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LMU Hears Nigerian-Born Irish Politician Talk of Strength in Diversity

“Respecting Difference” is on the air and much on people’s minds, too. The weekly show hosted by Rotimi Adebari on a small radio station in the middle of Ireland sums up the purpose of his work. Adebari gained worldwide notoriety when he became the first African-born Irish citizen to be elected to office in Ireland. That has put him in the middle of a public discussion over immigration, multiculturalism and tolerance.

rotimi adebari“On my second day in Ireland, a man passing on the street said ‘Go back to the jungle,’ ” said Adebari, who delivered the keynote Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010, for Loyola Marymount University’s Irish Cultural Festival. Adebari arrived in Ireland in the year 2000, when, he said, many Irish natives were still unused to seeing people of color except on TV and in films. “I tried to shield by children from his comments,” Adebari said, “but later I said to myself, ‘I cannot sit back. I have to do something.’ ”

Adebari took his background in sales and marketing, his irrepressible optimism and a measure of charm that any Irishman would be proud of and set about educating people about reasons to value diversity. He started by talking to students – and refusing to take a consulting fee – at his son’s school. When he talked there, his son was the only person of color; three years later there were 18. Adebari cites that as an example of how quickly immigration is changing the social landscape of Ireland. News of his presentations about multiculturalism and tolerance spread quickly, and soon he found himself as a paid consultant to businesses and organizations in Ireland and other European countries.

The popularity of his business led some of his friends to suggest he run for office. So he knocked on doors, talked to many townspeople and was elected, first a councilor and later mayor of Portlaoise, much to the surprise of political observers.

Adebari told his LMU audience of his success in opening a dialog about diversity and the many deep connections he has made with Ireland and its people. “This could only happen in the land of ‘cead mile failte’ – the land of a hundred thousand welcomes,” Adebari said.

This year’s Irish Cultural festival is sponsored by LMU’s Irish Studies Program in cooperation with the African American Studies Department, the Office of the Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, the Office of Intercultural Affairs, Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, the Department of English, the School of Film and Television, the Los Angeles Irish Film Festival and Culture Ireland, a nonprofit organization. 

The Irish Studies Program is an interdisciplinary minor that complements a variety of majors with an understanding of the historical and cultural development of the Irish and the significance of their intellectual, artistic, spiritual, and economic contribution to world civilization, including their experiences as a post-colonial nation and an emigrant diaspora. For more information about the program, click here.

Posted March 1, 2010