With a crown of grey hair and a walking stick at her side, she seemed old and frail but her eyes were alert and alive. She insisted vehemently that she would stand, exposing even more strength.
As one clings to gold, I hung on the words Professor Grace Alele-Williams spoke at a friend’s book launch. The 83-year-old retired Professor of Mathematics Education was the first woman to become the vice-chancellor of a Nigerian university.
Shortly after her return from the US, she was given a position of authority at the University of Ibadan. She recalled that at her first faculty meeting, she realised she was actually there to serve the coffee and not much else. After six years of studying in a different society, she wasn’t quite sure what to make of all this.
Then she told us about a dream she had one day. She was on a rocky path and there were many other women walking behind her. At the time she had no idea what the dream meant but took it as an encouragement to just keep going. So she went on serving coffee without complaint while also doing ground-breaking research for her generation. Today, Professor Grace Alele-Williams is one of the most celebrated women in Nigeria.
Decades later, the path is still difficult and uneven; but I am treading relentlessly after women like her. I am watching their steps, drawing on their strength to persevere. And like her, I will overcome the rocky path.
Image|Source: Harry Metcalfe, Flickr