By Simi Ojurongbe
Babafemi Marcel Ojurongbe, known to friends and family as Marcel, has been working at the company now called Verizon for 18 years. He was there when it was New York Telephone, then Nynex, then Bell Atlantic. He works for Verizon FiOS, the fiber-optics division of the company. Ojurongbe says he has grown tired of the bureaucracy, the hoops he has to jump through to get the supplies and the unrealistic expectations of his managers. He plays the lottery every week, hoping that a win will allow him to retire early. Otherwise, at 56, he will probably be working for a few more years.
What you can’t tell from Ojurongbe’s work history is that he has a degree in economics with a minor in psychology from the University of Ibadan, in Nigeria. When he emigrated to the United States for the second time in 1993, Ojurongbe, like many educated immigrants, found it difficult to find a job in his field. And he had a 7-year-old daughter to support.
At his first job for the phone company, Ojurongbe installed and repaired landline telephones—not how he expected to make a living. His father was an agriculture expert with a degree from Cornell and his Trinidadian-born mother had a degree in horticulture and worked as a wedding and event planner for prominent families in Nigeria.
Marcel’s wife, who is also Nigerian, graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta, and her father, who had degrees from Harvard and Oxford, had built Obafemi Awolowo University (also known as Ife University0. Most of Ojurongbe’s family earned college degrees in the United States or Britain but returned to Nigeria, where they were members of the local elite. However, Ojurongbe’s wife Shade Oluwasanmi yearned to return to the U.S. In 1990, after her parents died, she left for New York City, and Ojurongbe soon followed.
Today, Ojurongbe has two daughters, Olufemi and me, and a son, Babafemi. He insists they all go to school in Nigeria, at some point, so they will stay connected to their roots.