US Representative, Adeoye “Oye” Owolewa is young, full of pluck and a whole lot of heart. He was re-elected to represent the District of Columbia in the US Midterm elections in November, 2022. He speaks about what this position means to him, his passions and mission.
From Boston to Washington, D.C.
Rep. Oye was born to Nigerian immigrant parents, and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. “My birth name is Adeoye Owolewa. Ade is the prefix, but I wanted to be different so I became Oye, and everybody calls me Oye Owolewa,” he says.
He credits his parents’ upbringing for “a sense of belonging in terms of our culture and that duty of giving back.” These two principles have guided him through life and continue to do so.
Although he grew up in Boston, he relocated to D.C. in his adult years, lost his heart to the place, but gained so much more.
“I moved to D.C. in 2014 when I was 24 years old. I just fell in love with it. Seeing people that looked like you doing great things, and achieving what they call the chocolatey dynamics. I found it, caught that and I was like I had to be here. So three days after my graduation from pharmaceutical school, I actually moved to Washington D.C. with no family, no prospects; I just needed to figure it out.”
And figure it out he did. He also found bluer skies, sunshine and a place where people didn’t watch football and basketball. “Boston is probably more of a sports town, and in Boston, it was much colder. It snowed. We are talking about a foot of snow today, you don’t shovel a foot tomorrow. That was the easiest thing to run away from.”
His love for D.C. was also reciprocated. “I found something in D.C.. The people of D.C. really accepted me, and that was something I couldn’t be more appreciative about.” It is no wonder that he is working tirelessly to push for Washington D.C. Statehood.
When he was encouraged to step up and run for office, he admits that he had his doubts. “We don’t have a large overwhelming majority of Nigerians inside of D.C. I had to take that plunge, and by one vote margin, we were elected. That was the beginning of our story. And that really showed that someone with our name and background, can not only run for elections and win elections, but also positively impact our community.”
Becoming Representative Oye
Rep.Oye made history as the first Nigerian-American to be elected as a US Shadow Representative in the November 2020 midterm elections, and assumed office in January 2021. He was re-elected in the November 2022 midterm election, and assumed office in January 2023.
As a shadow representative, he is not allowed to vote in full floor votes or in committee. Although the position is recognized as the equivalent of the US representatives, it is not an actual membership to the US House of Reps.
Rep. Oye’s office has the task of lobbying for Washington D.C.’s Statehood—a duty he does not take lightly. And with shadow reps having two-year tenures, his current tenure will end in 2025. There is still much to be done, but progress is being made.
“Last Congress, we actually passed two D.C. Statehood Resolutions Admission Acts. Now that we are Republican controlled, it’s not likely to pass. With that said we’re going from state to state; we’re getting state legislators to really pay attention to D.C. Statehood. We are making sure that when folks come to Washington D.C. and act the fool, they go back to their district sure of what is going on.
“So, we’re still working, we’re still prospering. But more importantly, we’re also mitigating what we lose by not being a state, whether it’s criminal justice, whether it’s environmental services. We’re trying to fill those gaps of what’s left behind by not being a state.”
In an interview with Premium Times, Rep. Oye highlights some of these gaps, “We have neighbors in Maryland and Virginia, people all over and across this country, who are able to pay taxes now to say where that money goes, but in the District of Columbia, we do not have control over where our money goes. We want control over our budget; we want control of our resources. So we just want the same thing everybody else has.”
Apart from the fight for Statehood, Rep. Oye’s office also looks to bring solutions to other demanding areas in the lives of Washingtonians.
“The barriers that were at large in my parents’ generation among black people and Africans, aren’t typically seen in the younger generation, because we are the secondary generation. We are the diasporans. We are the ones that were born and raised on these streets of America with that parental guide from Africa.
“So we kind of marry those two together, but we also have to be unapologetic about our actions. My team is mostly black, and is led by a Kenyan woman. It is important to do so, because if we don’t provide those opportunities, no one else will.
“We also make sure we highlight and support black businesses. We have a partnership brewing with the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce that’s going to not only provide networks, but money and resources to black-owned businesses. We can’t talk about black people being displaced from D.C., but ignore the lack of concentration of money being generated and provided for black owned businesses. Because when they are prospering, who are they hiring? Who are they selling to? We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is. We are making sure we are providing a meaningful change for our own businesses. Our money deserves to stay with us too.”
Rep. Oye definitely has his work cut out for him and with such a full plate, he attributes his will to keep going to his Nigerian counterparts back home. “Whether they have a full time job and they have a side business, they still manage their family and they still don’t get tired, they still continue to go, that motivates me to keep going.”
Rep. Oye: The Nigerian, The American, The Washingtonian
He describes himself as “100% Nigerian, 100 % American but I am 110% D.C.,” and explains how this is so. “I love Nigeria. I love the United States, I love D.C., and I put my energy into thinking about all three, because without D.C., I would not be here. Without Nigeria I couldn’t be born. Without America, my parents couldn’t have come here and made something of themselves. So I am very invested in those three. I am very invested in D.C. becoming a state. I am also very invested in everyone coming together to make that happen.”
He explains further, how a synergy between Africans in Africa and those in the US can work to improve situations for both sides, and how more involvement by everyone is required.
“I believe that organizations like NAPAC—the Nigerian-American Public Affairs Committee are doing a great job in galvanizing the Nigerian community to be more active in politics. But the biggest thing is for people to see themselves as the change agents. When we’re able to not only have an impact on music, on culture, on sports, but also in politics and electing capacity, that’s when we start having changeable outcomes for our own respective communities.”
Rep. Oye’s Hope For The Future
He cites the examples of the Black Lives Matter and End Sars movements as outcomes of owning our narrative and learning from each other. “Most importantly, the reason why you want to get involved, is because, when we’re at the table, we’re having our conversation in our own voices, and it is easy to keep those accountable.
As a member of the millennial generation, Rep. Oye believes a lot more can be done for the youths in Nigeria, so that emigration will not be seen as a means to an end. “You shouldn’t have to be out of the country to make an impact on the community. Think of how many dollars are leaving Nigeria as they become lawyers and physicians and accountants and not coming back home.”
And though he advocates for more youth involvement in leadership, he acknowledges that their success will also be dependent on the older generation. “The ones that came before us are the ones that will lead by example. I’m not here without the example of my mom, who took time out of her civil engineering career, her financial career to make sure all the children around her had a decent shot at education. They have to guide us, and as young people, we have to listen.”
He continues, “They know what it’s like to be our age, but we don’t know what it’s like to be their age. If we want a space for us in the future, we have to respect and show opportunities for them to be involved. We need to see for ourselves as well.”
To the leadership, his advice is, “If you want the country to look good in the future, you have to make the foundation and investments made in the country look good now,” and to also learn from others, “as a Nigerian-American, I’m proud of who we are as a people. But we also have to take notes from other nations, other countries like Ghana that are allowing folks from the diaspora to come back home and feel safe for tourism.”
And just like the common saying, “It’s the little things,” Rep. Oye reiterates, “we have got to take care of the simple things so we can take on the bigger challenges of tomorrow.”
He may be the face everyone sees and the voice everyone hears, but “the young, the elderly, the immigrants, the children of immigrants, people with different names you don’t often hear their voices,” but he wants “people to see this as their own seat, not just mine. We are in this together and this hopefully proves that.”
For anyone who wants to keep up with what Rep. Oye and his team are doing, you can subscribe to RepoyeD.C.com . There are newsletters you can sign up for, and openings for volunteer and intern positions.
After all is said and done, Rep. Oye just wants to be known “as somebody who just came to help.”