Oprah Winfrey is also the scholarship’s major seed funder, which Oyelowo hopes is a step towards combatting cultural and gender inequality.
David Oyelowo (Selma, Queen of Katwe) is paving a way for three Nigerian girls to continue their education with the announcement of a scholarship in his name starting this year. The David Oyelowo Leadership Scholarship stems from the actor’s close partnership with the GEANCO Foundation, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization committed to transforming health and education in Africa.
The three scholarships will cover full tuition for one year (including room and board and summer tutoring) for three females who have been exposed to terrorism and gender inequality to attend Nigeria’s Anglican Girls Grammar School beginning in September. It’s the same school Oprah Winfrey generously donated $100,000 to in Oyelowo’s honor in 2015 through GEANCO to provide the school with educational supplies, a brand-new computer lab and a water filtration system, among other additional support.
“The new scholarship will directly impact young girls lives who have been devastatingly impacted by acts of terror and gender inequality, and so hopefully it’s a place to put that frustration instead of just becoming more and more numb to the terrible things we’re seeing in the world at the moment,” Oyelowo told The Hollywood Reporter.
Winfrey is the scholarship’s major seed funder. Oyelowo and his wife, Jessica, have personally donated to the scholarship along with Participant Media, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, Janus Funds and several other donors.
For GEANCO co-founder and chief operating officer Afam Onyema, the scholarship is just the beginning of providing support to women who have been rescued from being kidnapped and terrorized by the acts of Boko Haram as well as those marginalized throughout Nigeria. The organization, which Onyema founded with his father in 2005, also has received support from Forest Whitaker, Kimora Lee Simmons and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who supports a separate school in Nigeria with the organization.
“We’ve done medical work for over a decade,” said Onyema. “Medical missions, knee replacements, anemia screenings, donations to hospitals — but we just had the sense that as these precious girls were being brutalized, kidnapped and terrorized that we need to do something. It’s such a complex, dangerous problem.”
Oyelowo expressed that being of Nigerian descent, along with raising a 4-year-old daughter of his own (as well as three sons), has shaped his perspective in wanting to help provide opportunities for her and all girls. His daughter also inspired him to join Lupita Nyongo in Queen of Katwe, a film which spotlights the game of chess and boasts a significant message for young women.
Said the actor: “Queen of Katwe, I did that as a love letter to my daughter, because in that I play a coach to an 11-year-old girl who sells corn on the streets of Kampala [Uganda] who would never otherwise go on to be a chess champion if she didn’t have mentoring and if she didn’t have someone somewhere who believed in her and took the time to mentor her towards her dream. That’s such a beautiful true story to me. We all need those.”
Oyelowo and Onyema’s launch of the scholarship goes far beyond simply adding Oyelowo’s star-powered name to the donation, but is a step towards fulfilling big dreams, including world-class medical facilities, more scholarships and one day the end of cultural and gender equality in Nigeria. Oyelowo says it starts with staying focused — words of wisdom he learned from his mentor and friend Winfrey, who he says helped him to realize his potential in being part of director Ava Duvernay’s Oscar-nominated Selma.
“Selma simply would not have happened if, when we had done The Butler together, she [Winfrey] didn’t pull me aside and just spoke to me in very generous terms about what she felt I had by way of a gift and how she wanted to help me realize its full potential,” said Oyelowo. “I called her up to be a producer on Selma — she immediately said yes, and that’s partly how that film got made.”
“Advocacy is such a powerful thing,” he added. “I’ve been a beneficiary of it. In that story, Queen of Katwe, you see it demonstrated beautifully and that’s what I try to do with my daughter and my sons in encouraging them to be their best selves every day, and that is exactly why this scholarship is something so dear to my heart and why we’re doing that as well.”
See photos of the Anglican Girls Grammar School in Nigeria below.
Improvements to Nigeria’s Anglican Girls Grammar School included a new water filtration system. (Photo courtesy of GEANCO)
Students received new science lab equipment. (Photo courtesy of GEANCO)
Part of Oprah Winfrey’s donation went towards a new computer lab. (Photo courtesy of GEANCO)