I AM Chi Chi

There is a Nigerian Igbo saying:

“ Ka umu-anyi Kalia anyi” – “Let our Children be greater than us.”

We all want our children to achieve greatness. 

I believe that everyone has greatness within them, but they must do the work to birth that unique thing that lies dormant. Growing up, I saw people working, but I didn't know that faith and work, and work and faith, work together. They can't be exclusive. As a Christian, I didn't realize that you had to work on your strengths simultaneously to achieve your goals. I was naïve. I believed that God was just going to bless whatever I did. I didn’t understand that the work, the practice, must also coincide with the dream and plans.

The Power of a Name

You can call me Chi-Chi, or you can call me Chi. I feel like I have so many names. My given name is Chinonyelum, and it means God is with me. In my culture, we still believe in giving our children names that hold meaning. The belief is that the definition of a person's name describes the circumstances of how they were born. My youngest sibling is also a Chi. Her name is Chizobam which means God save me. She was born prematurely.

The love of Storytelling

Storytelling helps me to open up. Growing up, I always felt alone in my thoughts. I thought that I was the only person pondering whatever it was I had in my mind or going through what I was going through. Of course, 99% of the time, I wasn't going through anything different, but we all have stories that we tell ourselves. However, going to school and living on campus and with people I had never met before made me realize that we all deal with similar concerns or issues and often have the same questions. In listening to other people’s stories, I not only learned about others, but I learned to share my own story.

Storytelling is my most prominent tool for learning. I love that it allows me to experience and learn from other people's stories.

My journey

I was born in New York City. My uncle was considered the grandfather of many. He brought my mom and so many others to America. My mother and my father, Bibiana and Leonard, arrived in New York City in November 1979. Being from a small, suburban town in Nigeria, my parents had to acclimate to living in a large metropolitan city with complete diversity. 

When my mother went into labor with me, she was dropped off at the hospital by family members. No one stayed with her—not even my father. As a first-time mother, she did not always understand what the nurses were telling her, and she was left to figure things out on her own.

I lived in New York City from birth until 1992 when we moved back to Nigeria. In Nigeria, I completed grades seven to twelve. Moving to Nigeria was a fantastic experience. We had an opportunity to see family members through a different lens—one of abundance. Being in New York City felt limiting. All I ever saw were people hustling to attain the American Dream. In Nigeria, I saw family members who had big houses and help. It was a huge transition to see family members truly enjoying abundance.

Attending school in Nigeria was also a different experience. Attending Catholic school in New York, we had rules, but the rules were not as intense as the rules in Nigeria. The secondary school in Nigeria expected our hair to be braided. We could not add hair extensions, which was new to me because I had always had extensions whenever I wanted. Some schools wanted girls to have a very low haircut, and some schools were like boarding schools. I remember telling my parents that I’m attending a day school–meaning I am coming home every day after school, and I was not cutting my hair. My hair was my hair, and it was important to me.

Culturally Nigeria is very different. I feel that it taught me how to be "cultured." I learned how to greet family members properly, how to take care of others, how to share, and how to be respectful of my elders. It is not that these values are specific to Nigeria, but living in New York, it was not something that I recall seeing frequently. 

Because of this experience, I feel that respect is one of my most significant personal values. As petite as I am and as laid back as I am, in my mind, I will not be disrespected.

Back to the Big Apple

I returned to New York in 1999. I wanted to return to attend college in New York because colleges in Nigeria went on strike a lot. They did not have the police infrastructure in place that America has. I had heard so many frightening stories about attending college in Nigeria and I told my parents that I wasn't going to go to college there. My father had already moved back to the United States as I prepared for college, so it was easy to come back and live with him. However, my father was strict. I wanted an authentic college experience, so I found a school with the major I wanted that provided on-campus housing.

Words Matter

In having adult conversations with my siblings, I am acutely aware of how words can affect our children. I remember having a conversation with my sister when she told me that when people would tell her that she looked like our father, she thought people were saying that she looked like a man. 

I am very aware of addressing this same situation with my daughter. Even though she has never mentioned it, when people now say to my daughter, "You look like your dad," I try to explain to her that what they mean is not that she looks like a boy, but her features look like her father's features. 

My Ambitious Mother

My mother is the original Ambitious Mother. 

My mother, Bibiana, is a seamstress, and I grew up watching her make wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, and clothing for others—all while taking care of us. Mom graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I always remember my mom showing much determination and will. Yet, at the same time, my mother has a laid-back and nurturing spirit. I remember having mercy on my mother. She was always taking care of our family of eight and so I helped her with the laundry because the laundry cart was always so full. My mother used to say that the cart piled with clothes was taller than I was.

My mother nurtured love, forgiveness, and communication between my siblings and me. She is why my siblings and I have remained close.

While my mother fostered the development of soft skills, such as punctuality and kindness, my father’s focus was on academia. When I graduated from high school, my father asked what degree I would get. Then when I got my first degree, he wanted to know what master’s level course I would be pursuing. Education has always been part of the norm for us and not an exception to the rule. Out of their six children, four of us have master’s degrees, and all of us have a sense of determination and will.

Outside of my birth family, my husband is my biggest supporter. We met in 2001. He is extremely loving, and we are incredibly close. His character is nurturing and adoring. He helps mentor me and encourage me. With every situation that I have gone through or will go through, I know that he will always be there for me with his love, support, and ability to communicate.

The work of my hands

In 2018, I was tired of hearing my son say, “I can’t." I didn't understand this. I would tell him that you can do anything you put your mind to because God is within you. His mindset propelled me to write my first book, Make That Move: Practice. I want to help children recognize that they can do anything they put their minds to if they merely do the work. My goal is to develop a curriculum to help children identify their strengths and then hone and develop those intentional habits. I want to help children feel confident in who they are while taking the leap of faith to pursue their own goals. 

Like my mother, I do not believe that the world is an island. It takes a village to build community, and when the work of our hands connects with our purpose, anything is possible. 

I believe that you can only birth that which you are. Just be you, show up and do the work.

Overall, I want to help all people bloom. I am currently working on an adult adaptation of Make the Move: Practice and putting the finishing touches on a curriculum geared for children. I want to debunk the myths that keep people stuck in that fearful “I can’t” mentality. Again, I believe that with a strong belief in oneself, identifying your soul print (that thing that makes you uniquely you), what your intuition is guiding you to do, and doing the work that needs to be done, you can face painful obstacles and failures. Putting in the work is that thing that will cause you to thrive.

In my opinion, there seems to be this false sense of identity within our society. Social media has become a dominant influence. We are more concerned with the number of followers we have and the number of likes we have received. We use filters to hide who we are. When children can genuinely believe that they are uniquely made and perfectly orchestrated by God, this anchors them.

Each human being is an onion unfolding pieces of themselves until they die. When you believe in who you are, practice—put the effort into what makes your soul sing, you succeed.

On Success

The biggest problem with people succeeding is when they put timeframes toward accomplishments. Athletes do not become athletes overnight. Babies are not born soon after conception. These events take time. We need to stop putting a time limit on everything we do in our lives. I have stopped putting timelines on things, and I now deal in seasons. I now say let the next season be greater than the last. 

The dictionary definition of success is accomplishing what you set out to do. 

Success for me also means truly living your best life and enjoying the abundance that this world has to offer. Steve Harvey once said that he would open every gift God has for him on this earth. I found that incredibly profound. I want to open all my gifts here on this earth. 

On Motherhood and Ambitious Motherhood

What lessons do I have about motherhood? Initially, I felt like I had to fix things. I wish I had known this lesson earlier. If I had, I don’t believe that I would have been as emotional in my reactions to the kids.

I would tell mothers to listen to wise counsel. Listen to those mothers who have gone before you, for they have been through the cycle of parenting and motherhood. There is wisdom in what they are saying. Give them an ear so that you can seize every moment with your children. 

Time goes by very fast. 

If I had been doing the work of my hands back then, I could have taken more time off to spend with my children when they were younger. Work is not as important as you think. Sure, it pays the bills, but that time with your children is priceless.

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