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Description

Bunmi Emenanjo is a first-generation Nigerian immigrant who went from waiting tables at Olive Garden to working as legal counsel with the Biden administration.

For nearly two decades Bunmi has moved between the legal and biotechnology world, including working on policy surrounding fields like synthetic biotech and nanotechnology.

Bunmi’s prized achievement is the creation of the Atlas Book Club, a program dedicated to providing children the opportunity to experience other nations and cultures through authentic narratives.  

Bunmi’s interview will take place over two episodes. In this episode, Bunmi talks to Luke about what life was like growing up in Nigeria, why she decided to pursue a law degree, and how much she loves that glorious moment when you finally get your food at a restaurant.

Transcription

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Bunmi Emenanjo:

You can do so freaking much with a law degree. Think outside the box, find what interests you, what you’re passionate about, what brings you joy. Find that industry, find that, and then figure out how you can bring your legal skills to that. If you’re going to practice law, do it in a way that’s meaningful and fulfilling to you. And that can be really anything you want it to be, not necessarily what society tells you it should be.

Luke W Russell:

Welcome to Lawful Good, a show about lawyers and the trials they face inside and outside the courtroom. I’m your host, Luke W Russell. I’m not a journalist. I’m not an attorney. I’m trained as a coach. I love human connection. And that’s what you’re about to hear.

My guest today is Bunmi Emenanjo, a first-generation Nigerian immigrant, who went from waiting tables at Olive Garden, to working as legal counsel with the Biden administration. For nearly two decades, Bunmi has moved between the legal and biotechnology worlds, including policies surrounding fields like synthetic biotech and nanotechnology. Bunmi’s prized achievement is the creation of Atlas Book Club, a program dedicated to providing children the opportunity to experience other nations and cultures through authentic narratives.

Bunmi’s interview will take place over two episodes. This first episode will focus on her life and experiences. And the next will focus on the Atlas Book Club and the new world she’s opening for children. Bunmi, let’s start by talking about your family’s history of migration to and from the United States.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

My parents moved here in the seventies. My dad, I think won some sort of scholarship. And so, he lived in Russia for a little bit, and then he moved here to the United States, and subsequently sent for my mom. I guess, they had started dating while they were in Nigeria. Both moved here to go to college. My dad went to Howard University. My mom went to Bowie State. And they were here for a few years.

I think they got married, had my older brother in ’74, and then had me later in ’78. But at the time when they had me, and my mom’s, I remember she tells the story often, her student visa had expired. And they of course, they were like, “Hey, your student visa has expired. What’s the deal?” She was like, “Well, I am nine months pregnant. So, what do you want me to do?” And so, she ended up having me here. And I moved back with the rest of my family when I was two months old. And my family moved back to Nigeria.

Luke W Russell:

When you think back, did your parents ever talk about their time here in the United States before migrating back?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah, they did. As long as I can remember, my parents had always said, “Well, when you graduate high school, you’re going back to the US for your college education.” It just made sense. So, I think that part of our family history, a young family, was just something that they had always talked about. And I remember hearing stories of my dad going to Howard University, and just the pride, again, with being an African man in Howard University. I remember him speaking very proudly of that. And just my mom’s experiences here in the US.

My mom cleaned houses, actually as a student. She paid her way through college by cleaning houses, and I think also probably doing some bookkeeping job because she was an accountant. She’s retired now. Yeah. So, we heard a lot about those humble beginnings. And I think we recognized very early on how very fortunate we were to have that American citizenship. It was something that we just knew was something special, for lack of a better term. It was a fantastic childhood. But my parents struggled. My mom had a 9:00 to 5:00 job, and then she had a side gig. My parents definitely struggled, but you wouldn’t know it. I don’t remember the struggle. You know what I mean?

Luke W Russell:

Take us back to your neighborhood.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

So, we live in a number of neighborhoods. We moved around a little bit. But the neighborhood where I think I spent the years that I remember very clearly is where we lived from when I was 10 to when I was 16, when we moved. And it was just a very community-based neighborhood.

Nigeria is based on three main tribes, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. And I’m from the Yoruba tribe. My husband is Igbo. But I remember there was a Hausa man in front of our house, and his little stall, and he sold different kinds of candy. And we would always buy candy from him. And there was a clinic right next door. There was a lady across the street from our house. Back then we didn’t have a blender. And so, you would go across, there this woman who had this business in her home, and she has this giant industrial blender. So, you would take your tomatoes and your bell peppers and your onions. You would walk across the street and pay her some money. And so, she blends your stuff. And then you carry the bowl back to your house, and then you make dinner.

Again, there was a lady down the street who sold bread. My childhood is very much waking up every morning to the smell of baking bread, every morning. And so, that was just kind of the neighborhood was where, when you woke up, you smell in the neighborhood, and you heard the familiar sounds that make up your childhood.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Growing up, you had a tall bookshelf in your living room. Which books would stand out to you when you look at that huge bookshelf?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

It’s hard to say, which will stand out, because we read books from different genres. I’ve spoken about this before that my dad was very strict, but he was also very much an academic. And he just said such high standards. And so, during the time of holidays, for lack of a better term, when school was out of session, when he was leaving the house, “Hey, you get this book and you read.” And you had assignments. And at the end of the holiday session, you have to write a book report.

And so, the kinds of books that were in my dad’s library were the autobiography of Muhammad Ali, Shakespeare, much to do about nothing, and a lot of Charles Dickens. But also we were very fortunate that he also had books where we saw ourselves in our cultures reflected, like books by Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, the great literary giants of Nigeria and other African countries.

And then of course, I had my Famous Five, which is, I don’t know how familiar you are with that. That’s by Enid Blyton. And it’s a series very similar to like the Nancy Drew kind of series. And of course, I had that. And then I also had Danielle Steel, which at like 14, I was sneaking and reading.

Luke W Russell:

That’s great.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

And Mills and Boon, see, all the reminds novels. And I remember my aunt, my mom’s younger sister, who’s like my second mom, she lives in England, and she sent me some books. And she sent Daniel Steel. And I was halfway through reading. And when my mom discovered, and she flipped out on me and her sister.

So yeah, there were just a wide variety of books. And if I were to pick ones that really stood out to me was a book like a reading tales, I think was like Alibaba and the Seven Saracens, those types of stories, because they were all very magical, and they were based on that South Asian mythology and folk tales. And so, those really stood out to me because they would just transported you to this magical fantasy world.

Luke W Russell:

Did you read all the books?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

I don’t think if I read every single one, because my dad had some very academic books in there, but I read quite a bit. And the other part was, in addition to what we had in the house, my older brother was the cool kid in the neighborhood, and then in school. And so, he would have his friends who were, I guess, more well to do and traveled a lot to the US and stuff. And so, they would bring back all this comic books, like the Spider-Man Marvel comics and Adventures of Tintin, and things like that, those graphic novels.

And so, in addition to what we had in the house, he had access to all those. So, I was able to just piggy back on his popularity, and just to have access to some of those cool graphic novels and comics as well.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. So, here you are, you’re growing up in Nigeria and your head is buried in books. How much of the time was your head in Nigeria?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Well, that’s a good question. It was a lot, actually. While I read a lot, I was very much a tomboy because it’s in a lot of my cousins that were my age, well, older. And so, I spent a lot of time playing soccer in our little neighborhood. We had like a yard.

Oh, and hang it up. One of my closest friends, her name is Vera. And I was spending a lot of time with her and we would listen to Snoop Dogg and other American artists. And so, we spent a lot of time outside of school. You have the little cassette player and you have your music notebook, and you would play it and stop it, and write down the lyrics.

Luke W Russell:

I love it.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

So, we did a lot of that kind of thing. And the other part of my childhood that is so dear to me is a time we spent with my grandparents. We spent a lot more time with my maternal grandparents, who were from each other, my grandfather and grandmother. And we would go and… I think I’m going to cry. They were just love personified. They spoke no English. My grandfather was, I guess a traditional doctor, herbalist. My grandmother had a stall in the market where she sold rice and beans, and just greens. And we would go there. And my mom grew up, helping her mom in the marketplace. That part of my childhood is just, I’m glad I remember because it just holds so many memories.

And my grandparents were Muslim. My mom is a very staunch Catholic. My mom is very much Catholic. And I grew up Catholic. But my grandparents were Muslim. And so, we would go for Eid celebrations, and go to the mosque on Friday. And then on Sunday, we would go to mass and take communion. That’s really just was what my childhood was. So yeah, that’s growing up in the village, spending time with my grandparents is a huge part of-

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. You mentioned your grandmother. How do you carry her and your mother’s lessons with you each day?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Just my grandparents, my grandmother and my grandfather was just so much love. When I think of them, all I can think about is unconditional love. My mom, she converted to Catholicism, and then she married my dad, who’s from a different tribe. So, things that back then would have been a big deal and would have mattered to some people, just didn’t matter to them. They didn’t care that she was converting, or they didn’t care that she was marrying someone from a different tribe. They just loved so unconditionally.

And so, when I think about my grandparents, my grandmother, that’s just what I feel. And the feeling of how much they loved us, still feels very tangible, 12 years later. And so, my mom, and you said, “How do I carry my mom with me?” And my mom is awesome. She’s just really, she’s everything. And there are certain things that she has taught to me that really stuck and that I apply in everyday life, and it helps guide me. She’s just filled with so much wisdom. And she just does it in a way that’s non-judgemental, and just in a way that’s easy.

Luke W Russell:

When you look back and think about where you are and what you’ve done with your life, with your family and with your career, what do you think your grandparents would be proud of?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Oh, wow. They would be probably most proud of our kids. They would love on them so hard.

Luke W Russell:

Thinking about the books. Can a book be as good as a trip to a physical location?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Well, no, but it can come pretty damn close. It depends on a lot of things. Right? So, it depends on the author. It depends on your own lived experiences, you the reader. It depends on how much you as a reader, open yourself to the book and allow yourself to get lost and dream, and just let your imagination go.

But I recently read, The Things She’s Seen. That was my favorite book that I read. It’s called The Things She’s Seen. And it’s a young adult novel set in Australia. The authors are Aboriginal Australian, brother, sister duo. I knew nothing prior to reading that book and prior to exploring the Aboriginal culture of Australia for Atlas Book Club, I didn’t know much. And so, that’s an example of how a book can really take you there.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. In elementary, I believe you started knitting, making things like headbands, and then these would be sold at the same store where your mother sold her cosmetics.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah. It occurred to me recently, and by recent, I mean, in the last two years that this entrepreneurial spirit is such a part of who I am. And it took me a while to recognize it. Because my grandmother was a market woman. She was a business woman. My mom was until she graduated from college. And even while she was working as an accountant, she had this side gig, where she would pick us up from school, and she would make rounds to these different supermarkets and drop off her goods. And my great-grandmother was a market woman.

So, and then of course in my childhood, I had this little business where I would buy yarn. I’ll get my mom to buy yarn, if we’re being honest. And sell this little hair ribbons back to supermarket. And I was maybe 10 then.

And then I also had this business where I don’t even know where I came up with that idea. I would make coconut candy. So, basically, if I shredded coconut and cook it down in like sugar and water, is basically like coconut in caramel. And then I put it up in little bags and give it to the guy, selling candy in front of our house to sell it for me.

But it was almost like, when I left Nigeria at 16, there was this shift to, “Okay, you’re going to go to America and you’re going to go to college, and you’re going to go to med school, and you’re going to get a job.” You know what I mean? And so, I feel like that whole entrepreneurial spirit was quiet for a while until maybe like three years. I think I turned 40 and something happened.

Luke W Russell:

We spoke with your mother and she said, it meant a lot to her to have her kids working hard. What was your relationship like with her growing up, and how has that shifted as she’s moved into grandmother stage?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

We always had a close relationship. Yeah. I think my mom has always been just a great example of unconditional love. And she’s very open-minded. She’s just a judgment-free zone. Also, I was a really good girl, which is not always a good thing as you get older, but I’m very much a rule follower. I still am, which helps being an attorney, just growing up, I just was very shy, very quiet. I just wanted to read my books. I didn’t give them much trouble to begin with.

That aside, we just had such a close relationship and she made efforts to be interested in what I was interested in. And we would listen to Mariah Carey albums and watch Mariah Carey videos on MTV, all day Saturday. She was just very accessible.

And so, as I’ve gotten older, I think our relationship has definitely gotten stronger, as a mom, myself and a wife. I appreciate some of the struggles and challenges she had. We had our tense moments, because when I moved from Nigeria here to the US, I was 16. And when she joined, I was 20. And so, four years of not seeing her. I was independent woman. So, there was some tense moments as she adjusted to the fact that I was not her little girl anymore. And I had to adjust to having a parental presence in my life again, but that was for a couple of years. And then we weren’t as close as we were before I left Nigeria, if not even closer. Yeah.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. So, you mentioned earlier that your parents’ plan was you’re going to finish high school and you’re going to go get a higher education in the United States. Were you always bought into that plan or was that more just something maybe you just were swept in the current, didn’t think about it? Or was there maybe at points, some feeling like you were going along with someone else’s plan?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Oh, that’s a good one. To understand Nigerian culture as it was then, I know things may have changed, you just do what your parents tell you. And I wasn’t given much of a choice, but I didn’t really give much thought to having no choice. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to be like, “Well, do I have a choice in the matter?” Which is interesting. I’ve never thought about that. It was just what we were going to do. And that was it.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. So, you moved here. Did you come here with your brother?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Mm-hmm.

Luke W Russell:

So, you have one person. Was moving to the US as a teenager, a source of both maybe excitement and inspiration, as well as anxiety?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah, it was. I think, so the journey from Nigeria to London, where we stayed for three months, was more a source of excitement, because I was going with one of my best friends. She was one of those families that traveled often. And so, they were going on vacation to London. So, we took the same flight. So, there was this excitement that I’m going to England with one of my closest friends. And so, there was that excitement there.

But then when it was time to leave London and go to the US, which was definitely more unfamiliar land, where I didn’t know anyone, there was some anxiety. And I don’t remember feeling excited. I remember feeling sad and just anxious. Now that I think about it, that’s the word I would use to describe it about the uncertainty of it all.

And I think once I got over the excitement of hanging out with my friend, I think it started to settle in that, “Oh my gosh, I miss my mom, my home, my dad, my brother.” So yeah. Yeah.

Luke W Russell:

Now, if I remember right, you said earlier that plan was come, come back to the United States, go to med school, and that’s what you needed to do to be successful. When did you leave that idea behind?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

I would say it was a gradual discontent with that plan. And I think it started my second year. While I was in Nigeria, I love Janet Jackson. And I had always said, “Oh, when I go to America, I’m going to become a choreographer.”

Luke W Russell:

I love it.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Janet Jackson. So, when I got to the US, so first two semesters of college, I was on plan, on my parents’ plan. And then I started to realize the opportunities there were here in the US. I started to understand that if you wanted to be a choreographer, you can actually do, if you chose. So, the rebellion started happening a little bit.

And then I took two years of jazz dance and, oh my gosh, I was so happy, until the teacher told me I had that flat feet. But anyway, so I think that’s when that started happening, the awakening, for lack of a better term.

And then, but by the time I got to my last year of college, and I took the MCATs, and I just did average. And it was clear to me that, because average doesn’t get you into med school. And I was just like, “Why am I feeling so? I don’t even really want to do this. Why am I getting myself up about having just average scores in the MCATs? And so, I did try. I tried. I was like, “Okay. I’m going to try it. Let’s apply. I didn’t get in.” And of course, I had a lot of friends in the same bowl. So, you just try it again. That’s what we did.

I was like, “Why am I training for something I really don’t want to do?” And so, that’s when it’s like, “Okay. I’m not doing this.” And I’m trying to remember how my parents felt. I don’t remember any of them feeling particularly terrible about the decision. They were just like, “Okay.” Which was, again, a reminder that, “Well, maybe I should have done this a long time ago and not have wasted so much time trying to appease them, make them happy.”

But I think if you ask any immigrant teenager or first-generation, American, they’ll tell you that there’s some pressure to do things like that, because you have this opportunity that not many people have. So, there’s that pressure like, “There are so many people who want to come to America. And so, I should do this because I have this opportunity.” Well, but it’s your life, right? You should do what you want to do with it.

So, that’s how I came about that decision. And then I worked for a biotech company for about a year and a half. And just talking to one of the attorneys, they were like, “Have you ever thought about going to law school?” “Not really, but sure, why not?”

Luke W Russell:

So, that’s it, it was just somebody asks you about law school. And what was it in that moment that caught your attention from law?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah. And I had never thought about it, but the moment she asked, it was like light bulb. Of course, I love to read and I love to write. And I think what I’ll say is one of my, what’s the word? Strengths is that I can decipher a huge amount of information, and I’m fine, which makes again, working doing this Atlas Book Club thing, because I have to read a lot of books and make a decision on which books we select. And so, I was like, “Well, duh, of course, that’s what I should do.”

And I took the LSATs and I scored ridiculously high. And at that point, it just all made sense. And I applied and got in. Yeah.

Luke W Russell:

And when you graduated, what were you hoping to do with your law degree?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

So, initially, it just made sense to do patent law, because I have a science background. My undergrad is in cell biology and genetics, and then marrying that with my legal degree just makes it, “Oh, I will do patent law.” And I took the patent bar, but patent was very boring. And to me it was anyway, what I knew of it. Yeah. And I just wasn’t able to get a job that fell in into that area of the law. So, that was the plan.

But when I graduated, I did a clerkship. After completing my clerkship, it was very evident that I didn’t have the luxury of selecting, which area of law I wanted to do. I just needed to get a job. Because I completed my clerkship in 2007, right around the recession. And so, it was like, “Okay, I just need any job now.”

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Now, you’re talking about, you have pre-med for undergraduate. You score incredibly well in the LSAT. You think about patents. Do you ever stop and think like, “I am pretty smart.”

Bunmi Emenanjo:

I get asked this question. Well, not a lot, but I’ve gotten asked this question a couple of times. And I think I work hard. And I remember growing up, my brother is the one that I can say, he’s a genius. He is. And so, I’m a little competitive. And I remember growing up, he would just, while eating his rice, that’s when he studies, and he’s done. And he gets straight As. I, on the other hand would be up all night with my lantern, just studying and studying, and studying.

And so, I think what developed over a period of time was my work ethic. And I know what works for me. I know my study habits. I know I have to do to get that grade. So, if you say that adds all up to being smart, now, I guess you could describe it as that, but it doesn’t come easy. Well, maybe now it does. It comes easier. I just, I work hard and I study a lot. And now, I think the way I study is, I just have a yearning for knowledge, and what I know, I want to know it.

Luke W Russell:

What advice would you give law students who are getting ready to graduate and go out into the real world? Would you maybe tell them to have some fun along the way?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think what’s so understated in the legal education that I got and that we probably all got, is that you can do so freaking much with a law degree. And so, just think outside the box, and you can pretty much do anything you want with a law degree, in the sense that find what interests you, what you’re passionate about, what brings you joy, really, find that industry, find that, and then figure out how you can bring your legal skills to that. And it may not necessarily be the practice of law.

And what I quickly learned was that the law practice is not so sexy in the sense that as what you think it is or the way it’s portrayed on TV, and all that stuff. There’s a lot of drying in there. And so, if you’re going to practice law, do it in a way that’s meaningful and fulfilling to you. And that can be really anything you want it to be, not necessarily what society tells you it should be.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. I love that. So, you eventually go to work as counsel for the food and drug administration. When did that come after your graduation period?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Oh, that came years. I started working on the FDA in 2012. I graduated in 2005. And so, between 2005 in 2012, is that seven years? I did a clerkship. I did a lot of contract attorney positions, because I just couldn’t find a job. It was so frustrating. And in between that time, I had three kids.

So, now when I look back, and I definitely was very frustrated, but at the same time, I had this opportunity to be home with my kids when they were young. So, I had the kids pretty much back to back like with a year in between.

Looking back now, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be home with them. And I had contracting gigs where I would work for a while and then home for a while. And so, part of the frustration too was, okay, I live in the DC area where attorneys are a dime a dozen. And I think in 2010, I just made the decision to go back to school and get a master’s degree in bio-science affairs, because I wanted to just stand out from the pack, for lack of a better term.

And so, I knew I wanted to work at the FDA, because I felt like my science background married with my legal education would be a good fit. So, I got a degree that is basically FDA law. So yeah, when I graduated from that Hopkins program, I got into the FDA.

Luke W Russell:

What were your responsibilities and challenges working at the FDA?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

I mean, working at the FDA, it was such a great experience. I just had the opportunity to work on different areas of the law. I did regulatory policy. And I did conflict of interest work. So, it was just such a good experience and a great way to start my career.

Luke W Russell:

When we come back, Bunmi will tell us about the moment when she began to truly believe that a higher power was at work in her life, and how learning to be authentic and vulnerable has made her a better person. Stay with us. I’m Luke W Russell, and you’re listening to Lawful Good.

Luke W Russell:

Hey, everyone, Luke here. If you’re thinking, “Hey, these interviews are unique and really highlight the humanity of the guests.” That’s because this is what we do all day, every day. I own an agency. And we work with law firms who are marketing and advertising for mass torts and personal injury claims. We drive results by using the power of human stories.

Our unique and thoughtful methods for crafting messages, allow us to help lawyers get clients by connecting with the hearts and minds of potential claimants. If you’re looking to serve more individuals in need of legal help, and you want to get away from generic marketing, shoot me an email at luke@russellmedia.us. That’s L-U-K-E R-U-S-S-E-L-L M-E-D-I-A.us. And we can set up a time to chat.

Or if you just want to give me a ring, ping me on my cell. It’s (317) 855-8597. And if you’re thinking, “Wait, is that normal to leave a phone number in a podcast?” Maybe not. But hey, look, I’ve been in this industry for a long time. I know a lot of great people in it. So, you can reach out to me at (317) 855-8597.

Luke W Russell:

When we left off, Bunmi was taking us through her journey from Nigeria to law school, to the FDA. As we continue, she dissects American and Nigerian identities, and helps us understand how self compassion can lead the way to a more fulfilling life.

Thinking back to your childhood, some children of recent immigrants to America resist their heritage, thinking they’ll blend in better with the mainstream. Do your friends who immigrated to the US talk about difficulties in preserving a sense of Nigerian heritage in their children and young relatives?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Not that I’ve experienced, because man, to be Nigerian, to be Niger is just it. There’s just so much. It’s in your system. It’s everything. This is such a beautiful culture. Like to just hear, for example, like my mom praying Yoruba, that can just bring you to tears.

So, they may be others out there. But I know that when I talk to my friends or to my husband and his friends, I guess, there’s just a lot of pride. And in fact, my daughter, one of her best friends, her dad is, I think of Irish heritage and her mom is Nigerian, is Yoruba. And when they first met, that’s how they connected. And she’s 12. They met when she was like nine or 10. That’s how they connected was over a certain like Nigerian food. And so, at that age and having never set foot in Nigeria, the culture just resonates so strongly.

And so, I haven’t experienced a lot of people who want to reject that side of them. However, there’s the challenge of making sure that we are passing on that tradition and culture to our kids, which as a parent, there’s so much going on. And so, you have to make a conscious effort to do that.

I wish my kids spoke Yoruba. They don’t. They understand a little bit, but the challenge of that is because my husband and I are from different tribes. We don’t speak the same Nigerian language. So, it’s not constantly in our home. Whereas one of my friends, both her and her husband are Yoruba, so they’re constantly speaking Yoruba to each other. So, the kids understand and speak Yoruba.

So, I wish the kids spoke one over our languages, but they don’t. And so, there’s that fear that maybe it will get lost in generations to come, but you just never know how that works out.

Luke W Russell:

Do you feel a conflict between holding a Nigerian identity and being an American at the same time?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

I don’t. That’s the thing, I don’t, because no, I am very, very much American. And I think it’s a few things, right? I spent, how many years in this country now? I moved here when I was 16, and I’m 43. So, what? 27 years. Yeah. And so, I’ve lived here much longer than I’ve lived in Nigeria. And I’m very much American and I’m very much black American, in the sense that I’m a hip-hop head. I love hip-hop. I’m very much aware and appreciative of the culture and the history of this country. And in the same manner that we teach our children about Nigerian culture and tradition, we teach them about African-American history and culture.

And so, I’m very thankful to be surrounded by strong African-American women, who are my friends, who I learn a lot from every day. And so, there’s no conflict. In fact, I think being Nigerian helps me appreciate being African-American even more, in the sense that, I have a strong appreciation for the history and for the struggles of African-Americans in this country. And I ache and hurt for my black brothers and sisters who didn’t have the experiences that I had growing up in the village. I ache for them, that they were robbed of that experience that I was so privileged to have. And so, I am very much black American just as much as I am Nigerian.

Luke W Russell:

Wow. Thank you. So, you’re married and have three children. When did you meet your husband? Was that law school, before law school?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

That was before law school. We were friends first. And so, we met in college. I was at University of Maryland. He was at Howard University. And yeah, we were part of just like a group of friends. And so, we were friends for a very long time. And then I think we met in 1998, and we started dating in 2006, 10 years later.

Luke W Russell:

What do you hope to pass on to your children from your upbringing?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

The strong sense of pride. I hope we do that already. And that’s just in who they are. And that’s one of the reasons I started Atlas Book Club to begin with. They have a strong sense of pride in who they are. They have a strong sense of identity, especially living in a world that’s very quick to tell you who they think you are. We both, my husband and I feel very strongly about that.

And so, my hope is to pass on a strong sense of self, a strong sense of culture. They just, Nigeria has just so much beauty in its culture, and not only in its culture has been in the Nigerian, but in the very individual specific cultures, because my husband and I are from different cultures. So, we’re from different parts of Nigeria. And so, not only a general sense of pride in culture, but specific sense of pride. I want them to be proud, to be from [Iguza 00:42:57], which is the village where my father-in-law is from. I want them to be proud of being from Ijebu-Ode, which is where my mom is from, from [Ondo 00:43:06], where my dad is from. That level of specificity is what I hope that they know and hold onto, that they can pass that on to their children.

Luke W Russell:

What kind of role does your faith play in your day to day life?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Oh, man, everything.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah. My grandparents were Muslim. My mom is Catholic, I’m Catholic. I identify Catholic even though I don’t go to a Catholic church now. And I think at a very early age, my parents, we were very much the people who go to mass every Sunday. I was baptized, all of that.

I think what happens is when you come to this country or you’re on your own at that age, as I got older, I don’t think I recognized it at 16, 17, but as I got older, I started to recognize that there was a higher power at play in my life. I would say I did have an experience that stands out, and that the experience where my faith shifted.

So, I was in law school. First year of law school, and actually first day of law school, and I had gotten in, and I didn’t have any money. For a number of reasons, I didn’t have school loans to pay for that first year. And so, I used all my savings to move to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where not a lot was happening, but that’s where Widener University was, Widener University School of Law.

And so, come the first week of school, I went to buy my books. And Marvin, who I don’t remember his last name, he was the bookstore manager. And he said, I went to go pay for my books, and I think they came to like almost $500. And I just didn’t have it. I didn’t have a credit card or anything. And my mom, she was also struggling. She had written me a check for $50 and she said, “Keep this for emergency, in case of emergency.” I said, “Okay.”

And so, I get to go pay for my books. And I think I had like $200. And Marvin said, that’s why I said, “Oh, I don’t have it. So, I’m just going to get these two books that I can afford, and I’ll come back for the rest later.” And he said, “Well, you need your books because you’re going to get so far behind. You need this book.”

And he said, “Okay, let’s do this.” He said, “I’ll give you my employee discount, which was like 30% off or something like that.” And I still didn’t have enough because I had just like $200. And I said, “Oh, I have this check that my mom gave me. I’m going to take out this $50 check and add to it.” And he said, “But is this an emergency?” I said, “Well, yeah, I need my books.” And he said, “Well, no, save that for a true emergency.” And he did something I will never forget. This was like, what? Like 15 years ago, if not more.

And he said, “Here’s what we will do. Just give me what you have. Okay?” “I have $200.” That’s fine. My books were almost 500. “Give me what you have. Don’t worry about the rest.” And I said, “Oh my gosh, no, I can’t do that.” And he said, “Why not?” And, “No, I can’t do that. I can’t accept that. I can’t accept that. I can’t accept that. I can’t make you do that.” And he said, “God is speaking to me. And he’s telling me that you’re going to do great things in the future. And I just want to be a part of your story.”

Luke W Russell:

Wow.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

And he took… It wasn’t even up to 200, like a hundred and something dollars. And he let me walk out of there with all my books, first year. I went in my car and I cried because nobody had that vision with that kind of kindness. And it was just like, somebody believes in me without even knowing me.

And that was the first big shift in my spirituality. It was just so evident that there was a higher power in play. And the more I recognized and the more I offer gratitude, and not only that, recognize that all glory goes to God, everything, none of this is my doing. And so, the more I recognize that, the more it is evident in my life, for lack of a better term.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. That’s really powerful. Okay. I’m going to roll us into, it’s going to be a little bit of an energy shift here. We’re going to roll us into what we call our high-velocity round.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Okay.

Luke W Russell:

It’s a little bit ridiculous, because I’m going to ask you a series of yes, no questions. But the rule is you’re not allowed to answer just yes or no.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Okay.

Luke W Russell:

All right. You ready?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yes.

Luke W Russell:

All right. Have you ever thought about auditioning for a baking show?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yes, I have. I love to bake. It just makes me happy. I think it’s because when I bake, there is some certainty in what the outcome is. I know if I do one cup of flour, one cup of sugar. I know at the end of it, I’m going to have a cake or whatever. And so, part of it, I think is just that certainty, especially for someone whose life has used to have a lot of uncertainty.

Luke W Russell:

Is your phone battery by chance above 10% right now?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

I have to remember this is a podcast, I’m going to come across like a cackling crazy lady. Yeah. I have quite the reputation of, I don’t know why. I don’t know.

Luke W Russell:

Just not a high on the priorities and that’s all right.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

It’s just not, until it is.

Luke W Russell:

Does your dog have eyes?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Does my dog have eyes?

Luke W Russell:

I have a picture of you and your family with your dog. And I saw the dog, and I saw hair and a snout.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah. Yeah, he does. He’s hair has grown so much. He has the most beautiful brown eyes though. Yeah.

Luke W Russell:

Do you nap every day?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Not every day, but definitely on the weekends. Yes.

Luke W Russell:

Can you take too many naps in one day?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Probably not. If you have the time, go for it. I remember when the world was open, I used to look forward to it so much. And the kids had in-person piano class. We would go there and they would be in their piano, and I would be on the couch, and I would just nap. It’s just an effective use of time.

Luke W Russell:

Yes. Can you be a science nerd without wearing glasses?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah, absolutely. I do have my glasses here, I’m just not wearing them.

Luke W Russell:

I love it. Does cooking excite you the way science does?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Oh, that’s a hard one. Yes. Yeah. I mean science, they both do. And cooking, definitely it excites me. Yeah. Especially cooking something new, and something that I delight in. I remember the first time I made focaccia bread, and my friend, one of my friends, because she wanted me to make it for her. She sent me this video of an Italian bakery when COVID just started happening and everything started, lets say, I’m doing all this baking classes online. And just the delight that I got out of making that the first time, it’s just something that I still remember. Yeah.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. Speaking of food and hearing your enthusiasm in food, your friend, Rashonda, said-

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Oh my God.

Luke W Russell:

… you light up when you see your food come up at a restaurant. She described you as having a bright-eyed excitement of a two year old getting an ice cream cone.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah. I love food. I love good food. Yeah. And she might be talking about, when we went out, and we shared a Truro waffle, which is probably the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life. Right? It’s like a Belgian waffle, and they cut it into strips, and they make it like, I think they deep fry it, and coat it in cinnamon sugar. See that, exactly.

Luke W Russell:

That’s amazing.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

And then they serve it with a super vanilla ice cream. It is heaven, heaven.

Luke W Russell:

Yes.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

So, if my face lights up when I see that, that is accurate.

Luke W Russell:

You have called yourself a student of authenticity and vulnerability. What do those words mean to you?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Those mean everything to me. I think when I just became a mom, was when I started connecting with those. And I discovered Brene Brown, and my life changed. What happened was those ideas were already in me. I just didn’t know what to call them.

I’m an Oprah Winfrey kid. I grew up on Oprah Winfrey, watching Oprah Winfrey. And just to give you a little story. Back in Nigeria, I think I was like 12 or 13 years old when I started watching the Oprah Winfrey Show. And it would come on at 1:00 AM. And it will come from 1:00 to 2:00. And a Moonlighting with Bruce Willis will come on from 2:00 to 3:00 A.M.

So, we had this small black and white TV, probably the size of the laptop. And I would make my younger brother hold, we had like a wire. The hanger would be like wired to the TV, so it has an antenna. And the room where the TV was, the living was right next to my parents’ bedroom. So, we would sneak up at like 1:00 AM, and I would make my brother whole of the antenna. I would be sitting this close to the TV because the volume, you had to turn the volume very low, so as not to wake up my parents. And I would watch the Oprah Winfrey Show. And then my brother, I would have to bribe him with candy, because I was making money off my little business. And so, it was like, “You have to buy me some Eclairs”. I’m like, “Just hold the antennae.” And so this was like 12, 13 years old.

When I moved to the US, because my mom was in Nigeria, and it’s not like the way it is now, in the sense that I could just pick up the phone and call someone in Nigeria. There was no internet. There was no cell phones. We didn’t have a phone in my home growing up. So, in order to get to a phone, my parents would have to walk three or four streets down to a relative’s house and use their phone. And you have to, “Okay, you let them know. Oh, they’ll get a message delivered. Bunmi is going to call from America on Saturday at 10:00 AM.”

Luke W Russell:

Yeah.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

And so, not having that ability to talk to my mom, who we were very close, and just not having that parental connection, Oprah Winfrey, the Oprah Winfrey Show was the one constant in my life. And so, I would come home from school, I started school work, whatever I was doing. And I would tape the Oprah Winfrey Show on a VHS. And I would watch the Oprah Winfrey Show every day for years. And she was my other mom. I learned a lot about being a woman from her and just being a whole person in the sense like all those things, authenticity, vulnerability, all of that. And like I said, I didn’t know what to call them then.

But when I connected with Brene Brown, I can’t even remember, I saw her TED talk, and it was like light bulb, “That’s what that is called.” Yeah. And I think that just opened the door and I just, I love Brene Brown. I read a lot of just people who’ve studied that, and who just communicate values that speak to that, that just is such a huge part of my life because it also informs how I live now. And I can get into specific examples later, but I just believe so strongly in being authentic or being vulnerable, because I feel like it gives permission to the people that you’re engaging with. It gives them permission to be their most authentic self. And what happens is that just births an energy that just allows magic to happen. And I’ve seen it replicate over and over, and over again in my interactions and relationships.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. You’ve said you’re “learning to practice kindness to myself, more self-compassion, and now more gentleness, emotionally and physically.”

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Oh my God, where did I write that?

Luke W Russell:

Let’s just say Kirsten does an exceptional job on research.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

I see. Okay. So, read that again. That sounded really good.

Luke W Russell:

It came from a very wise woman, I recently met. She said that she’s learning to practice kindness to myself, more self-compassion, and now more gentleness, emotionally and physically. Now, is that like a bunch of feel good, self-help talk or are these real applicable practices?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Very, very real, very real. I’ve been in this country since I was 16 years old. I’ve basically been working since I was 16. And a lot of the earlier years was about survival. And I am what I call myself a recovering perfectionist. I just am very critical of myself and my work. And I push and grind, but now I grind and I nap.

So, I’ve just learned, I would say in the past 13, I have my oldest, he’s 13. So, I would say in the past 10 years, I’ve just learned to be more gentler in my approach towards myself, just less critical, less hyper-critical, less striving for perfection, and just learning to be more self-compassionate like, “Hey, that’s okay. It’s okay.” Because I came to the realization that I’m a great friend, I think. And so, I extend so much grace and compassion to my friends and to others, and I’m just learning to do that towards myself. And so, that as far as emotional gentleness.

But as far as physical gentleness, 10 years ago, or so, I injured my knees and I used to race. I used to run. And I was actually training for a half marathon when I injured my knees. And so, that in and of itself has been a journey, coming to accept that I can’t race anymore. I mean, not because I can’t run, but just because the mechanics of my body, I have really flat feet. And the mechanics of my body I’ve been advised just, “If you want to keep your knees and your feet until you’re 80, 90 years old, running and racing is just not for you.”

And so, being someone who just loves that competitiveness, who loves to race, who loves to work out and go hard in the gym, learning to be gentler with my body is something that’s been a journey in and of itself and staying. I mean, the past two, three years I’ve been much better, but it took me a couple of years for all that to settle in and really embrace gentle movement like yoga. And just recognizing that the goal is movement. It doesn’t have to be go hard all the time.

When I do yoga is when I feel like I’m loving on my body the most, because I just feel is like my muscles are giving my bones, this warm hug. And so, just being kind to my body and recognizing that, in a world where has a black woman, it can be a harsh, harsh world. If the world is doing that to me, what am I doing to myself?

I deserve and I’m worthy of that gentleness. And so, a lot of things that I post in Facebook are epiphanies that come to me in the moment, and that I post for my future self, in the sense that I love going to Facebook memories every day, because sometimes there are words that I’ve left for myself like six, seven years ago. And it’s usually almost always something I need today.

So, I post it first and foremost, selfishly, for my future self, but also because again, going to vulnerability, I recognize that I’m not the only one going through this. And so, if I need it, I bet somebody else needs it too.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. What experiences opened your eyes to the aspects of yourself that you’re working on?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Well, I’ll tell the story. So, when my youngest was like two months old, I was in my master’s program at Hopkins. So, that would mean my oldest was almost five, I think. Was that 2012? Yeah. So, my oldest was about four and a half. My daughter was maybe two. And my youngest was like a month or so. And I was in Hopkins. I had the baby, and two weeks later I had a paper due.

And I remember I was driving to my parents in law because I was so tired, and I just need to get over there, so I can take a nap. And so, I was driving and the baby was crying, and I think the two kids were like bickering. And I just was freaking. I was driving and I was just like, “Oh my God.” And I had, was probably some kind of anxiety attack or a panic attack. I was just like, “Oh my gosh.” And who knows? I mean, looking back, maybe it was postpartum. I don’t know.

And I remember pulling over to the side of the street, calling my husband, and he just like, “Breathe, calm down.” I was maybe a mile away from my in-law’s house. And so, I was calm, “Okay, I’m good. The kids are good.” So, I drive over there and take a nap, and everything.

And then I call my mom. She had a conversation with me, and she told me the story of when she was in Lagos, and she was running her business and picking up the kids, and going there. And one of the stores where she would drop off her goods, there was an old lady in front of the gate. And the old lady called her and said, and she said this in Yoruba. I’ll translate as much as I can. And it should say, “Ma’am,” she’s like, “I see you every day, going back and forth, just scuttling the kids, this and that.” And she was like, “Let me tell you this.” And she said, “Perfectionism is what killed the perfectionist.” And so, this is what this random old lady told her.

And so, my mom is giving me this talk, she’s like, “Perfectionism is what killed the perfectionist.” And she just basically told me like, “Just you need to chill. You’re doing way too much here.” And so, that was where it just all started to click. And that’s where I was like, “Okay. I need to find a way to just simplify my life. This is a lot going on.” And I started learning to say no more. And so, that birthed this unapologetic self care, where I was just like, “Okay. You did this. No.”

And I just embraced saying no, embraced taking care of myself, and just dedicated to putting my own, what’s it called? They say, put your mask on first. When you start on that kind of journey, it builds exponentially. It builds on itself, because what happens is it feels great. You start to go like, “I have more peace and I have more energy. I want to do more of this.” And so, that just started off this snowball of learning more about self-care and self-compassion, and just building those practices in.

Luke W Russell:

You mentioned earlier that running used to be very important to you, but you had to stop for medical reasons. Is there any kind of physical exercise you can do as part of your self care?

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Oh yeah. I just got a Peloton bike.

Luke W Russell:

I love that. Yeah. I do at Peloton ride every pre-interview because it just gets my body like reset, flushed out, and it does way more than coffee ever could.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

It is my favorite thing. And I resisted for a while. I was like, “I am not paying nearly $3,000 for a bike.” But because I used to race, and by race, I mean like 10Ks. And I was training for a half marathon when I injured my knees. And this was about maybe six years ago. And so, I think with the Peloton, is the first time that I can exercise, because I love to push. And I can push and get that endorphin high, pain free. It just feels, it’s very liberating to be able to just push that hard.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. I know what you mean because I’ve never had an injury, but I’ve always had knee issues when I try to… Even sometimes I’ve had times where I do like the three to five mile walk. It’s just like an intentional walk, and I’ll have knee pain and I’m like, “Oh man, I’m 31 years old. Who wants to ride a bike inside?” It sounds so… And I had done a spin class, maybe 10 years, one time. And I was like, “Nope, not interested.” But with the pandemic, and I had a friend just raving about it, and I did it, and I love it more every month. I love that pushing and because I did a hit ride before this, and that was like, “Whew.” I was heart pounding.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

I love it.

Luke W Russell:

Oh, it feels so good, that rich burn in the lungs afterwards that like lasers.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah. And there’s some, I mean, I don’t know if this is part of the interview, but I can talk business all day. Right? And so, when I think about the Peloton business model, and in fact, when I started thinking about athletes, and I love How I Built This, when I started researching and thinking about Atlas and what that would look like from a business perspective, I listened to a lot of How I Built This. And Peloton was one of my favorites because it helped me be confident in the price point that I placed on the Atlas box. Right? It really helped me do that. Because at the end of the day, I just felt that people will pay for what they value. Because I was uncomfortable, if I’m being honest, I was uncomfortable with the Atlas, I was like, “Is it too much? Is it this?” And in fact, now I feel like I should be charging more, but I will not. That’s a totally different story.

But yeah, it made me feel like people will pay for what they value, as long as you are bringing that value. And look at us just gushing about Peloton. I mean, what a business module, where their users are the ones helping them sell these bikes. So, anyway.

Luke W Russell:

Yeah. It’s just interesting to think about it. And when I hear you talking about price, that’s something a lot of people, I think a lot of us, entrepreneurs, and maybe not everybody, but I feel like a lot of us struggle with that, like charging the number that’s really going to let us do everything we want to do, so that we can stay in business and do this for a long time.

Bunmi Emenanjo:

Yeah, absolutely. And it also, because you know what you’re bringing to the table. Yeah. And I mean, the amount of time and effort that I put into this, you just have to believe that your time is worth, whatever it is that you’re charging. It’s not just a book, and some facts and some souvenirs, it is the intentionality that goes into it.

Luke W Russell:

Next week, we’ll hear part two of this two part series, where Bunmi will share about Atlas Book Club and how it came to be. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, or head over to our website to leave a comment at lawfulgoodpodcast.com/review.

Thanks so much for listening to us this week. This podcast is produced by Kirsten Stock, developed in collaboration with Max T Russell, edited by Kendall Perkinson, and mastered by Guido Bertolini. A special thanks to the companies that make this project possible, X Social Media, Russell Media, and the SEO Police. You can learn more about these groups by visiting our website, lawfulgoodpodcast.com. I’m your host, Luke W Russell. And you’ve been listening to Lawful Good.