Today the USA and the world celebrates Martin Luther King Junior (MLK) day. MLK was a man who used his talents, skills and energy, in a selfless way, to achieve equal rights for all. He believed and mobilized thousands to fight against racial injustice and discrimination through marches, boycotts, speeches and many other mediums. As the USA and the world pays respect to MLK’s service, we at LadybrilleNigeria.com pay respect and celebrate Chinyere (God gave) Dike, our January 2010 Personality of the Month. Chinyere Dike (Chichi) is an individual whose life exemplifies a lot of the virtues MLK called on us to have and also exemplified through his work. Whether using the medium of fashion or other mediums, Chichi can be found fighting for equality for African women, particularly Nigerian women, feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless and inspiring and mobilizing others to do the same.
The very driven, humble, fun-loving, straight shooter and compassionate Chichi was born in Washington, DC at the historical Howard University Teaching Hospital. She is one of four children (she has three siblings-a brother and two sisters). Although born in the USA, she was raised in Nigeria where she attended Aba-Owerri Road Primary School in Aba, and Federal Government Girls College, Gboko in Benue State. She later returned to the United States and in 2001, graduated with a degree in Accounting from Howard University. A year later, she obtained her MBA from Strayer University and by 2007 she obtained yet another degree, an MPH from Strayer in Non-Profit Management.
She is the founder of Miss Nigeria in America (MNIA) Beauty Pageant, a pageant that highlights the beauty of Nigeria and its citizens in the USA with grace, style, service and advocacy.
We are excited and honored to have this remarkable woman as our LadybrilleNigeria Personality of the Month! In our interview Chichi discusses her passion for helping the poor, equality for African &/Nigerian women, MNIA and hope for a better Nigeria.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Chichi thank you for the interview! Let me start with the fact that I noticed you obtained a graduate degree in Non-profit management. That is arguably unconventional, especially as a Nigerian. Why did you decide to do so?
Chichi: I used to work in Nairobi,Kenya with the East and Central Africa Trade Hub [ECA Trade Hub]. The ECA Kenya Trade HUB was a branch of the African Global Competitiveness Initiative $200 million), a five year Presidential initiative aimed at promoting the export competitiveness of enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa, (SSA), in order to expand African trade with the United States. Part of my job was to help strengthen trade relations among these East African countries and to help the rural women in the some of the remote villages to become self-sufficient.
To better my chances of being among the decision makers, I had to arm myself with the tools to be successful in my role. Most of the US Government projects in Africa are spearheaded by Americans who have lived in the continent for many decades. While Africans are grateful for the help and guidance we receive from ally countries, we have to start taking care of our own continent. Thus to successfully compete with my foreign colleagues for leadership roles in the ECA Trade Hub initiatives, I felt furthering my education was required to ensure I stood out from the rest.
As a black woman in the US, you have to be twice as good as your competition. So settling for a college degree was not enough. I decided that if I was going to take on any cause for women in Kenya and Nigeria, then I would get the necessary education. Today I am proud to say that I have an MBA and an MPA in Non Profit Management.
Miss Nigeria in America Pageant (MNIA)
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Very impressive. How did you get into pagents? Why MNIA?
Chichi: MNIA is my heart and my soul. As you know it means the Miss Nigeria in America. My belief is that without women, the world cannot thrive or even exist. MNIA was founded as a result of the dying state of education in Nigeria as it concerns women and young girls. I strongly believe that every Nigerian woman should have access to pursuing some form of formal education in her lifetime. Education does not necessarily mean going to school and doing assignments. Possessing an education arms a woman with the facts of life, the reality of situations and the willingness to open up and embrace change.
MNIA was an idea to celebrate Nigerian women and the opportunity to impact the lives of many. It is a thought process to teach and instill among all Nigerians, the value of unity across our many ethnicities.
The Miss Nigeria in America Beauty Pageant identifies Nigerian women in the US who exemplify beauty, talent, supremacy and intelligence. It aims to create new role models who through the beauty pageant will serve as ambassadors that will define a new Nigeria, enrich the beauty of the Nigerian Woman and enhance a new strength, energy and spirit for the advancement of women while positively impacting their communities.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Very noble mission. What exactly does the winner of Miss Nigeria in America do?
Chichi: She serves as an ambassador for Nigerian women in the United States of America. After the pageant, the winner of the Miss Nigeria in America works with a management company in charge of booking her for different events. It is good to note that we do not necessarily promote her as a model. Our primary focus is for her to be a voice and advocate for women’s rights in Nigeria and abroad. This is accomplished through her MNIA awareness campaign for social justice and women’s empowerment. We also try to assist her with any programs that she wants to implement that will effect positive change in the lives of women around the world.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Walks us through the preparation for MNIA. What goes into getting contestants ready for competition?
Chichi: The first step is the application process which asks the general questions. One of the criteria for competing is that you must be in a 2year or 4year college or have already graduated. After we get all applications, they go through a review process to determine who will go to the final stage to compete.
The girls are interviewed and the finalists are notified. The final contestants are then awarded a random state in Nigeria. The girls cannot represent their state of origin and they cannot represent their tribal states. The competition starts 8 weeks before the pageant, where they have to go through various tasks and projects to prepare them. Then they are given assignments, to quiz them on facts about Nigeria, women issues, social issues and on how they can help to improve humanity at large. The girls must also find volunteer programs to enroll in to help the less privileged.
I try to communicate as much as possible with all the girls to encourage them. I am still in touch with most of them because they inspire me and keep me grounded.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: MNIA I found to be quite intriguing because you could have a contestant whose origin is Yoruba compete for Ms. Cross River. Why is that?
Chichi: It is our intent to foster unity among Nigerians. The idea is for Nigerians to learn about other cultures and states in Nigeria thus demolishing any impressions they may have. The resulting effect is being able to empathize with, understand and nurture each other. By learning to respect their cultural differences, they are less inclined to see someone as an ‘Ibo’ man, or ‘Yoruba’ woman but instead as just a Nigerian, their fellow country person.
So a Yoruba girl, assigned to represent Cross River State, will leave the pageant knowing more about the beautiful state, its natural resources, the governors and the commissioners as well as the number of cities and tourist attractions that the city has. She’ll be able to define Nigeria as her country and not just by the knowledge of her tribe.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Your ability to integrate and ask Nigerians to work together in harmony leads me to another question. You are (quite) outspoken about your views whether on political or social topics. Have you had any instances where you suffer repercussions as a result of your very tell it like it is style?
Chichi: I don’t recall any repercussions. But one saying my mother drummed into me was “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” In other words, if you truly believe in something then say it and believe it. I have also hoped that being outspoken will teach other women not to hide behind their fears but to come out and speak openly on some issues that must be addressed. There is no reason why we cannot vie for Presidency in Nigeria. There is absolutely no reason why the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America cannot be a woman.
There is no reason why any strong Nigerian woman cannot be a voice of reason to bring Nigeria back as the Giant of Africa. Our culture is so strong and so deep rooted that many believe it’s a “man’s world” in Nigeria. Unfortunately we are in the 21st century and a lot of things have changed. Women have a voice now and I think we should use it.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: MNIA is not the only thing you do. You are involved in a lot of charity projects share some of them with us?
Chichi: I work with People Assisting the Homeless [PATH], a homeless shelter in Los Angeles and with N Street Village in Washington DC. In the past, I have worked with Texas Children’s Hospital as well as with the American Diabetes Association.
This year, I plan on working with Face Africa [Saran Kaba-Jones] on their water project in Liberia, and UNIHIV [Oluwayimika Angel Adelaja – 1st Runner up for the 2009 MNIA Pageant] on creating awareness for HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles and among Nigerians in Diaspora.
But my most current project that is dear to my heart is working with Claret Onukogu [Miss Nigeria in America 2009] on the MNIA Project Women’s Education to raise money to pay for the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board [JAMB] Exam and the West African Examination Council [WAEC] for the girls of Egwuanna Girls Secondary School in Abia State, Nigeria
I had a chance to visit the school this December in Nigeria and saw firsthand the poor state of education in Nigeria. MNIA will adopt the 18 girls who are in their final year of high school to ensure that they take the necessary exams and to help at least one girl to fulfill her dream of attending University in Nigeria.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I am sure the 18 girls are thrilled. What a life changing experience that will be for them. Tell us, what about your background makes you care that deeply about the homeless, for example or other disadvantaged citizens of our society and community?
Chichi: I was very privileged to grow up with both my parents and in a stable household. My dad is a Pharmacist, my mom was a school principal, my older sister is a Pharmacist, my younger sister is an entrepreneur in Abuja and my younger brother is a Chemical Engineer. So I feel blessed. However, there are others who are not privileged as I am and my heart goes out to them.
While I was growing up still trying to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be, there were others who just wanted to make sure they had a place to live and food to eat. I went to school in the north and saw poverty first hand. I paid attention to my surroundings and deep down in my heart I promised that once I got myself together, I would dedicate my life to helping the less privileged.
I have to tell you, when you are empathetic towards others and you put the needs of others before you, you feel a certain kind of peace and stability. I was raised in a home, and I am creating a home for my new family. Building a home is very important to me and if I can help others to create a home to be able to have peace and achieve their dreams then I will dedicate my life doing that.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Educate us a bit more on the pageant industry in Nigeria where do you see it going?
Chichi: I would first like to thank Silverbird and Ben Murray Bruce whom I adore and would be honored to meet someday. I have admired him since I was 9 years old because he put Nigeria on the map as one of the countries with the most beautiful and intelligent women. Watching the Most Beautiful Girl In Nigeria (MBGN) gave me a good perspective of pageants and competitions.
But unfortunately, a lot of people have the mindset that pageantry is just about beauty and women parading around. It is more than that. To compete in anything in life, takes guts and courage. The Miss Nigeria in America Beauty Pageant has produced a lot of women leaders who have gone on to become the ambassadors. Leslie Oluchi Ibeanusi – Miss Nigeria in America 2005 owns a non-profit called Making Noise, Inc. through which she brings to light the struggles of Africa and raises funds to some of the causes. Ronke Oke – Miss Nigeria in America 2008 owns DISCOVER, a non-profit that Develops Institutions, Students, and Communities by Offering Various Educational Resources. She supports Dress for Success in Memphis Tennessee and continues to raise money to help the mission of the non-profit. Till date, we have worked with over 100 delegates all of whom have graduated from college, in a Masters program and have started some form of non-profit to help the less fortunate.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Our image as Nigerians continues to be tarnished and of course the recent incident on Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab has earned us a spot on the US Terrorist Watch list. What are your thoughts on that?
Chichi:I was in Nigeria when I heard the news of the failed terrorist attack. I was not surprised that we ended up on the terrorist list. I asked my friends, “What would you do if you were the United States of America? As it stands, Nigeria has no leadership. No one can tell us where the President is. If we had good leadership, then the President of Nigeria should be in Washington DC with President Barack Obama to help fight this situation. I have been following the news and I still have not seen the response from our President.
One thing some Nigerians fail to understand is that the actions of one person can tarnish the image of the whole country. And failure to stand up and fight at the right time to rectify a situation only makes it worse. If we are on the terrorist list, then the leadership in Nigeria should be active and honest to his citizens. We can all fight this together but not on a hospital bed and definitely not through the lies and deception of those who are controlling the situation.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: What do you feel given recent socio-political events affecting Nigeria becomes the role of MNIA?
Chichi: MNIA will continue to promote awareness for the globalization of the Nigerian woman. Our mission will shift to encouraging women to take on more leadership roles to help shape Nigeria as the Giant of Africa. As we continue to live in the 21st century, it is my hope and dream that you will start to see more women in the Nigerian government to help structure programs that will help benefit a higher percentage of women in Nigeria. We hope to create more individuals like Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who continues to be a strong force for Nigerian women in Diaspora.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Any final thoughts you want to share with us?
Chichi:I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on who MNIA is and what we hope to accomplish in the near future. I must say, I am honored to be featured and I draw a lot of my strength from strong women like you.
One thing I want to encourage women is that you can be a wife, a mother, and the CEO of a huge conglomerate at the same time. God created us to be nurturers and builders and we have to apply ourselves in society. We can be a voice of reason. Don’t let society make you believe that you can’t do it all. You just have to organize yourself and put your priorities in place. I am married to my best friend and business partner and we have mutual respect for each other both in our personal lives and in our business. Whatever you want to achieve as a woman is possible if you set your mind on it. Don’t settle and believe in yourself. They say, behind every successful man is a woman. We have the power to make change in the world. Let’s use our voice to make that change.
You are doing a fabulous job of showing the world that the true beauty of a strong educated Nigerian woman is not just beauty but brains, compassion, ambition and drive. Thank you.
LADYBRILLENigeria: Thank you Chichi. You are truly an inspiration.
~Interview by Uduak Oduok
~Courtesy Photo Chichi Dike