Jaiyeola Omowamide. Two words, seventeen letters and 9 syllables of utter confusion.
For the longest time, I hated my name. It was something that I detested. It was like carrying a huge boulder on my back; nothing but a burden.
I didn’t always despise it. Maybe because I was too young to recognize the difficulty associated with it, but my detestation didn’t begin until I started elementary school. As a child, I was called many names; Zion by my mother, Jaiye by my father, Jaiyeola, by my grandmother, and even Butterfly because my mom described me as ¨being shy and always floating around¨ I recognized all these titles and had love for all of them...until I began school.
Throughout preschool and kindergarten, I had zero insecurities about my name. My mind was filled with the innocence of juvenescence, but when first grade commenced, I soon began to mature and with maturity, comes dignity and establishment of self identity. I became aware of how difficult it was for my teachers, classmates and even family members to pronounce my name. This made me very uncomfortable and in return, I developed a deep insecurity towards my name. An island of unconfidence began to grow around me where I was surrounded by Taylors, Michaels Ashleys and Brians, and then it was just me, Jaiye; alone, feeling like I was the only one. It’s a curse I thought. I felt like I didn’t belong and that inaugurated a shamefulness against my name , that would take years to overcome. It was then and there that I automatically ignored all of the love I had for “Jaiyeola” and replaced it with hate.
First days of school were always the worst, at least for me. Not because I was nervous to see all my friends but...you guessed it, because of my name.
It was the first day of fifth grade. New school, new teachers, different faces. I hesitantly walked into the classroom. About twenty faces stared as I walked in, face down, trembling because of the intense anxiety that dawned on me as I realized that the teacher would soon have to call out my name on roll. As I waited, I went over in my head fifty times how I would correct her once she pronounced my name wrong. Should I just interrupt her before she even attempts to? Or should I just tell her now before she starts roll call? It was like self torture. I could feel the prickly heat of sweat begin to to form. The teacher began to go down the list. I was completely unaware of when my name would be called next. As she read each name, apprehensive thoughts filled my mind. What if the class laughs? I was so distracted with the thoughts in my brain, that I hadn’t noticed that she had approached my name. I knew because she made a strained face. Her face became tense as she thought of how she would pronounce it.
“Jeyailoa?” she said. Every syllable that passed through her thin lips felt like nails on a chalkboard. That was nowhere close to how it was supposed to be pronounced. I could hear snickers in the background. I could feel the burning sensation behind eyes begin to form. Don’t cry I told myself. I forced myself to wear the most genuine smile.
“It’s Jaiye. Jaiye for short.”
“Oh...that’s different. Very different.” she softly smiled.
From that moment on, not only did I hate my name even more, but I hated first days of school.
Days that I had substitute teachers were even worse. With my normal teachers, they would learn my name after a week or two, so the stress eventually would be lifted off my back, but when a substitute showed up, it was like my life was rewinded back to the first day of school. And the hatred would suddenly came back. I remember cringing as the sub would try to pronounce my name. I wanted to shoot up from my seat and yell “ It’s Jaiye! Jai-yay! It’s not that freaking difficult!” But instead, a quivering hand would hesitantly, shoot up.
“It’s Jai-Jaiye,” I would stutter. “Jaiye is short for Jaiyeola.”
Even though there are people out there in the world, with more difficult names to pronounce than me, I felt as if I was the only person out there who experienced this problem. I didn’t have much as a significant problem with my last name because I didn’t identify with my last name as a first name, but I felt the worst towards “Jaiye” and “Jaiyeola” because those are names that people call me by. Other people that I knew had difficult last names, but easy ¨American¨ first names and I felt left out. Did my mom and dad not get the memo?
I was at the point in my life where I wanted my name change. I went through a list of names that I could get that was deemed “normal”. Christina? Or maybe Amy like my mother? My name was an anchor holding me back from fitting in. I just wanted to feel accepted. I wanted to feel like the standard white American. And that could all happen if I could discard this confusing, foreign name.
During the afternoon, in the school library, I was at the librarian desk waiting to check out some books. A white male librarian began to scan my books on the monitor. Since it was the school library, all of our names were in the database, so automatically “Jaiyeola Omowamide” popped up on the screen once he scanned the first book. I cringed when I saw the blue lettering on the computer screen. He raised his eyebrows at me in astonishment.
“ Wow, how do you pronounce your name?” he asked.
“Jai-yay-hola, O-moe-wah-me-day.” I replied.
“West African huh?’
“ Yes, Nigeria to be exact.” I smiled
“ It’s beautiful. Some of the most beautiful names are foreign to this land. Enjoy your day, young lady”
I walked out the library with a grin as big as the sun, that beams from ear to ear. It was the happiest I felt towards my name in a long time.
But how could something so incomprehensible and ugly be seen as beautiful? I felt as if he and others would just say that to be polite. There was this constant battle between what I heard, and what I wanted to believe. Do these strangers really think my name is as great as it sounds? I spent hours, days, months, and even years, thinking about this, and then it hit me. If these random people can tell me that they love my name, why can’t I?
Jaiyeola Omowamide; meaning a life of happiness and wealth and that a child has come to us. I was a child that my parents saw as a blessing so in return, I should carry great dignity with my name. My name is Yoruba, a language spoken in Nigeria. It means happiness and success, not depression and failure. It holds great amounts of history and heritage, and was given to me to be carried on to my future children and for those to come. Most African Americans, can never have their original names because their identity was robbed from them when forced to become slaves. I realized how lucky I was. Why hate it? Because it’s not “normal”? Some of the greatest people that lived didn’t become known because of being ordinary. They were unique. Distinct. Individual. And that’s just what my name is. One of a kind.
I now love my name more than ever. It’s something that I hold with considerable respect and I am forever thankful to my parents for giving it to me. And although, I still get people who mispronounce it, I laugh it off. We shouldn’t have to feel self conscious of ourselves, because we don’t fit the norm. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. And don’t let society deem what is and isn’t normal. This country isn’t just made of one culture, but many; a huge melting pot. Show pride in our heritage and what completes your identity.
I was happy because I was supporting what designs my favorite artist was making and I was watching his dreams play out as I see mine doing in the future. I think it is very important to have some sort of role model as a kid. Sometimes parents do not give you all the support you need so you look to other places to mold you. You are your role models, because you aim to be like them. You are inspired by their actions and often you try to be more like them. Kanye West was a big role model for me because he always stood up for what he believed in. His ideas are never compromised by those around him who always try to tell him what to do. And I believe that thoroughly; If you have something to say, you must put it out there in the world so that it can become more than just a thought. The world can always use more ideas.
Kanye once said: “Nothing in life is promised except death.” To me this is very inspirational. What this quote means to me is that if you have a purpose in life you need to give it 100% because failure is not the worst thing in the world. The worst thing in the world is dying without having anything in your life to show your success. That is why it is important for you to work at the things you love, and never give up. The only thing that you can know is that you will die. You do not know how anything will pan out. So in this time you are given you have to take advantage of it and really live it to the fullest. This is why I always feel like I need to hurry up and make my dreams come true. I constantly am anxious that I am running out of time.“I remember sitting in my room as a little child doing my homework. It was a rainy day and my mom had not gotten home from work yet so I busied myself with school. My dad was home but he was working in his room. Lately, I was feeling down. I was always bored and I didn’t like the kids at my school very much. We just never clicked. When I heard the door open, I started to run down the stairs in excitement to see my mom.” This is the type of excitement that I have always felt when it has came to this man’s art. It has always spoke to me. It never mattered if it were a song or if it were clothing or actual art. The amount of effort that he puts into his work is impeccable and can not be duplicated. But I aim to be as courageous and brave as he is and want to complete my dreams like he has.
It’s hot. I’m sweating, sneezing, and coughing, a side effect of allergies. I get up, walking to the bathroom. Strangely, I begin to think of my father. My father does gigs around the country with several bands, and he usually gets home around 12:00-3:00 am on Sundays. He has the most beautiful voice when he sings, containing enough power to make crowds start to sing along, or bring them to tears. Music is power, at least that’s what I feel when I listen to a good musician. Still in the bathroom, I wish he was here so we could sing together. Around the time I leave the bathroom, my mother wakes up. She’s dressed in one of my father’s shirts. She waddles around, with her usual bewildered face she has on right after she wakes up. “What time is it?” She asks me. “12:42”, I sady. “Where’s Al?” She says to herself. She continues to pace downstairs, waiting for that jingle of keys and sing songy voice we know all too well to come bustling through the door.Time passes, an hour, 2 hours, 3 hours. No keys. No humming. Silence. I wonder if silence can be a form of music, and if it is, what it’s supposed to make you feel. In those passing hours, the silence was deafening. It was silent in the normally raucous home save the sounds of my mother calling my father and only hearing a quiet, but persistent beep of his dial tone. The silence seeped into all of my pores and cracks like a wintry chill I couldn’t keep out. Finally, a break in the monotony. The knock on the door is like a sharp shock to my nerves, snapping me awake, blowing away the silence like the leaves off a dying tree. I wonder if my dad lost his keys, why he was coming home so late. It wasn’t him, it was a police officer. I heard my mother and him discussing whatever they were talking about in low voices, almost as if they were trying to shield me from the information they were discussing. My mother called me downstairs a few minutes later. She sat me down again. That silence was coming back, stronger than ever.”Al was in a car accident” “Is he ok? He’s still here right?” She shakes her head. The silence is so loud I can hear it, pounding down onto every square inch of my body as if in a thunderstorm. To me, silence is scary. Silence is the calm before the storm. I will never hear his song again. Sure, music never dies, but the vessels they use to produce it do. Silence always has the final word in any song, poem, sound. In this instance, it felt like time slowed down. When I finally reacted, I sang my song of despair, a wailing, joyless cry. Thinking back on that time from this aspect, I saw something completely different from what I had in that moment. At the funeral, people commented on the traits that my father allowed them to see, never anything more. However, everyone had a story of him singing. To me, I always thought of him as a father before everything else, and music was just one of the many memories that fit together in my head to make the jigsaw puzzle that was my father. Music is powerful. My father was powerful because his body was imbued with the power to produce it. I feel like now, his purpose here was not only to provide for the people he loved, but to share all aspects of his musically sound soul with all who would listen. When he achieved his purpose, he was taken away. He died coming back from a gig. That can’t be coincidence, there must’ve been a reason. I believe everyone came into this world with a set purpose or end goal, no matter how long they were alive. Be it twenty seconds or 100 years, everyone has a purpose. I believe when you die, you’ve achieved it. My fathers was to spread the power of music to as many people as possible. Just like his life, music begins and ends in silence. Silence is music. Silence is the music of the dead.
I sit outside on this warm sunny day in between my mom and my sister waiting for my cousin, Kim, to make her way down the aisle to meet her groom. Everyone is whispering wondering when she will come, how her hair will look, and how beautiful her dress will be. Everyone is focused on the physical space, but not the real meaning under the surface. Connection.
She finally comes into view with wide eyes being escorted by her mother, my aunt Frannie. They both have smiles that stretch from ear to ear while they hastily make their way up the aisle to her soon to be husband, Scott. She looks gorgeous with her bright white dress. It looks as though it was made just for her. The ceremony begins and soon I find myself spacing out from the words being spoken and start looking around at all the faces. I see the faces that I do not see enough. Frannie, Kim, Arthur, his wife, Aunt Donna, uncle Paul, little Paul, Kristine, Genna, Angie, and her kids. I miss them, but I wonder if they really miss me and my family. Then I look around at the familiar faces, most of which I see almost every weekend. Mom, aunt Tina, uncle Paul, Brittany, aunt Jayne, uncle Morris, Yvette, Alex, Daniel, and Bill.
As I turn my head looking around, I notice that we are even physically divided at this wedding that is supposed to bring us together. I think to myself,”Why is there this separation?” I know that it is more than just the distance of the aisle that separates us. Our main difference is our incomes. They live in beautiful houses surrounded by gardens while we live in row homes in the city trying to figure out a budget. We are supposed to be family, and family does not judge, but only loves each other for better or for worse. Instead, we now function as two separate families that only meet about twice a year and barely keep in touch in between. Sure, we may blame it on the distance and our busy lives, but is that really the issue at hand or do neither of us just not care enough to put in the effort?
These thoughts remind me of my cousin, Jamie’s funeral. During the viewing, my aunt Donna and uncle Paul took my mother and I aside to talk for a while and try to clear our minds of the dark, bleak clouds of sadness that swelled inside of us. I remember my aunt Donna said, “We need to see each other more… and under better better circumstances.” As soon of these words flowed out of her mouth, I thought to myself, “If that is really true then why don’t we ever hear from you? The only steady communication we have is through Christmas and birthday cards as well as our family’s Christmas party. No calls or texts. Nothing.” Our side of the family has tried countless times to reconnect by inviting them to parties and get togethers, but there was always an excuse as to why they could not make it. These ignored invitations reached a point where we just stopped inviting them. In my life, I have not received any invitation to any of their parties other than big ceremonies like weddings, christenings, and funerals. Then I think, I shouldn’t be blaming them, because we are to blame as well. We don’t try to keep in touch with them with a simple call or text once in awhile just see how they are doing. We also shouldn’t quit inviting them to parties, because we feel ignored. It would do more good to just tell them how we feel and ask them why they do not heed our invitations to see how they feel about the situation. We can’t jump to conclusions since we don’t walk in their shoes.For months my aunt Donna’s words stuck in my head. I kept asking myself, ”Why are these the only occasions that bring us together?” Maybe most of the time we only come together in times of ultimate tragedy or fortune, and we believe that this reconciles all that we’ve missed or neglected in between. A family is supposed to be there supporting you every step of the way no matter their differences and distances. This ever-giving loyalty depends on every single individual putting in effort for the sake and benefit of everyone else in their family.
In a small town, 8th graders usually do not have to worry about what high school they are going to go to. There is only one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. Students are with the same people for all of their lives. In big cities like Philadelphia, if you do not want to go to your neighborhood high school you can apply to other schools and if you get in you may go to that school. In Philadelphia, you can apply up to 5 schools that is not your neighborhood school. There are “Special Admission” and “Citywide Admission” schools in Philadelphia. Those are the best schools in the city. If you go to one of these schools you will get better educational opportunities than you could get at your neighborhood school.
I was one of the students that wanted to go to the a better school than Germantown High School, which was the school I would be zoned into. As a straight A student and a good test taker I knew I could get into any high school I wanted to go to. I applied to Central, Science Leadership Academy, Franklin Learning Center, Engineering and Science and GAMP. At first I really wanted to go to Central. My mom went there so I wanted to go there as well. One of my best friends was applying to Central as well and we were planning to go to Central. It was almost like if I didn’t get into Central my life was going to end. Then when I went to SLA for my interview and shadow day I really liked it a lot. The teachers seemed nice and coming from a small middle school I liked how it SLA had a small population as well. I did not like SLA as much as Central at the time but I thought this was a nice backup plan just in case I didn’t get into my number 1 choice.
In March we got our letters from the School District that said what schools we did and did not get into. I got into all five of my school choices. I was so excited! I got into Central! But something was holding me back from saying yes to Central that same day. It was SLA. I couldn’t believe it. I have been wanting to go to Central since I was 10 and now I was second guessing it. I really couldn’t make up my mind. It was at the point that I was staying up until 2 am on school nights just laying in my bed just thinking of the pros and cons of each school. My mom told my Grandma about my problem so she wanted to take me out to dinner to talk to me about.
It was the night before the due date to let the schools know where you were going and my Grandma and I went out to dinner.
“So tell me what you like about both schools.” She asked.
“Well SLA is a much smaller school and I like that a lot. I also like how as a freshman I can go to the Franklin Institute every Wednesday.” I replied
“What about Central?” She said right after.
“Central is Central. It has always been one of the best public schools in the city. I am going to get a better education there and be more challenged at that school as well, plus my mom went there too.” I replied once again.
“Do they both have baseball teams? I know you love baseball.”
“Yeah they do”
At that moment our waiter brought us our food out. My Grandmother got a salad and I got a bacon cheeseburger with fries.
“Well think about this” She said before she took a bite of her salad.
“Central has way more kids than SLA, like way more kids. You are more likely to play for varsity at SLA way sooner than you are at Central because there is more likely more talent at Central than at SLA because of population.
I never thought about that. I always wanted to play baseball in high school and I wanted to play varsity as soon as I could.
“I never thought about that” I said.
“Just a thought” She replied.
The next day at school I went to my counselor’s office to give her my decision. I still didn’t check off the box next to the school I was going to attend to in the fall.
“Jason this is not a bad problem to have” Mrs. Watson, my counselor said.
“If I were to rank Philly public schools in order I would say number one is Masterman, then Central and SLA at number three. You got into two of the three best schools in the city. Something not many kids in this school or this city could say.” She said in a soft voice.
I just sat in a chair right across from her looking at the paper and listening to her.
“Look I know this is going to be a hard decision for you so you can stay here as long as you can.”
She walked out the office. I just sat there. This was the hardest decision of my life up to that point. I again thought of the pros and cons of that school. Mrs. Watson came into her office and asked if I made my decision. I finally did. I ended up choosing SLA.
Looking back, picking a high school should have not been a hard decision for me. I over thought it. It is just high school. I thought it was going to be a choice that would haunt me for the rest of my life if I thought I didn’t make the right choice. But I was wrong. I am glad I choose SLA. I made lots of friends and learned a lot. I would not have changed my decision.