From Nigeria to Manual Arts: One Student’s Journey

From Nigeria to Manual Arts: One Student’s Journey

Joseph is a senior at Manual Arts High School in South LA. He is one of 1500 students navigating academics, social life, and extracurriculars every day.

But his story is a little different. He was born in Nigeria and moved with his twin brother to the U.S. to live with his father just over two years ago. Since coming to Manual Arts, Joseph has taken advantage of every opportunity he could find. But it hasn’t always been easy.

What are you doing right now?

Reading Macbeth. I’m not the best at writing, but I write songs. I’ve been writing songs for a while. Reading works like Macbeth, Frankenstein, and others exposes me to different dimensions, and helps me learn to be a great storyteller in my songwriting.

My uncle used to live with us in Nigeria, and ever since I was young, he played music so loud that I couldn’t escape it. It instilled music in me. I found myself mumbling lyrics. As I grew older, I realized I could write my own songs.

Music really helped me in school. In Nigeria, when I learned my multiplication tables, I couldn’t remember them. So I turned the multiplication table into a song. Music is a way for me to remember everything I’ve been taught. If I’m studying something that I don’t get, I put it into music. It helps me.

When did you move to the U.S. from Nigeria?

In 2016. My dad has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. He goes back and forth between the U.S. and Nigeria. My dad met my mom in the early 2000s, that’s how me and my brother came about. But my parents weren’t married, so my dad couldn’t bring my mom to the U.S.. But my dad brought my twin brother and me.

It must have been so hard to leave your mom behind.

My mom persuaded me to come. She told me that I could be the best I could be here. The system in Nigeria – no matter how hard you study or what you fight for – the first-class graduates still become taxi drivers. She encouraged me to come over and take advantage of the opportunities here. I took her advice and have been working hard ever since.

What was it like to come to the U.S. at 14 years old?

I didn’t know what to expect. Making friends with people was hard for me. And then when I started school, something happened that really killed my motivation and confidence. A teacher asked a question, and no one knew the answer. I answered. Kids heard my accent and started making fun of me. That was really hard on me. I turned inward. I didn’t want to do anything. Soccer became a coping mechanism for me. I didn’t want to be a part of anything. I just wanted to study and play soccer and come home.

Then I was introduced to College Match*, and everything started changing for the better. I met other kids who wanted to be better, who wanted to be a vital force for their communities, like I did. And I met Robin [Kurtzman, LA Promise Fund board member and school-site volunteer]. The words and advice I got from her really helped me.

I am trying the best I can to make the best out of myself, to help my mom, to be a medium to help out the people who didn’t have this opportunity. If I didn’t have College Match, I don’t think I’d be able to apply to Wesleyan. My dad doesn’t know anything about college applications. I’d probably end up in a community college or something.

What is it like to be a student at Manual Arts now?

I started my own club – photography club. We have 20-plus people come to the club. I’m the VP of the drama club; I do robotics, the yearbook club. It has just been amazing – to put myself out there, do all these extracurriculars, and still do well at school. I’m one of the top 4 students [academically] at my school.

What comes next for you?

After I graduate from Manual Arts, I hope to go to Wesleyan. I want to go to a liberal arts college and be a medical doctor. I’ve always loved science. I want to be on the premed track, but minor in music, photography, theater, and film. I love creating stuff. After Wesleyan, I hope to apply to medical school, and have very good skills in music, photography, theater, and film– maybe start up something– my own mini business in one of these fields during medical school.

My dream is– at the end of the road, if everything has been well, if I’ve been successful– I hope to bring my mom here. I hope to visit her during the college years. Hopefully when I’m done with school, and I’m getting paid here, bring her here, give her the best life she could ever ask for, the life that she deserves.

Update! Joseph was accepted to Wesleyan College on February 13, 2019. This summer, he will be moving across the country to pursue his academic dreams.

* Our Go for College program supports and promotes the visibility of powerful college access opportunities like College Match on our school campuses, recognizing that these programs can make the difference between whether or not a student pursues higher education.