On Jan. 21, Dapo Sobomehin gave a lecture titled “Social Justice Theory and Practice” to an audience of roughly 20 Portland State students and their fellow community members in the Multicultural Center. The lecture centered around the necessity for community in an age of international and social strife.
Sobomehin is the executive director of Operation EASY-a program that assists at-risk youth with their education. He began his discussion by advocating a celebration of life with a bit of humor that elicited laughter from the audience.
“When I pick up The Oregonian, I look at the obituary: I’m looking for myself in there, and then if I don’t see myself it’s ‘yay this guy is still here,’ and then I look at my friends and ‘yay.’
“You know I celebrate each day, and I’m telling you to do that while I’m here. This is a time of celebration,” he said.
Sobomehin’s enthusiasm never dissipated over the course of his presentation, despite veering into difficult political and social issues.
He spoke passionately about the abundance of material goods in U.S., contrasting his childhood education in Nigeria with his experience in the American classroom.
“Growing up as a little boy in that village, the first chalk that I wrote with happened to be the excrement of a pigeon,” Sobomehin said. “It came in two colors—the grey is the one we used to write with, but in American schools, I have an after-school program, and I will ask for a teacher to give me a chalk, and she gives me a box. A box of it. Don’t ever ask for a pencil; they’ll give you a pack because we’ve got it!”
Sobomehin used the anecdote about his childhood to illuminate more pressing concerns about racial inequality in this country. He believes inequality stems not from a lack of money, but rather from a lack of education.
“The African-American kids—they’ve not been educated…When I look at the schools, I say, ‘Hey, money is not the problem’…The issue is disconnectedness,” Sobomehin said. “We’re not together. The reason why we despair is because we are disconnected.”
Sobomehin continued with the theme of unity throughout his presentation, emphasizing the importance of fellowship in even the most dire of circumstances. When speaking of U.S. involvement in international conflicts, his advice was simple.
“Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk together to save humanity. The suffering is deep. It’s unbearable, but we can do it.”
While Sobomehin is very outspoken about his thoughts on foreign policy, he also practices his theories of togetherness here at home. He spoke briefly about his advocacy on behalf of alleviating homelessness, an issue that he has taken to heart.
He says that while he still had his house, he invited two homeless people to live with him.
“When I brought them to my neighborhood, they were wondering about me. I had to speak to them, and then one of them said to me, ‘You know, Dapo, I never thought about it that way.’ Yes. Just share. You do the example.” He went on to say, when addressing the audience directly, “You have to share. You do, because we’ve got plenty.”
Sobomehin concluded his lecture by encouraging his audience to embrace positivity and one another.
“Be happy in America together. Together. Together,” he said. Event attendees described how Sobomehin’s words impacted them.
Cultural sustainability coordinator Kevin Thomas, who just began his doctoral coursework in urban studies, said that the presentation was inspirational and that it gave him a lot of things to think about, particularly concerning how we treat one another.
“We need to do better by each other. It’s a very big concept, but it can be applied in many different ways,” Thomas said. “I feel very privileged to be able to sit here and come to school and have time to hear things like this. I wish the room was more crowded, because I think people need to hear this.”
Melissa Bennett, program coordinator for the Native American Student and Community Center at PSU, shared that sentiment.
“Dr. Dapo has been a friend of mine for a few years. He is a wonderful speaker. I am inspired every time I hear him speak.”