There are people you meet in life that show you strength and grace not because they are trying to but because it is who they are. Naturally when in their presence, you learn and when you leave, you leave with a renewed sense of self and your ability to do better in life. This was the way I felt when I met with Amara Enyia for our interview session. With a smile on her face, she walked in and we jumped right into our conversation. I asked, what’s your story? She immediately answers, “Igbo 100% product of my parents Sam & Oluchi Enyia.” Born and raised in America in a bi-cultural environment very centered around the “Igbo” culture. Being brought up that way she says was very interesting. She recalls, “I was 7 years old and in the second grade. I was very reserved and I read a lot of books. I found peace in reading my books and I remember I would get teased a lot because my mum put me in threads.” Amara states clearly her story does not exist without that of her parents and mentions that her father Sam fought in the Biafra war (Nigerian Civil War centered around the Igbo tribe fighting for their heritage.) Her mother Oluchi was a nurse in the war. Due to the dictatorship, they left Nigeria and moved to America. Her father became President of Nigerian National Alliance and wrote the book “After the Biafra” which she typed for him. She grew up attending PRSS conferences and meetings with her parents and was very much in the mix for their political activism. Amara remembers as a child the Nigerian government sent people to intimidate her family and for a long time, they were unable to go back to Nigeria. With this background, it seems only right that the path Amara has chosen in life is to work in government for the people.
Amara attended University of Illinois Urbana Champagne where she admits she always had broad interests. “I had so many degrees. Broadcast journalism, political science and news editorial.” She says to other people, it seemed there wasn’t a clear sense of focus at the time however post college, she went to law school, got a masters degree in education, and pursued a PhD in Education Policy. For Amara, everything she has done has been a passion pursuit. “It has never been about making money but doing what speaks to me.” She gained admission into Harvard and George Town for law school but instead chose U of I and till this day has no regrets about her choice. She finished law school in 2008 and began work at City Hall that year. She was able to complete her PhD while working in the Mayor’s Office where she worked as a general policy analyst for food security, housing, education and violence prevention, among other policy areas.
She describes her career at City Hall as intentional because she is a problem solver and was always inquisitive about inequity and injustice in the city. She wanted to know who makes the decisions and how they can be changed. She was focused on understanding the why and the how. This experience allowed Amara to see what ‘we’ the people were up against.
At age 27 when she started work at City Hall, she always seemed to shock people by how young she was and her strong-will in the presence of what others may find intimidating but then as she proudly says, “My disqualifiers are my qualifiers.”
Amara ran for Mayor of Chicago against Rahm Emmanuel and she describes the experience as what she was supposed to do. “5th Floor at City Hall was the goal. I played to win and that was the debut, the first step.” She lost the election however in her opinion, “It was ok not to win because the fact that I stepped out was more important than the actual outcome.” She realized that when you set forth on your path, you don’t get the whole journey at once. You don’t see the whole map. “I don’t know what the end goal is, I’m more concerned with being where I’m supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there so when I get to my next step, I can stand and be ready.” She is clear that when it comes to understanding your purpose in life, you have to go through the process and you have to be conscious of who you are so you don’t miss your purpose. There’s no shortcut to the end goal. “There are experiences I’ve had to go through to prepare me for where I am and where I’m going.”
Her biggest lesson in pursuing her purpose she says is, “learning that success is the peace of mind in knowing that I’m walking in my purpose. I recognized a long time ago that it’s not about me, and so I don’t hesitate to move boldly and with intention. I have a role to play in the grander scheme of things and I have to play it. When my time is done, that’s it.” She says I feel free & liberated in all my endeavors because of this clarity.
My final question to Amara, I asked her what her message to women who are nervous about their future or pursuing a dream.
“Understand what it means to see a system and balance. God is not linear so trust your journey and own it. Everyone has a unique path they have to walk. It is important you discover why you’re here and then make a conscious decision to actualize your purpose and be intentional about it. Own your journey and walk forward unapologetically.”
My session with Amara left me excited about life. It reminded me that it is important at all times to walk in your lane because that is where true happiness is. The uniqueness each of us possess should not be downplayed and quite frankly we should never compare our journey to anyone else’s. Comparison is still the thief of joy. I hope Amara’s story inspires you to discover your purpose and walk in it confidently.
Amara Enyia is a true goal digger and I hope you enjoyed this rant about her.