ON NIGERIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY OPAL TOMETI REVERTS TO USING THE NAME -AYỌ, A WORD ROOTED IN NIGERIAN ANCESTRY
Opal Tometi, globally acclaimed human rights champion and co-founder of the world’s largest social movement, Black Lives Matter, announces the change of her name to Ayọ Tometi in honor of her Nigerian heritage. Ayọ, a derivative of her middle name, means joy in the Yoruba language. It’s an expression of inner wholeness, pleasure, and happiness, and an outward pursuit of fulfillment and purpose. After decades of social justice and humanitarian
work, the transition to Ayọ is born from that journey and is deeply tied to the work Tometi’s done for decades. Reflecting on the journey thus far and expanding her work on the global stage to advance justice for all Black lives was an impetus for the change.
“The significance of my name transition is not only rooted in the desire to honor my heritage, but after reflection throughout this pandemic I wanted to remind myself that the pursuit of justice is
ultimately to attain joy for all of us. With all the social upheaval, hardship, and heaviness, I wanted to begin to embody the deepest desire of my heart which is not mere survival, but thriving. To be thriving is to be deeply seated in one’s joy.” – Ayọ Tometi
The announcement comes at a pivotal moment in the story of Black Lives Matter, the organization Tometi co-founded in 2013; the movement has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
As an Afro-futurist, Tometi sees her name change as a way to signal a new era.
A name change is one that many Black leaders have undergone as they expand on issues of focus, including figures such as Muhammad Ali (fka Cassius Clay), Malcolm X (fka Malcom Little), Kwame Ture (fka Stokely Carmichael) and many others. It usually connotes a revelation of identity, and a culmination of journeying and witnessing often spanning decades of experience.
The decision to go by a different name also often signals a reconnection with one’s heritage. In Ayọ’s case tracing back to her Yoruba roots. In the current climate where Black people are doing more to celebrate their lives and assert dignity about themselves, a name change is about self -determination.
About Ayọ Tometi
Ayọ Tometi is an award-winning human rights defender and one of three women co-founders of Black Lives Matter. Born in the United States to Nigerian immigrant parents, her human rights activism crosses borders and spans almost 20 years. In 2021 she became the first woman to win the International Peace Honors Award by the United States Institute of Peace. In 2020, Tometi graced the cover of Time Magazine’s TIME 100 Most Influential people and Time’s Most Influential Women of The Last Century. She is the founder of Diaspora Rising, a new media and advocacy hub, which helps mobilize people around the world to harness their voices for human rights globally. She is also a trusted advisor to various companies, nonprofit organizations, and has served on the board of Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity and the International Living Futures Institute. Hailed as a feminist freedom fighter, Ayọ is respected for her track record of uniting communities, and is known for her thought leadership on race, immigration, and gender. In early 2019 she completed nearly a decade of service as the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), the first immigrant rights organization for people of African descent in
the United States. She has received numerous recognitions including an honorary PhD and the 2019 Coretta Scott King Center Award. She has also been featured in a video installation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African History and Culture for her contributions in thought leadership for the betterment of the diaspora. Tometi has set her movement sights on uplifting the global Black community. When she’s not traveling the world or strategizing for social justice she is experiencing joy via dancing, biking, or adding to her Black art collection. While she has accomplished much to date, she is just beginning.
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