adewuyi paused his presentation. Afolasade Olufunke Sokeye came to the front of the room, and the two spent the next quarter of an hour answering questions from the audience. Attendees were particularly interested in learning more about typical Nigerian housing, education, belief systems and family structures.

The presentation resumed, and when it was over attendees had another opportunity to ask more questions, take photos with the presenters and move out into the main hall to enjoy cookies and fellowship.

Afolasade Olufunke Sokeye stands to answer a few questions half-way through Adetunji Kolawole Adewuyi’s presentation on Nigeria. Together, they fielded questions about Nigeria’s regional differences, education system, typical housing, religion and languages. Photo by Amy Mihelich

Gary Anderson, the organizer of the event, said it is a small step toward bringing the community closer together.

Anderson said he got the idea for the presentations one day at a Velvet Tones rehearsal. As practice wrapped up for the day, Anderson heard several of his fellow choir members speaking to each other in a language he couldn’t understand. When he approached his friends and asked how they could all understand each other, he learned they are from Nigeria.

Anderson said he had noticed separation between minority group members and white members too often at the senior center. He decided to organize a community education program that would celebrate cultural differences and provide community members an opportunity to learn about each other.

He worked with the Education and Service Committee to put together a series of cultural presentations. The series is rooted in the belief that “people from many countries and cultures have enriched American life and contributed to America’s rich diversity.” Their purpose is to give people a space to “explore the ideas and experiences of friends who were reared outside of the United States.”

The first presentation took place in August. Anderson hopes the presentations will help members gain a greater understanding of their friends’ backgrounds. Through greater cultural understanding, he hopes the Apple Valley senior center can become a more welcoming and inclusive place for people of all backgrounds.

Each presentation is about an hour long and focuses on one specific country. The presenter has the opportunity to decide what they want to share about their culture with the senior center community. Through pictures, stories, maps, hand-made crafts, traditional clothing and more, the presenter gives attendees a unique entry point into his or her culture and traditions of his or her country.

A question-and -answer session follows each presentation. Attendees have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions about the presentation or ask about topics the presenter did not cover.

The Nigeria presentation was the second in the Senior Center’s Diversity Series. Three presentations remain.

Thursday, Oct. 19, Vivian Tam will give a presentation on Hong Kong. Thursday, Nov. 16, Jagruti Patel will present on England. Monday, Dec. 11, Namita Lahiri talk about India. All presentations take place at 10 a.m. at the Apple Valley Senior Center, located at 14601 Hayes Road.

For more information, call the Senior Center at 952-953-2345.

Contact Amy Mihelich at [email protected].

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