Ebony black Ayoyemi Ajimatanrareje is the current Miss Nigeria, Florida , USA. She left the shores of this country at age 11 to further her studies in the United States of America. Ayoyemi attended Pampers Private School, Alaka Estate , Surulere and spent a year at May Day College, Bode Thomas, also in Surulere before she left the country. The 22-year-old was crowned Miss Nigeria Florida in 2012. Lately, Ayoyemi spoke with pace tv in Lagos about her tenure which she described as wonderful and quite rewarding even though she wasn’t lavishly showered with gifts, because the pageant is still in its budding stage.
Could you tell us about your experience in the US?
I left Nigeria at the age of 11 and when I first got to America it was kind of challenging because I didn’t have any friend. Being a Nigerian, I was raised up with lots of friends and family around me and I didn’t have that in America initially and so my grades in school dropped. I wasn’t doing so well. Other kids used to tease me , because I’m African, it doesn’t matter what part of Africa you come from, you are African and they teased you about that.
Eventually, I was able to adapt. I started doing very well and I graduated in the top 15 of my high school class. I won a scholarship to study at the prestigious Miami Day College . Initially, I started as a Mass Communication major, because I really admired Honorable Abike Dabiri-Erewa who was my role model and I had always wanted to work for CNN. It’s still there at the back of my mind but I decided eventually to study nursing as I wanted to care for the sick and infirm. By God’s grace I just finished nursing school in November 2013 and I’m studying to become a registered nurse. In the United States, after graduation from college with a major in nursing you also need to be licensed as a registered nurse to work as a nurse.
You said it wasn’t easy for you initially in the US. How did you cope with the teasing and eventually adapted?
It was not easy at all. Everything was new, a new environment, new school, I didn’t even have any friends. My brother and parents were my friends. My grades dropped in school and my dad took some tough measures to improve my performance. I was enrolled in dances classes and I became involved in my church’s youth activities. I also joined the track and field/ cross country sports team in school. This way, I made friends and my peers started accepting me not just as an African but as one of the sharpest girls in class, one of the fastest runners in my set and a talented dancer. So through church and involvement in extra curricular activities and of course a lot of wide reading I adjusted.
What was it like when you were growing up in Lagos?
It was quite an experience. I always walked to school and I was never pampered. I mean I didn’t lack anything but I wasn’t spoilt. I had the necessary things but there were things I wanted that my parents couldn’t afford and they would tell me to be content with all they could provide for me. I was never spoilt or born with a silver spoon. I was okay.
Could you tell us about your journey to winning the Miss Nigeria, Florida Pageant?
I learnt about the pageant in my first year in college and I was encouraged as well as determined . My friend told me about it and she said “I think you will be perfect”. She said so , because I was always dressed to school in Ankara with gele and with trendy shoes to match and she said to me “you will represent Nigeria”. I thought it was a joke, but I decided to go give it a shot. At that time too, I was already missing my identity as a Yoruba. When my parents called and talked to me in Yoruba, I responded in English and my mum would say ‘Se ogbo Yoruba mo ni, da mi l’oun ni Yoruba’, which in English means ‘Don’t you understand Yoruba anymore, reply me in Yoruba’. I contested the pageant and it was a cultural pageant. It was not about beauty or bikini. It was to promote the Nigerian culture. In my preparation, I went online and I asked my grandmother things about Ondo State since we’re from Ondo state. I also asked about the Osemawe of Ondo, the Alaafin of Oyo, Olubadan of Ibadan and the Awujale of Ijebu. I also learnt how to say hello in Hausa language and in Ibo language. I decided to put all together for a cultural presentation that represents Nigeria not just the Yoruba. My cultural presentation was actually titled I am Nigeria. That helped me as well and opened my eyes to what Nigeria is now and not Nigeria that I knew 10 years earlier.
What have you been doing lately?
I visited Nigeria in May 2013 and it was my first trip back home since I left Nigeria and things have changed. It was very interesting and better of course. I took a trip with friends to Enugu to visit Patience Uzorkwu(Mama Gee) and the orphanage. We raised some money before we came last year and we bought tablets and bibles. We presented them to the kids at the church Mama Gee attends. It was a beautiful experience for me because I like it when people smile no matter what they’re going through. My name is Ayoyemi which means ‘I ought to be joyful’ so I’m always smiling. I like people around me to be happy and have a positive attitude. I came back this time because I’m hoping to relocate to Nigeria pretty soon. I’m starting my foundation which I named Joy and Hope Foundation for the less privileged , especially the physically and mentally challenged. I want to get them off the streets, provide wheel chairs for the physically challenged as well as prosthetic limbs which are cheaper in America. We will get the government as well as Nigerians in the Diaspora involved , because it’s for Nigeria. That is my vision for now. Also, I am venturing into the music industry.
I have been the praise team leader in my church back in Miami for about 7 years now. I’m the Music Director of my church, Jesus The Christ Church. On this trip, I was able to go to the studio to begin work on my single. It’s a lot going on for me right now.
Is it gospel music?
No, it’s not gospel but music that make sense. It’s inspirational. It’s not vulgar or base. I’m happy being home. There is no place like home.
Many Nigerian youths want to go to America and you want to come back to Nigeria. Why?
Youths who want to come to America think it’s a greener pasture, but the thing is, if you are not hard working here, you can’t go to America and make it . It doesn’t work like that. It’s harder and tougher out there. You have to struggle to pay your bills, you pay for your car, you pay for your housing and if you own the house you may have to pay mortgage and then the taxes. I feel the money is in Nigeria, we have the resources. People in Nigeria are very intelligent. If you go abroad, Nigerians own businesses and in schools they are top of their classes. Even in Harvard University, you have Nigerian professors. My take is that Nigerians should come back home and use that knowledge to build up our country.
What was your reward for winning the pageant?
Since it’s a fairly new pageant, I didn’t get a car. I got a free trip to come home, which is the best thing ever. I have been in the United States for ten years. I got to meet government officials and shared my dreams with them. When there is an event in Miami or any other state in America I attend as Miss Nigeria, Florida. I speak to the youths and for me that’s big. The opportunity that the pageant has given me is big whether or not I was given a gift it’s ok.
You look simple, no nail polish or make-up. Is that deliberate and why?
I’m very down to earth and laid back. I don’t see myself bigger than anybody else. I really cherish natural beauty and I feel humility is very important.
What did you wear for the contest?
We had evening gown, cultural presentation attire and white tee shirt and jeans. The evening attire had to be African . Whoever won like I did, wherever you go with your sash and your crown, you have to represent Nigeria with what you have on. No English attire is allowed. It’s either ankara or lace or any kind of attire that is Nigerian because you are the cultural ambassador.
Who is your role model?
I have a few role models. My parents are definitely the first. Their teachings on love, life and their values make me want to emulate them. Their unshakeable faith in God as well as their industrious lifestyle make me look up to them. They lead by example. For instance, my father, Rev. (Dr) Yemi Ajimatanrareje has never lied to me a day in his life and he’s always reminding me that if you do what is right you will have no reason to lie. He lives and teaches by example. I would say Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa is my role model too since I was a little girl. Her grace, her poise, her fluent English and the way she carries herself generally inspire me. Those are the qualities I want people to see in me and fall in love with.
Will your foundation be based in Nigeria or the US?
It will be based in Nigeria but registered in both the United States and Nigeria.