Celebrating Black History Month with Motunrayo Badru

  • Feb 9, 2021

Black History Month honors African Americans’ triumphs and struggles throughout U.S. history, including the Civil Rights Movement and notable artistic, cultural, and political achievements.

One of the ways we are celebrating is by sharing stories from our employees. The first installment in this employee perspectives series is from Motunrayo Badru, an associate architect in our Charlotte office. She talks about what this month of reflection and recognition means to her — and what it can mean for all of us.

Tell us about yourself.

I am Motunrayo Adenike Niyilolaoluwa Badru. I am a daughter of the Owu Kingdom, a sub-ethnic group of the Yorubas from Egba land in Nigeria’s southwestern region. I am an architect specializing in healthcare, with over 15 years of architectural practice.

To know me is to understand the meaning of my names. Motunrayo: I have seen joy again; Adenike: Royalty is worthy of being cherished; Niyilolaloluwa: Herein lies Grace of The Most High. Lovingly and carefully selected by my paternal grandparents, great paternal grandmothers, and maternal grandmother, each name reflects their hope and entreaty at my birth.

In most African cultures, a Name, particularly for Yorubas, is a prayer and promise of a yet to be fulfilled destiny on a child. That is why giving up the Name was one of the most difficult things for a slave to endure; it devastated the human spirit and has the power to change the destined trajectory of a people. 

How did you get into architecture? 

Like my dad, I always wanted to be an Engineer. However, a chance conversation with a family friend challenged me to explore Architecture.

I applied to both programs at the University of Lagos and interestingly got into Architecture but not Engineering. In my first semester, a professor who thought I lacked dedication and was only in the program because of my parents said, “There’s no way you’ll become an architect. You don’t have what it takes.” As I set out to prove him wrong, I became captivated with Architecture.

Interruptions of the Nigerian tertiary school systems for a myriad reason led my family to explore colleges abroad for my siblings and me. Thus, I began my journey as a first-generation American immigrant. A reluctance to acknowledge my credits meant I had to start all over again, giving up three years of education. Despite this, I achieved my B.Arch from the Gerald D. Hines, College of Architecture at the University of Houston. Next, I went on to get my M.Arch from the Taubman College of Architecture at the University of Michigan. 

What does Black History Month mean to you? 

Growing up in Nigeria, I never thought about being black. Like the sun rising from the East or the ebb and flow of the tides, it just was. Being in the U.S., however, it was oddly fascinating to experience how dominant the discourse on color and race. Black History Month has made me realize the great importance of having these conversations.

Often, underrepresented groups are incorrectly portrayed in classrooms, history, and the media, etc. Celebrating Black History Month allows us to focus on an accurate narrative that helps people better understand and celebrate their history. It also eliminates a single-story narrative. For example, people see me as just a black female architect, but I am much more than that.

In Nigeria, despite a racially homogeneous society, each ethnic group or tribe has the opportunity to celebrate who they are. It is how we keep our history and stories alive as every human civilization has done throughout history – to teach younger generations what it means to be who they are truly. Nobody can tell your story better than you can. 

What has knowing your history taught you? 

Part of knowing yourself comes from knowing your history and deriving pride and confidence in the full experiences of those who came before. In the 1940s, my paternal great-grandmother was part of the Abeokuta Women’s Revolt. A resistance movement of mostly uneducated female entrepreneurs protesting unfair taxation. Their resistance brought about change and the ultimate abdication of the ruling King. I know my voice is powerful because of her, and I do not have to abide by inequities.

Being of the Egba people, an ethnic group at the forefront of education and innovation is also powerful. However, being in the U.S., I face the realities of being African American and a woman in a professional setting. This journey makes me realize how fortunate I am and how as a person of color, I can’t afford to show up incorrectly. I am proud to be part of this ‘relay race’ where you pass the baton on to the next generation. Now is my time to ensure that my experiences and contributions set the next generation up for success and offer them something to be proud of. 

Is Black History Month still relevant?  

It is 2021, and to be an accomplished person of color is still somewhat rare; when I look around, there aren’t many people who look like, think or share similar experiences as me. There are arguments that phrases like ‘Black Excellence,’ ‘Black Lives Matter,’ or even ‘Black Girl Magic’ are divisive and not inclusive. The achievements of the black community and other underrepresented groups are rarely recognized and celebrated—representation matters.

I hope a time will come when we don’t have to say, “Blacks Lives Matter,” or explain what we’re talking about when this is said. Until such a time, we’ll need Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, LGBTQ+ Pride, etc.

Recently, I’ve been listening to the Nina Simone song, “To be young, gifted, and black.” It is a message millions of kids out there have never heard before. It is essential to hear that you can excel in whatever field you choose and see others like you succeeding in those fields. Black History Month allows us to do this.

Listen to Nina Simone’s “To be young, gifted, and black” >>