With more inspirational stories of humans helping others every day, compassion has been growing in the hearts of many. The shift from thinking of oneself to one of camaraderie has reminded immigrants of their own countries; teeming with community and exchange, support and intention. Feyisola Akintola was ten years old when she left Nigeria’s embrace for the United States through the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the green card lottery. The story of leaving behind a comfortable life for uncertainty has filled many immigrant’s pages, but to arrive here and make it your work to ease the worries and show the wonders of a new home to other immigrants is a noble pursuit and one that Feyisola pursued.
As the Special Initiatives Manager for the Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative, Feyisola Akintola works to build bridges across cultures and all migrants. “We’re doing something that matters. We’re sharing content and resources to people and you’re seeing this being helpful.” With Pittsburgh’s growing immigrant Hispanic population, Feyisola and her team are providing resources for housing and economic development, building up immigrant-run businesses in the surrounding area.
Feyisola has been around small businesses her whole life. Her father owned a metals and machines shop as a mechanical engineer, as well as starting a side hustle of owning a bakery; “He started to make bread that he named after us, me and my brother. So it was like my dad calls my brother ‘poppy,’ so there was a ‘poppy special bread,’ and he calls me ‘queen’ so there’s ‘queen special bread.’” After making a name for themselves in their community, they chose to leave. She realizes the weight that leaving behind businesses and a community took on her parents, “My parents sacrificed a lot. It wasn’t that things are perfect in Nigeria, but being in America made them more vulnerable than before, especially if you own your own business […] You have to build a whole new community. And even the expertise that you do have, maybe you don’t find the right fit in this particular country that you’re in now. So you really have to start from scratch.”
A light and comfort that Feyisola keeps near, especially during this pandemic, is her faith. It has anchored her throughout her life and provides a community for her family wherever they go. But like anything in life, it’s a choice, as she doesn’t “believe faith is something that is genetics.” Growing up in a Christian home, Feyisola observes, “doesn’t automatically make me a Christian. I had to make that choice on my own.” Having a childhood filled with requests always answered by “We can’t afford that, we can’t afford that…” and getting teased by peers for clothing choices has both frustrated and humbled Feyisola. Choosing to focus on her education, she was also able to rely on her faith for any other difficult moments knowing there’s relief on the other side of that fear, a light at the end of that tunnel, and a way to allow those moments to strengthen you; “As you grow, you realize you’ve been through difficulties before and it’s part of life and you will get through it. [Those moments] give you compassion for other people.”
It seems with great difficulty grows beauty and life. With roughly 47 million immigrants in the United States, there are many adversities to share. And yet immigrants are also “what gives this country flavor. I feel like if there weren’t immigrants in America, America would be tasteless because we’re bringing our different cultures, our different music, our different foods, our brilliance, our ideas together.”