Looking Ahead: while reflecting on the past, present and utilizing the power of words and relationship building:
I will start by congratulating the first female president of ANPA, Dr. Charmain Emelife, its executive members, all the ANPA Chapter chairs, their executive members, all ANPA members, and their families, on this 25th anniversary of the Association. My predecessors and ANPA National Founding members have said it all and have discussed and given brilliant and inspirational testimonies about their experiences with ANPA, since its inception.
We owe them a lot of gratitude for their work. Coming from ANPA NJ Chapter and as its immediate past treasurer, I would like to recognize our chapter members, including our Founding chapter members for their contributions towards the development of the association, in general. I would also like to thank Dr. Ogunkoya for the post and comments he made about his experience with ANPA and for bringing to light what he and all our other ANPA New Jersey Chapter Founding members have done towards setting the stage for what we are now (a chapter of 29 active and paid members and three active medical students as of June 2019). One of the Founding members, Dr. Enyi Okereke lost his life while giving a lecture on Emergency – Critical care, in Nigeria. My tribute goes to him for his works and to his wife and family who have tirelessly carried his legacy through the Enyi Foundation, which meets for work during the Fall Season every year, in the South of New Jersey. I was also highly influenced and inspired by Dr. Kuyinu under whose chairmanship I served as the immediate past ANPA -NJ Treasurer from 2017. The motivation that she exudes in us, as well as the energy and time that she continues to provide for us, even as she now lives thousands of miles away from New Jersey, is immeasurable.
My journey with ANPA started officially towards the end of the tenure of Dr. Etomi’s Presidency. Although I was not an ANPA member for many years, I had known much about ANPA through friends and acquaintances who were already members and through some involvement in some of the ANPA programs. My biggest motivation for officially joining, is Dr. Nwogo Agbasi, a close friend of mine since our days in Nigeria. Each time she came to visit, she would ask me about joining and I would reply that I will join later, to put off the question. One day, during a discussion with her, that I have never forgotten, she asked me if I was coming to one of the ANPA conventions coming up and I said “No”. I explained to her that this was because I had just spent a lot of money going to one of my association conventions; the American Psychiatric Association (APA) annual convention that usually takes place 3-5 weeks prior to the ANPA convention. I told her I was broke and needed time to recover financially, before joining another association. I had also gone back to school during that time frame and I had concerns about school loans that were fast accumulating. I expected her to stop at that, but she did not. Her next phrase was “ If you are spending all your money going to APA meetings, why not use that money and go to ANPA meeting instead, where you will get to meet and know your fellow Nigerians”.
I looked at her, gave no response, but changed the topic. However, that phrase continued to spin in my head for some time after. As soon as I completed my schooling, I made it my number one priority to join. The first year I joined I still debated about whether to stay or not, but with words and relationship building with the ANPA NJ executives and other members, I found ways to make ANPA my second home, to continue my memberships and involvement in both APA and ANPA. I remain a proud member of ANPA, committed to give back!
I write this piece to underscore the importance of the words we use and what these can do. Words can either affect people positively or negatively. It may not be remembered by the person who spoke the words, but certainly can be remembered for life by the recipient. For me, those words were positive words to connect me with my fellow Nigerian peers and to remind me of where I came from in my practice.
As we now look ahead, let us remember the importance of positive words, the words of wisdom and what these can do. Let us also remember the importance of positive relationship building and how far this can take us, as we advance towards the Golden Jubilee and beyond. Let us remember what makes us common, not what makes us different and how much we can achieve as a community than as an individual alone.
As we look towards that horizon, let us not forget about the silenced and marginalized voices. The voices of the mentally ill in Nigeria, in US and globally, who are stripped of their identities and have had other identities, unknown to them, bestowed on them. Let us not stop in our vision for a Healthier Nigeria in a Healthier World, until their proper identities and voices are restored, through advocacy, collaborative health care and other means.
As we continue to expand our membership, let us all bear in mind the foundations of understanding people. Let us look at our neighbors, our fellow Nigerians, our peers, our colleagues and their various families, and ask, NOT, if they are a “somebody” or a” nobody”, rather let us ask, as suggested by John Maxwell and Jim Dornan; Where did they come from? Where do they want to go? What is their need now? How can I help?
I look forward to seeing everyone in Washington!! God Bless!
Ifeoma Anwunah-Okoye, MD, MPH, FAPA
Immediate Past Treasurer, ANPA NJ