Paul Okoye, the ninth contributor to 2017’s Tales from the 2.9, speaks often about something that’s the cornerstone of why I do the things I do—
Before we had our boys, I feel my views were very different.
Maybe most noticeable in 2011-2013 where Twitter became a huge part of my life, I never worried about the story my content would tell decades down the road—the focus was always on what it would do for me right now, letting short-term thinking cloud what was possible if I was willing to put in the work.
Years later, I think my sons changed me for the better. I now have a brand I’d love to grow with them, always thinking about what things could look like a year from now. 5 years from now. 10. It’s no longer about simply retelling the facts—I want the work I put out to mean something, and it’s all because I care more about what I leave behind for someone else than I do about myself.
Paul’s answers echo much of this, so much so that it’s his driving force.
The founder of MeBookz, personalised children’s books that do a better job than any of having a character designed to look like your child, he’s using his skills, time and resources to change the world in his own way.
And if not the world, then at the very least the lives of every person he gets to meet in this life.
Check out more of Paul’s story below!
What does being Black Canadian mean to you?
It means waking up every morning, with a clear understanding that as much as I am a representative of Canada, I’m also an ambassador for the black race. I have increasingly accepted the idea that our fate, as a race, is collectively tied. Being black means accepting that whether I like it or not, the actions of others have created stereotypes of the black race; stereotypes that I’ll have to either live up to or disprove. A realisation that even before people meet me, they’ve created a profile for me, one that aligns with their idea of who a “Black man” is.
Yes, it is tiring. But I also see it as a huge opportunity. That my life, however simple, will add to our collective stereotypes. That the way I choose to live my life today will influence others’ stereotypes of the black race… the same stereotypes that my kids will one day inherit. This drives me.
What’s your experience been like as a Black Canadian and how has it shaped who you are today?
It’s become increasingly difficult to answer this question in an age of non-stop news and social media explosion. It’s difficult to define my experience within geographical lines. Global racial issues have quickly become local issues too. Consider the origins and spread of social movements like #BlackLivesMatter – started in the States and slipped into our local conversations. Or the #BringBackOurGirls movement, started by a movie maker in LA for kidnapped girls in Nigeria, later becoming a global movement. Global issues like these may have started as news feeds, but have changed my perspective of who I am and what I stand for. I feel just as connected to the kid in Jane & Finch, as I do to the kid growing up in Flint, Michigan with poisoned water, or the family devastated by the upsurge of crime rates in Trinidad and Tobago.
Some days, this realisation is overwhelming and tiring, especially when you realise how helpless you are to solve some of the issues. On other days it is empowering when you realise that a tweet or a hashtag could start a revolution and really get people to listen.
What’s something you’d like to see more of within the Black Canadian community?
More investment in our kids’ education. We are often stuck discussing issues that affect our community today… forgetting that the future is just around the corner. We read stats like the one from the US Department of Education reporting that literacy rates for more than 50 percent of African-American children in the fourth grade nationwide were below the basic skills level and far below average. Furthermore, the situation had grown worse by the ninth grade, with the rate dropping below 44 percent!
The unfortunate thing about issues like low literacy rates is that they do not seem urgent today… but given enough time, they eventually show up in statistics like crime rates, unemployment rates and incarceration rates to name a few.
As Abraham Lincoln said – “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
Now is the time to invest in our kids to create our future.
What do you think those outside the Black Canadian community need to better understand to coexist with Black Canadians in a respectful and considerate way?
I’ve noticed a strange trend recently, where people choose sides on an argument depending on if it impacts them, their race, their city, their religion, etc. We’ve conveniently created unrealistic safe-zones and assumed that as long as the issues only impact “the other”, then my kind is safe. We’ve seen it with how some have reacted to the issues of racial profiling in our community, or more recently, how non-Muslims have reacted to the recent US’ Muslim travel ban.
But the honest reality is, our world is increasingly connected… we rise or fall together. Evil done to one group of people is evil done to the entire human race. Our existence is not in conflict with others but united/tied to theirs. So, the man who proudly says #AllLivesMatter should be the first to understand that #BlackLivesMatter. Because for one to exist, the other has to exist too. An injustice to one is truly an injustice to all.
If your life could teach but one thing to your fellow Black Canadians, what would it be?
Long after I am dead and gone, I’d love for people to look back and say that I made an impact… that somehow my existence mattered.
Now, I’m not necessarily talking about grandiose plans of saving the world. Though it’s possible, it’s more important to matter to the person sitting next to me. That as a husband, father, son, neighbour, seat-mate, customer, whatever… I had an impact on each person I had the privilege of crossing paths with.
I am a strong proponent that improving the world means improving the person sitting next to you.
Paul is a business strategy consultant, author, speaker, and serial entrepreneur. For over a decade, he worked for two of the world’s largest consulting firms and led major business transformation projects in a number of Fortune 500 organisations, working in every continent except Antarctica.
He left corporate consulting to pursue his true passion of entrepreneurship. This passion led him to initiate and manage a number of start-ups, among which is his pride and joy, MeBookz Inc.
MeBookz is a Canadian Publishing Company that specialises in personalised children’s picture books. They are the only company that creates completely personalised and fully illustrated picture books with your child as the main character. Their customization includes using your child’s name as well as creating a fully illustrated main character in your child’s likeness. Their mission is to improve childhood literacy through individualised learning. To inspire and create inclusive, fantastic and unique experiences for diverse kids and their families.