A first-generation ode to African heritage


NEWLY drafted National Football League (NFL) player Odafe Jayson Oweh paid homage to his Nigerian roots on the biggest night of his budding career.

Oweh joined the Baltimore Ravens, picked 31st in the first round of the NFL draft, to the American NFL. Promptly, via virtual news conference, Oweh announced that he would no longer use his middle name Jayson – which many believed to be his first name – and would give the nod to his first name Odafe. 

“Jayson is my middle name. My first name is Odafe,” said Oweh on draft night, “People were having trouble pronouncing Odafe, so I went to Jayson in my earlier years. But I don’t care anymore; you’re going to have to learn how to pronounce it,”

The statement sent shockwaves throughout the media as Oweh voiced out a cry that African-Americans submerge throughout life in America. 

By claiming his Nigerian identity the defensive-end showed deep appreciation and respect for his African culture. At times, African-Americans feel pressure from name bias to ‘whiten’ children’s names in fear of workplace discrimination. 

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Oweh, a first-generation American whose parents grew up in Nigeria, began the process of discovering his heritage in his formative years at Pennsylvania State (Penn State) college. 

“As I got to college, I really found myself. I really understood that I’ve always loved to be Nigerian. I’ve always loved to be African … I started really embracing my African culture as I got older. I understood it was good to be different. It was good to have culture.” Oweh told The Baltimore Sun.

There is a story behind every name and African culture highlights the power one’s name gives them as they move forward in their journey. Odafe (pronounced oh-DUH-fay) means: A wealthy individual. 

The name hails from the Urhobo tribe, which Odafe’s father Henry Oweh’s ethnic group, which predominantly resides in Southwest Nigeria. Oweh’s mother, Tania, is of the Igbo tribe which is one of the most influential and populous tribes in Nigeria with over 40 million people.

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“Usually when Nigerians name kids, it’s either something that’s being projected on a kid or something that is indicative of the curre in nt situation,” said Tania, “Obviously, this was more a projection, like, ‘You’re going to be a wealthy man.’ Wealth, not just monetarily but holistically. And that was the proclamation on him.”

As Odafe stepped into the new phase of his career his mother watched him ascend into a man she was proud of, a man that had acknowledged himself and his identity. It was not just a mere name change, but a move in reclaiming his identity and voice in America.

“It’s so funny that this new season in his life, he made that announcement that he wants to go back to the name where it all began,” she said. “He may not understand it now, but it has some spiritual implications, also. And so, it’s a very exciting time.” Tania concluded.

Odafe Oweh highlights:

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