Every February since 1976, Americans have officially celebrated Black History Month to honor the struggles, as well as the important artistic, cultural, and political achievements, of African Americans over 400 years of U.S. history. Now, every February, schools, businesses, and cultural and charitable organizations feature black history-themed, lectures, plays, art, cuisine and fashion, to inspire African Americans to embrace their cultural roots. This February, it was just one special person who inspired and enabled those in her sphere to celebrate their African American heritage. That person was Modupe Akinola, a vocational nurse at Stoddard Baptist Global Care.
Modupe was born and raised in Nigeria, where she and her husband worked as Civil Servants. When they retired, they were still supporting their children at school in England, so Modupe applied for a visa lottery to come to the United States and was awarded a spot. She left Nigeria and came to join her brother and cousins in New York, where she worked while studying to become a licensed vocational nurse.
Modupe was also a businesswoman in Nigeria. Her mother, a tailor and seamstress, had taught her to sew, and Modupe had started a boutique and a sewing institute. For years, she had been making dresses and bringing them to America to sell. After she moved to the states, Modupe’s daughter in Nigeria took over the factory and continued sewing and bringing dresses to her. “Most of the time we have a lot of dresses that are sold,” explained Modupe, “but I have a lot of cousins and friends that sew dresses and send them to me over here.” Her cousins in New York would always buy them to celebrate their African heritage, and Modupe carried this tradition with her when she moved to Washington, D.C.
This past February, she brought the tradition to Stoddard Baptist Global Care senior living community. Modupe went to her manager and asked if they would allow her to “bless my residents” and celebrate Black History Month by bringing them African attire to wear.
Management agreed. Modupe went home, scanned her closet and brought out a collection of brightly colored and uniquely patterned dresses, scarves, and headgear and took them to work. She adorned her residents in Nigerian gowns and large headscarves that she tied elaborately around their heads for this special occasion. The simple act of dressing in traditional attire connected these residents to their African roots — a fitting celebration of their history.
“The residents were so happy!” said Modupe, “Everyone in the whole facility came in to look at the residents and to take pictures with them.” She dressed them and then she went home. When she returned the next day, people were still talking about it and started asking when she would take the dresses back. But Modupe was adamant, “I gave them the outfits.” The residents could wear them as a symbol of pride and enjoy the beauty and art of African dress all year long. No wonder the residents were so happy.
Connecting people to their heritage through such a thoughtful and generous deed is the kind of act of care Ceca Foundation seeks to recognize and reward through its Ceca Awards. When asked what it felt like to be honored this way, Modupe exclaimed, “I was surprised! It was the last thing I was expecting. I didn’t really know how people got it – the criteria or anything. I just did this voluntarily. I wasn’t even thinking about Ceca when I was doing it. My life is big. My celebration is to make people happy.”
Modupe is grateful, and in fact, her very name Modupe – means “gratefulness.” She is grateful to Ceca for the award and for what they’re doing. And she is most grateful for her children, her relationships, their health, their business and well-being, and for her very big life.