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Coming to America 2.0: A parallel journey with Prince Akeem

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Ever watched the hilarious 1988 film starring Eddie Murphy as an African Prince who leaves his kingdom and planned arranged marriage behind to find true love in Queens, NY? If you haven't, I’d recommend watching after reading this. The movie Coming To America does a great job of exaggerating the lifestyle of two African immigrants (Akeem and Semmi), and their experiences in this new land. It’s certainly quite entertaining and might have you in tears of laughter at the often exaggerated cultural differences and experiences of the royal foreigners. I watched this movie for the first time in Nigeria as a kid. It was a favorite as it gave my friends and me insight as to how Americans perceived us (Africans). It never dawned on me the impact this film would have on me until years after my move from Nigeria to Southern California. Moving wasn’t the intended plan, it was supposed to be a trip that lasted a few months, but instead turned into 14+ years of residence. However, reflecting on the years has brought some insight into my life. As you’d imagine, the past 14 years have been filled with some crazy stories, like how I ended up at a club full of Mexican cartels, and the same weekend a skinhead initiation, all thanks to my oblivion. Or the several conversations with people who assumed I had never worn clothes before stepping foot in America and grew up in huts with lions…yet somehow my English was superior, I knew how to use a computer better than most, and type just as fast; I’ll share those periodically. There have been some cultural differences, very much similar to the infamous “Good morning my neighbors!” scene in Coming to America. And funny enough, my barbershop is where I learned the most about black culture in America. (Thanks DJ & Junie) Growing up as the son of an internationally respected Doctor, my life in Nigeria never lacked anything I ever wanted. Houses, cars, maids, personal drivers and the best schools were all a part of my reality. Our neighbors and circle of friends were diplomats, ministers, governors, ambassadors, even the Presidential villa. With that said, my life in America has been a far cry from the “royal” lifestyle I was accustomed to. After moving to the States, our family of seven lived in a two bedroom condo. Despite living in a great school district, I quickly realized my education was subpar in comparison to the schooling I received back home in Jos, Nigeria. These experiences were shared with my sisters whom, every month since our move, would win various awards such as “Student of the Month” or “Reader of the Week”…it was almost a joke. Honor roll certificates were scattered throughout the house. So much for the poverty-stricken, uneducated African kids they had used kindergarten-level entry exams on before admitting into their schools. Watching Coming to America now, I certainly find many scenes that parallel my reality as an African immigrant. There are several interchangeable moments and metaphors within the movie which I have experienced and understand all too well. It dawned on me after living amongst other people of my color, the parallels in my life and that of Akeem's aren't merely material, but more mental. I’ve come to realize that an absence of the mental slavery black America has experienced is really the defining factor. Despite buying American fashion and getting rid of my "princely robes," I just never seemed to fit in. By chopping off my royal ponytail (adapting), and living as a black American, I’ve had several scenes comparable to Akeem fighting the robber (White and corporate America). And by doing so, my understanding of what America is has changed. Being constantly aware of my 'otherness,' and living humbly below a lifestyle I was used to has truly helped me discover more of who I am. But most importantly, it led me straight to the thing which I so desperately was in search of (no, not a wife), but my purpose! My purpose in this country was never to work hard enough to eventually own my own McDowell's. My dreams were always bigger, and my responsibilities far greater than any corporate job in America could offer me; contributing to the future of my country, Nigeria and that of black America as well. No, I’m not the heir to the throne of a country. However, I am heir to the responsibilities of a father perceived as king to many, and grandson to two great examples; one a local Mai (King) from the Sayfawa Dynasty, and the other late High Commissioner to Nigeria. I don't expect to take on such titles at the moment, but my obligation to serve the people of my country has always been a weight on my shoulder that I’ve instinctively known through watching my Father and growing up around the country's leaders. Much like Semmi, there are many “Princes & Princesses” of Zamunda out there. So if you, like myself, can relate to Akeem, searching so deeply for something; your purpose is here. The material things and careers most people value don't phase you (been there, done that), here are five symptoms to help in your journey.                                                                       
  1. You often feel a bigger sense of purpose beyond what you’re currently doing. You know there's a lot more than meets the eye and you're right, so keep on searching and following that internal voice.
  1. You're a fish out of water. It's clear you don't fit in, not just physically or culturally but mentally. You have to come to terms with it and accept that you are intellectually different. Embrace it and cherish it, because you are unique in many ways.                
  1. You are misunderstood. You're considered weird, maybe not in a "stay away" kind of way, but intriguingly weird. Don't close yourself off — people want to understand something they've never been around. It can get annoying being misinterpreted and answering the same questions, but take it as an opportunity to educate.  
  1. Like Akeem throws all of his money into the offering plate at church, you see what you want and go all in! This isn't a bad thing, however, don't put all your money into the offering basket. You'll figure out what it is you really want, it just takes some trial and error.                                                                                                                                                                                 
  2. You're very confident. Similar to the scene where Akeem jumps in front of the taxi commanding it to stop, we’re often perceived as cocky. You exude an unapologetic confidence, and it's the same trait that's allowed you to try new things passionately and find success in the things you set your mind to. You're taking the path less traveled, yet more rewarding.
It can be hard finding your purpose in life, similar to Akeem's search for a wife, but we're so driven to find it and that itch won't stop until it's discovered. We’re educated, intellectual, and have visions so grandiose or futuristic that make us appear strange…different, but they can’t quite figure us out. If you have a similar story and this is the sign you’ve been looking for; you’re not alone! The rose petals have fallen, King Jaffe has arrived and it’s time to be your true self. You can’t run away from your destiny; you weren’t meant to live in Queens forever.
I’m Shalom Bako, Raised in Nigeria, Living in Los Angeles. I’m an LA Galaxy Alumni, Founder @dreamsnambition, passionate about Business, Marketing, and Afri-Tech. If you enjoyed this article, please share! And feel free to contact me to speak at your event or podcast. Thank you for reading! E: sbako@subsaharansolutions.com Insta: @shalomiethehomie Twitter: @shalomiedahomie SC: @shalomiedahomie

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