Meeting Wale Elegbede for the first time, it would be easy to assume he has always lived a charmed life. After all, his father was a Nigerian diplomat, he was educated in an international American school, and he speaks four languages. Elegbede emigrated to the United States to attend college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and would go on to start his own software company, become the president of the Rochester Branch of the NAACP and the director of Strategy Management Services overseeing the innovation area for Mayo Clinic.
Growing up, Elegbede had great positive role models, instilling in him a spirit of service and taking care of others. His grandmother was only the second woman to become a police officer in Nigeria, his father was a civil servant and his uncle served in the military, all staunch defenders of democracy and social justice.
So how did the riches go to rags? Elegbede’s family had wealth and opportunity. Then his uncle was assassinated under the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. Then his father died when Wale was just 13. Gone with his father was the wealth.
Elegbede considers himself blessed that he was able to get a sponsorship to the United States for college, until the sponsorship fell through and he had to pay his own way through college at the international rate, three times that of other students.
And then the day came that Elegbede went to the cupboard, but the cupboard was bare. Not even a single grain of rice was found. Hungry, with no knowledge of programs in place to help, and too proud to beg, he was able to get by when one of his uncles in Texas sent him some food by UPS.
To learn more about Elegbede’s journey to the United States, his first experience with racism in Africa at the age of 7, and to hear his perspective on what white privilege is and what it is not, listen to The Other Side of the Table podcast, Season 2, episode #7 Wale Elegbede (part 1.)