Introducing Active Voice Fellow Darlene Aderoju

2016 Active Voice Fellow Darlene Aderoju

Looking back, I wish I had someone to help me develop confidence. I wish I had support from the few other black girls at my school to feel beautiful. I wish I had someone to tell me that there’s more to life than looks and that I would experience life outside of Woonsocket, RI. I wish I had a mentor who looked like me to show me that she feels beautiful and ways that I could too, but I didn’t.

By Holly Speck

Q: Based on your descriptions related to ‘life outside Woonsocket, RI’ : What was your experience of life in this town? What did the world look like opposed to the world you are a part of now?

A: Woonsocket, Rhode Island felt like a box with a glass ceiling. There were extremely limited opportunities and no diversity. I knew that if I wanted to be somebody, I had to leave, so I used college as my way out. In D.C., particularly at Howard, I feel like the opportunities are endless as long as I continue working hard and staying motivated.
But in Woonsocket, it didn’t matter how much you dreamed of being successful, the opportunities just weren’t there. I remember telling my best friend that I wanted to pursue journalism instead of nursing and she said ‘What are you going to do with that?’ That was the mentality of most Rhode Islanders. You either learned a trade like nursing, or you worked an odd job, but you didn’t say you wanted to pursue journalism, especially if you were a minority.

How did you gain the confidence to overcome insecurities and stand up for what you believe in?

I literally had to uproot myself from Rhode Island. I had to leave the brainwashing that was forced on me growing up, which was that black women weren’t beautiful, and dark skin was ugly. That’s why I made the decision to go to Howard. I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to experience life as the majority, to finally be able to be myself without having to ‘be the voice of the people’ every two seconds because someone was making an offensive statement. In Woonsocket people asked questions about my hair and skin like I was a different species.
Now, every day, other beautiful, hardworking people who look like me surround me and they are thriving in their academics and career development so I have to be confident in myself to compete (good competition, of course). Being surrounded by people who are confident in themselves is what inspires me to be confident in myself. I know I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t leave Woonsocket, I would still be looking at the glass ceiling.

Who were your role models? Who are they presently and why?

Growing up, I would say my Mom was my role model – I’m a first generation American and college student, so there were a lot of things I had to learn on my own, but she gave me the strength, courage and wisdom I needed to learn everything I needed to know and overcome every obstacle that came my way. She always pushed me to do well in school and she taught me the importance of education at a very early age, I’m so thankful for that. Presently, I would say President Obama and Michelle are my role models – for obvious reasons.

What did these role models instill?

My role models showed me that anything is possible if you are determined and put forth the effort to succeed. There will always be obstacles and you won’t always succeed the first time, or get the support you think you need, but as long as you learn from your mistakes and keep pushing forward you will reach your goals, you might even find that you had everything you needed all along, within you. My role models showed me that while you can’t choose the hand you’re dealt in your childhood, you do have control over your future, and you have the power to determine your own success.

Once I become established as a reporter for a major news organization, I hope to eventually make it to the entertainment industry and land a position on the air. In a perfect world I would host my own talk show where I can host interesting interviews and share personal stories with my audience.

If you were to have your talk show — what would it be called and why / who would you want to interview/host first?

I don’t know what my show would be called, but it would be similar to the Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks Show. I would interview celebrities and experts and highlight everyday people. But my goal would be to indirectly shed light on issues pertinent to young people like confidence, relationships, college and career planning etc.
I would want to interview Debbie Allen first, because she also went to Howard and she’s the woman who produced my favorite show of all time, ‘A Different World.’ I would ask her about her journey, as a woman, producing the show, which is now a classic. I secretly want to be a reporter of hard news on a world news network one day, because the world is watching and I understand the importance of representation. A little girl in another country, or in Woonsocket, could see me and think, wow, maybe I could do that too.

What advice would you give to young female journalists or anyone feeling the need to self censor?

I would advise young female journalists to stand up for what they believe in and not censor themselves. There would be no change in this world if people didn’t go against the grain. When you look back at the people who have led massive change in the world, they always had to defeat censorship amongst many other things. So don’t censor yourself, really, because you have a voice and it should be heard.

Today though, I am lucky to have overcome my insecurities and gain the confidence to voice my opinions and stand up for what I believe in. I think it is very important that I help other young women who may not feel confident enough to chase their dreams because I was once in their shoes.