Actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, City Councilmember Robert Cornegy, and two human rights activists groups gathered Thursday morning on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan in a show of support for the victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
The participants wanted to show a coalition of force does exist in New York City, despite the world’s relative silence. The demonstration served as a call for action to end Boko Haram’s terrorization of the people of Nigeria and also a plea for the U.S. to send humanitarian aid to those displaced by the conflict.
Akinnagbe, best known for his role as cold-blooded assassin Chris Partlow on the HBO series The Wire, experienced inequity firsthand as the child of Nigerian-immigrant parents.
He told the Village Voice about how in his youth, he bounced around from fenced-in shelters to run-down projects, many of them surrounded by suburbs. His impoverished upbringing would later inspire Akinnagbe to become an outspoken activist in different parts of the world.
“I do it because I have to,” he told the Voice. “I don’t really see a choice. This is part of who I am. It’s who I’ll always be. I can’t have gone to the West Bank and Israel and witnessed the apartheid I saw and not come back and say something about it. I couldn’t live with myself. I can’t have lived in the shelters I’ve lived in and seen what my mother went through and not say something about how we deal with our homeless. I couldn’t sleep.”
In 2011 Akinnagbe visited Nigeria for the first time and almost instantly felt a connection to his parents’ homeland. He has since returned several times, and now spends much of his free time lending his voice to raise awareness of the Boko Haram massacres:
“I knew my history didn’t start with slavery,” he said. But “to go someplace and see a nation of people who are a variation of you is empowering.”
“Everyone feels their struggles are unique to them,” Akinnagbe told the Voice. “All these different races of people out in the streets different colors and different languages protesting for the same thing, the same rights. If we recognize our brothers and sisters and their struggles, we are stronger.”
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