About the episode:
"I think the world is so much more beautiful when everybody in different bodies can live and be their full selves." Ogechi Akalegbre is a champion for diversity, equity and inclusion in variety of arenas. Whether she's lifting at the gym, advocating for diversity or providing a space for women to share their stories, Ogechi is committed to honouring the unique nature of each person—both in the Catholic Church and beyond. She desires to be a good trouble maker who wants to shake up the world and bring more awareness to some of the most pressing social justice issues of our time. In this episode, Ogechi and I talk about her journey into the world of power lifting, how she started her podcast "Tell Me If You Can", and why it's so important for her to advocate for diversity, especially within the Catholic Church.
Listen to the episode:
Meet Ogechi Akalegbere
Ogechi Akalegbere is a Nigerian-American who is a Christian Service Coordinator, public speaker, and fitness instructor. Ogechi grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland and when she is not at work or creating digital content she is either enjoying quality time with her husband or at the gym lifting weights. She has a passion for social justice and all things beauty and fashion. She serves as a catechist, lector, and pastoral council co-chair at her parish and is involved as a community organizer and diversity practitioner in her community.
Ogechi's website: gechmeifyoucan.com
Ogechi on Instagram: @gechmeifyoucan
Ogechi's podcast: "Tell Me If You Can"
00:10 RACHEL WONG: This is The Feminine Genius Podcast, a podcast that celebrates all women of God and their unique genius. I'm your host, Rachel Wong.
00:31 RACHEL: Ogechi Akalegbre is a champion for diversity, equity and inclusion in variety of arenas. Whether she's lifting at the gym, advocating for diversity or providing a space for women to share their stories, Ogechi is committed to honouring the unique nature of each person—both in the Catholic Church and beyond. She desires to be a good trouble maker who wants to shake up the world and bring more awareness to some of the most pressing social justice issues of our time. In this episode, Ogechi and I talk about her journey into the world of power lifting, how she started her podcast "Tell Me If You Can", and why it's so important for her to advocate for diversity, especially within the Catholic Church.
01:30 RACHEL: Hi Ogechi!
01:31 OGECHI AKALEGBERE: Hi!
01:32 RACHEL: How are you?
01:34 OGECHI: I'm doing well! How are you?
01:36 RACHEL: I'm doing well also, thank you! Thank you for joining me today on The Feminine Genius Podcast. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of what you do right now.
01:47 OGECHI: So, my name is Ogechi. I grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I was born and raised Roman Catholic, and I'm of Nigerian descent. Currently, I work as a Christian Service Coordinator at all girls Catholic, [grade] 6 through 12 school here in the D.C. area. And I'm also competitive powerlifter, although I'm a little bit of a setback right now. And I work also as a diversity co-practitioner and I do public speaking related to topics on femininity, diversity and equity, and women empowerment. So those are a little bit of the things that I do. I also serve in my church as a catechist, a lector, and currently that co-chair for the pastoral council.
02:32 RACHEL: So wonderful! And all the things that you just mentioned about, you know, the things that you speak on are all things that are just near and dear to my heart. So I'm so excited to dive into this conversation with you! In terms of your faith journey, I'd love to hear a little bit about that, you know, how it was like growing up and because you mentioned that you're born and raised Catholic, so how it is that you came to really know Jesus in that personal way and how you continue to carry that faith forward.
02:58 OGECHI: I like to describe my faith journey as having like desert periods: along the way, if you can think of a landscape that has lush green grass but then also those desert patches, that's kind of how I like to think, or you know, a mountainscape: some highs and lows. But growing up, we prayed every night, or as many nights as possible together as a family. My mom and my dad spoke the language Igbo, which is one of the many languages in Nigeria. And I can understand Igbo, but I never really was forced to speak it back. So a lot of the prayers were in that native language, which is beautiful, but I also didn't personalize it that much because that language hadn't been made my own. English was what I was like speaking to my parents, in the household, what I was learning and speaking in school. And so to learn those prayers from a young age in another language was cool, but also didn't anchor me really into making prayer something that was personal. It was really just a family activity, which is great, but growing up, I wanted it to be a little bit more personal.
So, I had the blessing of being involved in a really great religious education program. I really understood a lot about the dignity of other people. I wish I knew a little bit more, like, theology—that's not to say that I didn't learn it, I just think I didn't absorb that part as much. I absorbed more things than others and that happened, I see that now as a catechist on the other side, that that happens. Certain topics resonate more with people. That was where I was introduced to service and how the beauty of service can be really life-giving for the person that is receiving those acts of service, but also the person doing service. That was how I express my faith the most growing up. Being involved in youth group ministries, leading in the church, leading in my community, serving my community, serving in school. That's kind of how I expressed my faith, and prayer was kind of like an extra.
And then into college, I had a lot of deserts. A lot of bad things happened to me from middle school through college years, so I felt rejected a lot by God, that kind of culminated into truly kind of considering deserting my faith in college, and for whatever reason I always went to mass! [laughs] I even would lector at mass, but I would feel nothing, if that makes sense. I was doing what I needed to do and hopefully one day I would hear something, feel something, but I never stopped really going to mass. There were some days that I missed, of course, but I always went to mass and I don't know if it was the fear of Nigerian parenting, my mom in the back of my mind, thinking about if I was going to mass all the way in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania!
But I always went to mass and I heard about FOCUS Ministries that was doing events. First they had a study group, and I was like looking for a new place to study for finals and midterms that wasn't the library and the popular spots. So I was like, "Let me just go to this study group." It's quiet space, and then they have adoration, which I hadn't really experienced much in high school, so I went to adoration for the first time. It was completely foreign to me. I didn't know the prayers... it was a weird experience. And it's funny because adoration is, is something that I almost like forced myself to do, but it's also where God has really revealed Himself a lot to me. And after college, I was back to the routine of going to mass with my family and really making prayer kind of a family thing and not as personal as it could be. And I actually had a relationship with someone, and I was expressing my faith and talking about how much I love God and I serve people and that's how I showed my faith, through service and service was a huge part of my life.
Through our relationship—I used to joke that I was the patron saint of atheists or guys who were questioning God! [laughs] And so, he re-developed his relationship with God, but in doing so, he realized that he didn't want to be with someone who was Catholic because he was of a different denomination. And so he broke up with me, basically, because I was Catholic. And I'm happy that you have that relationship with God and if I had any part of it, that was great. But I got so angry! I was like, "Well I'm going to show him! If he's breaking up with me and I'm like this lukewarm Catholic, I'm going to go full force and go on retreats!"
So I went on a retreat that following weekend in like, spite, which is so funny. I'm sure the Holy Spirit got a laugh out of that! [laughs] It was a Word on Fire retreat, or something like that, and that was the jumpstart for me, really attaching myself further and further into a prayer life. I started to go to adoration regularly—and by regularly, I meant like once a month, not, I'm not a daily adoration person! But there were moments, if I have felt desolation, it wasn't a rejection from God, it was actually a calling for me to go closer to God. And so, I really thought how my relationship with God was so it's been a lot of work on understanding what love meant and how I was experiencing it, trying to experience the love that maybe I didn't have in other parts of my relationships in the world, and not really seeking the source of what true love is, which is the God in His grace and mercy, realizing that I was deserving of that.
And it's funny that you asked this question because I have this... I have one of many journals, I think, I can't be the only one that has a trillion journals! But [laughs] I found one of my many journals, and I would take it with me to adoration or to retreats and things like that. And some of the themes that would come up, it was just so interesting where my heart was. I had such a longing for God and His grace, and that continues still, but just in a different way. I know now what I didn't know and I'm just trying to continue to know that my prayer life is very personal. I'm not comparing myself to other people. There are people, bless them, who do a rosary every single day. And it's okay that's not my form of prayer! And so just realizing that God finds value in the way that I communicate with Him, that relationship is just what God wants from us. And so I've tried to teach that to the students that I teach for religious education. You don't have to be perfect, and being an example of imperfections, seeking God, is what God wants from us. The saints are beautiful and they're great examples, but the saints were also not completely perfect! [laughs] My fave, St. Augustine, was not perfect. And just using those examples and sharing my faith with students has been a great way for me to re-develop my love of God, and now love of service.
09:51 RACHEL: I also appreciate the image that you started off with, because you mentioned deserts and just as you're sharing the different deserts or the different areas where you felt desolate, or you felt like there were different things that happened in your life where, you know, it felt like you were isolated from God, and it just made me think of the prophet Hosea. He has that verse where it's like, you know, "I will allure her into the wilderness and I will speak tenderly to her" (Hosea 2:14)—I'm totally paraphrasing.
But just the different ways that you know even though it feels like we are alone or kind of left to our devices or it's those moments where we feel like, "God, where are you?" You know, when we take that step back and we try and calm our hearts and like really listen and I'm sure in retrospect, it is so much easier to kind of reflect on that, but you can look back and see, oh, like this is how God was speaking. So, you know, like that one example that you had of the relationship and, and I love that so much because I feel like we do that a lot as women. But just how really, it was maybe not an ideal situation but like you said it's jumpstarted your fire your zeal, your passion, and that desire to go even deeper.
10:58 OGECHI: Yes! It's funny because, when someone asked me 'How do I see God?' my answers are usually nature, even though I'm not a nature person at all. But creation and that wonder and awe always gets me. Give me a good sunset any day of the week, I love it! But also in the people that He's placed in my life. There's so many people that have been symbols of God's love, or seeing me—I have a great mentor, she was actually one of my religious education teachers, and she leads the religion program now that I'm catechist of. I always look to her as an example of how it is to be a mentor, be Christ for other people. She saw beauty in me when I absolutely could not see that myself. And I feel like for sure the Holy Spirit was working through her and so many other people that would see me, or speak to me in a way that I needed to hear it or feel it. It's hard to explain, but I really think that because I'm such a relationship, community-minded person, God knew that that's what I needed to be able to see Him, and someone else might see God in a different way, but that's how I always experienced God: through the most through the people He puts in my life.
12:13 RACHEL: Yeah, we all need those mentors out there. So definitely big shout out to all those people, especially for us as women, like other women who've gone out of their way to help us to grow and be the woman that we are called to be.
12:25 OGECHI: Yes!
12:25 RACHEL: And like you said, every person is so unique. So the way that we pray, the way that we live out our gifts and talents, it's all going to be so unique to us!
Like I mentioned to you before we got going, one of the things that really inspires me about you is just how many, I guess like, diverse things you're involved in! I know one of the things that we were chatting about just before we hit record was you're a power lifter! And you mentioned this in your intro there, and I would love to know how you got into that. That's such a cool sport and activity, and also the photo that you sent over—which I'm going to be sure to share—is super, super cool. So yeah, like, how did you get into that?
13:05 OGECHI: I've always been super athletic. Growing up, that was the way that we bonded, especially with my dad who's like very sports-minded. Both my parents were really into sports. So I did soccer and track and field was sport in high school. And then I went to college and kind of got a little lazy physically. So after college, my brother that's three years younger than me, he had been doing bodybuilding and powerlifting. And I've considered doing CrossFit or whatever and I've just been going through the motions at the gym. And I'm very goal-oriented, so I'm like competition. In track, I liked having meets. In soccer, I'd practice for the next game. So like I'm just going to gym for funsies, it's not as motivating for me. And so he told me to consider powerlifting. And I was like, "I don't know what the sport is that you're talking about!" But it was all the things that I had been doing, funny enough, in high school to prepare for a track—I was a thrower, and we did a lot of squats, and we did a little bit of bench press, so I had an idea about some of the lifts.
And I went to my coach, who's still my coach now. And it was, he was coaching my brother at the time. And he put me to like this regimen six months of like, show that you're serious! And I did a lot of conditioning, learning the basics of all of the three major lifts, which are squats, bench press and deadlift. And I had my first competition and I did really well, which is like beginner's luck but also, you know, genetics and practice and everything and training combined. But I fell in love! And I think even if I didn't win or do well, I would have still fell in love because I can use my body in a way that I never really used it before. It was just me against myself. In track and field, I mean, you're still competing against other people, but, you know the track could be a little rocky or the soccer, someone didn't pass to you or whatever. It's just like a great sport, and it's become a form of prayer for me, truly. I really say that. I actually listen to praise and worship a lot when I'm training or in competitions especially. I try to connect to lifting with expressing or giving a testimony.
My first-ever meet, my coach, knowing that I'm very religious, in the chalk that you used to make sure your hands aren't super sweaty, he wrote a cross on my singlet. I still have that picture. And that was kind of like, reminding me and reminding people, like, I'm not here for glory or anything like that. I'm really here to glorify God, and that's been a tradition that I tried to keep up with all my meets. So, if ever I feel like I'm being boastful—it's okay to celebrate your successes, but that sport has always been, and it will always be, special to me.
I also entered it in a time where women were really just starting to be really into powerlifting and strength sports. It wasn't just lifting five pound weights—which, no judgement if that's the most that you can lift. Sometimes people are told only to lift that much weight and they never pushed themselves. I didn't think I was the strongest person, but I have to push myself and at least try. The feeling of carrying this weight on your shoulders—literally—going down and lifting it back up, it's just... the metaphors of squatting makes it my favorite sport, and also it's the one that I'm the best at! [laughs] So it makes it easy. And kind of breaking the stigma that women can't be physically strong or if you lift super heavy weight, you're going to be manly or whatever stereotypes and stigmas exists.
And now, seven years later, there's so many women at the competition's that I've done, and I get to help, like, judge competitions. So I've seen so many diverse-looking women. There were many times, at the meets, where I was the only person of colour—period—or the women of colour, or one of the few women. And so now have multiple weight classes and diverse women competing, it's amazing! And being able to inspire anyone, if that's the case, is also a bonus. But I love powerlifting. I think every woman should lift heavy weights, at least once in their life. It's so empowering. And, you know, being a physical trainer, knowing the anatomy and the physiological benefits of strength training for bone strength, bone density, strength in all of those things. For women especially dead lifting and squatting helps you strengthen your hips, and the biggest injury that reduces the quality of life for women is the hip injury, and knowing so many women that have had hip injuries. And if lifting weights and ignoring that like stigma or whatever, it's way to do it, I'm like, let's do it! Let's make women stronger and feel more empowered, and be able to be as mobile as possible.
18:03 RACHEL: Wow! I'm gonna have to like really keep that in mind, just because a woman's health and just staying healthy and also recognizing, too, that men and women, we are so diverse—and this is no surprise to anyone. You know, we're so diverse, unique, and our bodies are different. They need different things. So, to really take into consideration what it is that we're doing to our bodies, how we can stay strong, and really to utilize our whole selves, like maybe not just our spiritual selves, which is of course important. But how do we nourish and take care of our physical selves so that we can go forth and glorify God? And I love that you said that the action in itself of lifting is more than just an action or an exercise for you, it's a prayer! And I love that so much. I was wondering if you could just kind of speak a little more into that about, you know, what it is that you think about when it's, like you know, when you're lifting? Is that like, "Oh, I'm lifting up my hands to Jesus"—no one can see me right now!—but like, lifting it up to Jesus, lifting up every other woman like you said, trying to break down stigma?
19:06 OGECHI: Well, for me, I think about, if I can carry this hundred, hundreds of pounds on my back, I can carry those burdens knowing that God is helping me along the way. And also, if me being good at something, means that people ask me what keeps me going and what my strength is and I can talk about my faith along the way, then I'm glorifying God and showing testimony. For some people, music is their form of prayer. Prayer is really a conversation that you're having with God, sometimes even with other people about God and including Him in the conversation that you have with other people. And so, the music that I listen to is a part of it, giving time for myself in clearing my mind and thinking through the day. Sometimes God reveals themselves in those moments when I'm loading the plate or someone frustrates me and this is a teachable moment to not be mean to the guy that's like being shady to me because I'm lifting heavier than him at the gym! Sometimes I have had like the worst day ever and I spend these couple of hours at the gym, and I leave just being able to serve my friends and family a lot calmer and better than I would have before.
Also, I think that women especially need to find areas where they can carve out time for themselves. And it doesn't mean that God is not present. God is very much present in those times that you carve out for yourself. And we all love to serve our families and others, but we sometimes forget to serve ourselves. And for me, physical exercise, the time that I'm honouring myself, honouring my body, and I don't have other responsibilities so I have time to talk to God, to listen to God, and to just be present with Him. Of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is like my homie! [laughs] And so I feel like...
21:00 RACHEL: I love that!
21:01 OGECHI: ...the Holy Spirit and I are together in the gym. It really is just a moment for me to just be present with myself, just honouring God and thanking God for my body during that time. Because we do so many things, and some of the clients that I've had, the 30 minutes that they have a personal trainer is their own 30 minutes to just move their bodies, do something that makes them feel strong and powerful, and then the rest of the day, you know, children and work and agendas and all of those things. But I hope that in those 30 minutes, they found peace as well. So even in training people, I'm allowing them to find peace and calm or strength. And I think that is an honour to God.
21:42 RACHEL: Absolutely, it's almost like intentional desert time where you're really, like you said, carving out that time to, you know, not really be like desert desolate, but at least, like you were saying, taking that time to be quiet, be alone and do the thing that is filling your cup, so to speak, so that you can then really pour more of yourself out and I really love that—not only that you're doing that for yourself but also that you're able to guide women, you know, help them to be strong, help them to have that time where they can really honour themselves. And I love that phrase, just because it's so important and I think that especially as women we sometimes don't do that enough, because we have so many roles and we have so many things like we're very Martha, like on the go and trying to figure out what it is that we need to do, but sometimes we do need to hear from me not just sometimes like all the time we do need to carve out that time to be more like Mary and just sit at His feet and listen.
22:37 OGECHI: Yes, I think, creating some more Mary moments is the key to peace, especially when you are feeling frazzled. You kind of have to pencil time for yourself, pencil time for God, and that quiet time can look differently. So for me, sitting still is the worst thing! But the meditative motion of working out and all the little patterns that are involved in it, it's almost like a song and dance and like a movement prayer. And so, that's the way that I'm, like, honouring God and carving out time. But someone else might be able to just like Dorothy Day, have a cup of coffee and conversation with God in the morning.
23:22 RACHEL: Oh, I love that! I think that's more my speed, certainly, but I can also recognize that appeal and also just the freedom, I feel like, that will come with exerting your strength. But like you were describing it is, you know, you're carrying this load but knowing that it's Him who carries all loads for us. Like, He makes our burdens light and our yolks easy!
Now, I want to jump back to something that you mentioned, actually, just in light of what you mentioned that when you started out, you're kind of starting in a time where, for a lot of women it wasn't very common. And you're, I guess like if I could say maybe like one of the pioneers in your area! Just kind of, you know, doing that and stepping in and, and also stepping up, so that's really cool. I really love that. And then you made the comment after that you're seeing a lot more diversity in that area and I want to make I guess a quick connection to something that we chatted about before we got started, which is the fact that you do a lot of diversity work yourself, like you're a diversity practitioner. And I think that diversity question has come up a lot this year, of course, but I'm also mindful of the fact that this is not just like a singular moment in time. This is a conversation that's been going on for so, so long. And certainly, like, I want to acknowledge how much work that has been done, but we still have so much more to do and I feel like there's so many more things that we can do both in the secular world, but also in the Catholic Church.
So, perhaps like I'd love for you to share some of the work that you do as a diversity practitioner—and maybe for those who aren't familiar with what that means, if you could share what that is. And, yeah, and just share some of your experiences of working in that area.
25:12 OGECHI: So, I serve as a diversity co-practitioner at the school that I work with. And what that means that you're just trained on the topic of DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] work. And some people have specialized training on schools or non-profits, and I originally started doing diversity work when I worked for my local government and I was a peer facilitator for equity for [the US. Department of] Health and Human Services. And so that's when I really fell in love. I've always been a fan of diversity the word. I even am a member of a multicultural sorority, so that's a huge part of who I am and what I have been attracted to from a young age, because I think that the world is so much more beautiful when everybody in different bodies can live with and be their full selves. And in diversity work, that's essentially what you're calling organizations and schools to do: to recognize the different full selves that exist, and make sure that they're actually being given the tools and resources to live that full self. And so, whatever your identities are, whatever your backgrounds are, seeing them, recognizing them, having them feel seen and heard and not ignored or whispered about or stuck in the margins. And then figuring out if you're really a space that allows them to come into your school, your church, your organization as their full self and feel respected, valued and heard.
It looks differently in a secular space, but I've been doing a lot of work talking with parishes and I've given a few talks with my local archdiocese, talking about what that looks like and how the intersection of race and religion is really important. Especially as a Black Catholic, one of my favourite future saints, Sr. Thea Bowman, talks a lot about being her full self. God wants all of us, right? He doesn't want us to be a certain type of person just because we stepped foot in a parish or a church, or so that we can be able to serve in a way that is palatable to different types of people. God wants our full selves: our cultures, our traditions, our languages. And He also wants that to be represented, I believe, fully when we look at the leadership of the church or school, organization, things like that.
So in a school setting, we're empowering teachers, faculty, staff, and students especially, to be able to recognize those that are in the margins: those that normally don't get a voice in mainstream media or mainstream society, learning how to be an ally for them, speaking up for, speaking out against injustice. Understanding that we have our own biases, that is something that everybody has, a bias, but understanding that we need to work on that just like your own sins and everything is okay to do that. You continuously work to shape your heart and mind in a way that you will not continue that harm. When you sin, you harm your relationship with others and God. When you are racist or oppressive or do not value the diversity of society, you harm the beauty of the tapestry of society. Society is harmed when diversity is not valued. And so, diversity work, really, is to bring the fullness of society together.
For some people it's threatening because we live in a society where certain groups of people benefit from the lack of diversity or lack of equity, or from oppression, whether they benefit directly or indirectly. But just as much as I'm supposed to sacrifice my comfort to help my neighbour—it's in the Bible—we're supposed to sacrifice our privilege to help those in the margins. And so, with diversity work, you're educating people and empowering people. Ideally, everyone would be a diversity practitioner because they're actively working to be anti-racist and to form a ociety that's against oppression, but it takes work. And so part of the role is to help empower people to take on that work.
29:23 RACHEL: Wow, well said. I've been realizing that more and more—like, I love what you mentioned earlier about how God wants our whole selves, and also the fact that He created us, you know so unique in, not just like our personality something that might be seemingly intangible or you can't physically see, but He's also very intentionally made us, you know, like with our skin coloiur, our hair type or eye color, and where it is that we ended up in the world and our heritage and all that. And I completely agree, like if you really dismiss that and you kind of gloss over those differences, we lose so much depth of culture and tradition and different expressions, all are equally beautiful, but different expressions of our faith. And, you know, I'm so lucky to see other people that look like me, and also to see the difference in other people and the different traditions and the ways in which the masses celebrated.
I think as I've been going through this year as well as recognizing, kind of reconciling within myself too, how much like unlearning that I need to do by way of my biases and how it is that I see the world, but also seeing that there are different spaces where I've never really thought that my race, for example, or the way that I look, would mean any different. But I've started to see that this is something that actually people take notice of and I need to be a lot more aware of all parts of my identity and not trying to gloss over some parts over another. That was kind of rambly, but I'm trying to like put all of this together in my head!
30:59 OGECHI: No, it makes sense! I actually have a friend who was we would get a little tiffs. If I was describing someone and I would say, "That Black man" or "Hispanic man" or "Asian woman." And she'd be like, "Well, why are you bringing race into it? I don't see colour." For me, I was like, "Well, their race is a part of their identity and I'm not going to ignore a part of their identity just to make everybody seem beige." Or like if you're drawing an image and it was like, everybody was clear and you had no colour, no different hair textures and skin types and freckles and all the things that make us beautifully, visually unique. And so for some people—and she is a person of colour—they've learned to assimilate or to thrive in society, parts of themselves have to be shed or ignored. And I think now we're learning that, no! Those parts are what make you who you are and you bring it to the table and the world must accept you fully. And if it doesn't, then that's not—the work isn't on you to shed those parts. The work is on the rest of the people that would choose to ignore and not see you as a whole person and who you are in totality.
And so I think we're called to see people through the lens of the way God sees people and find the beauty and the uniqueness that God has created all of us in. And if we're choosing to see people the way that makes us more comfortable or interact with people in the way that makes us feel most comfortable, then we're not really doing the work. I always say, if you're comfortable being anti-racist, then you are not doing a good job. You should always be in a state of discomfort, there's always growing, there's always groups in the margins that maybe you can speak out further about, maybe you can learn deeper, have more conversastions. You should never feel like, "Whoo! I've done it all!" Just like with our faith, if we feel like it all figured out in faith, then we need to be reading more, praying more, understanding the scriptures in a deeper level. And if we ever feel comfortable in our faith, then we'd probably could continue to grow deeper in that way.
33:16 RACHEL: We're always learning, we're always growing and it's so necessary. Like I have to remind myself, like constantly! Not only is it that we have to continue learning, but also that we can't afford to be complacent or comfortable in those things, especially where issues of race and racism and discrimination come up just because if we're just standing on the sidelines and allowing for things to perpetuate, allowing for things to just remain divisive in certain ways, like I feel like it's just, we're not...we're not doing what it is that God is calling us to do which is to really, you know, uplift and uphold the dignity of every human person. And we're not being good neighbors like we were saying earlier. Like, we're not being good neighbours to one another.
From your perspective, this being a Catholic, someone who does this type of work, and you actively engage in this, I would say. How can we be more welcoming and just really like dive a little deeper into this, especially if it makes us uncomfortable Like how can we be better Catholics who are a lot more aware of our diversity and how to celebrate it?
34:29 OGECHI: Well I always say that if you feel uncomfortable or—for example, there are phrases that have been hot button or quote unquote "controversial phrases," especially in social media. If any of those things make you uncomfortable, that's a good thing. Don't run away from it, but figure out why that makes you uncomfortable, learn more about that topic.
For example, just saying "Black lives matter," whether you care about the organization or not, or you think saying "Black lives matter" is divisive, understand why we strongly feel strongly saying and putting into words that phrase "Black lives matter." Why is it so important to people that use that phrase and believe that. Learn more about that topic, and maybe your opinion may or may not change, but you've done the work rather than putting your head in the sand.
Sometimes we can gloss over things like you said, or ignore things because it makes us uncomfortable, but just like I wasn't comfortable at adoration, if I never went to adoration again, I wouldn't have had the fruits of that experience and that time to spend with the Blessed Sacrament. And so I leaned into that discomfort that I felt because I didn't know what adoration was. I didn't understand the experience, my heart wasn't ready for that. But I continued to show up, and God showed up along the way. Continuing the conversations that make you uncomfortable, there's a lot of resources that you can learn for yourself. Please do not put the burden of learning about things on people of colour! It's been done a lot, and that this point there's so many resources that you can take on yourself. But also do that examination of self. I always relate this to examination of conscience before confession. Realizing that you have a bias, whether you know it or not, if there's a group of people that you kind of cringe at hearing about or thinking about, or you actively ignore, recognize that, acknowledge that and offer that to God, but then do the work to unlearn that and undo that biases that you have.
For example, "Black lives matter", like we said. Immigration is a hot button topic. Some people believe that come to the United States—or Canada for you, maybe! [laughs]—in a legal path, then like, it's almost like their plight is ignored, or not as important as those that came here because my ancestors came here illegally, and yada yada yada. But understating what situations they may have come to lead them to come to United States, the way that they came, rather than dismissing. If that's your first argument about an immigrant on the border, you have work to do, right? That should not be where your heart is pulled to initially when you talk about an immigrant at the border. If you're worried about the economy versus worrying about something else then... a student, actually, called out, and students are great examples of the hope that I find in this work. She was saying how, if your biggest concern is the economy and tax breaks and not the lives of other people that are being killed unjustly, then that tells me, as a person of colour, that you don't value me. Because money is more important than my life.
And so understanding those different perspectives, accepting that you are not always going to be right, or your opinion, as great as it might be for you, can do harm or feel offensive or harmful to other groups of people. And I think sometimes, because we have this cancel culture and some people think we're too soft because everything is offensive, but I think we're just realizing that the status quo of disrespecting or ignoring groups of people will not be tolerated. It will continue, unfortunately, but it won't be tolerated. So it's not necessarily everybody being sensitive. We're calling people to task, and you are feeling called out. And if you're feeling called out, the reaction should not be reclude into a shell. It should be, kind of like [laughs] what I do with my ex, "Okay, well let me figure out what it is that I'm about, if you're going to call me out!" And maybe you realize that ideals or things that you thought were normal for everybody was only normal because you're bubble was small and you needed to expand that bubble and reach into those margins.
Pope Francis, in his encyclical [Fratelli Tutti], does a great job of, in a sense, calling out the norms that exists in the mainstream society that ignore those people in the margins, and he calls out things like the economy being almost an idol for a lot of people, and causing people to ignore those individuals that are hurting in society. And so, I mean it's like 400 pages... I don't know it's a lot of pages! [laughs] So I wouldn't say read that as like a nighttime book but you know look at some bullet points from that encyclical if you need guidance on areas to focus on.
39:39 RACHEL: Yeah, absolutely, it's a good reminder that we all need—even people of colour—like we all need it! Because no matter who you are, no matter what you look like we all have bias we all have things that we can learn and unlearn, and there are ways that we can always be better. "Love is to will the good or the other." So, to really call each other higher, to challenge one another and to really, you know, because we're all in this together, as, as difficult as it might seem to realize that, like, ultimately we are all in this together. And for us to really reach out and extend, like those helping hands, taking the time to educate ourselves and then calling other people to task, like you said, so that we can all grow in holiness together. I just want to thank you for the work that you're doing and also for speaking so openly and courageously about these issues. So, thank you!
40:36 OGECHI: No problem.
40:38 RACHEL: Just before we end our conversation, I don't want to overlook your podcast that I want to briefly touch upon, "Tell Me If You Can". I was wondering if you could share a little bit about that.
40:48 OGECHI: Yeah, so "Tell Me If You Can" podcast was a product of not having access to the gym for several months, and I wanted to think about things that have been on my heart for a while, and a podcast was one of those things. And I specifically chose to interview women—most of my guests are actually women of colour. And I love stories, like you said, stories of women inspire me. Actually, for a long time I didn't have a car so I would always get rides from friends or people from church to church events or retreats and things like that. And I think one of the benefits they would always say, was when they dropped me off, we'd have these "parking lot conversations" that were really heart conversations and talking about a regular experience they may be experiencing, but I wouldn't be able to unpack it in a way that they didn't realize.
And so I thought, how about me interview friends and people that I don't know that I look up to or are inspiring, that I can hear those stories, unpack themes that they experienced throughout their life, in the hopes that that inspires those that are listening. And it's been such a fruitful experience. They're so—I mean, women are amazing, obviously! [laughs] But I think so many of us sometimes need permission. Some of the guests that I've asked have told me, "Well, I have nothing like you know noteworthy to share," and they're some of my best interviews! Because their lives may seem ordinary to them, but in that ordinary there's so much beauty. And I've had guests that talks about reconciliation in relationships and not even realizing that that was the theme of their life. Guests talking about education and the different ways that that comes out. Caring for yourself after grief and loss.
So, there's so many stories that may seem commonplace to us, but it's nice to know that there's someone else that is experiencing that. Maybe they've overcome something that you're going through now or they're still overcoming it and you know that you're not alone. It's unique to you but you're not being punished or whatever you might feel like. And some of the stories are great stories, like stories of triumph and hope. And it's encouraging, inspiring for those to take on a new task or start a new business or do whatever they had on their heart and dreamt, and it gives people permission to take on those dreams as well. So I'm really honoured to be a host for it.
43:14 RACHEL: And I mean, I—like I said, we all have our biases, so I'm totally biased!—but I love women, interviewing other women, women sharing their stories and of course like men have wonderful stories as well but, again, I'm biased! So women have beautiful things to offer the church. I'm so happy that you're doing it. I remember when it first started, I was so excited for you and just the fact that there were going to be more stories like this and I love that you're carving out space, again, for diverse women, you know, woman of colour and women to share their stories, even if they think that they're ordinary. So, it's really wonderful to have you and to chat with you today.
You know, we talked about so many different things and I think that one of the beautiful themes, actually, that I see from this is just like how you're so willing and ready to put your whole self—and I mean like your whole self—your identity, your race, your culture, your faith into these different aspects, and I'm sure there are so many other things. But yeah, like when you think about your feminine genius, and just the ways in which you've grown through your different experiences and the things that you do now, how have you seen that flourish in your own life?
44:23 OGECHI: When I think of feminine genius, I think of growing in confidence. I've definitely not been the most confident person, but giving of myself, giving to others, has been the way that I've grown in confidence. In learning the ways that God has put me on this planet, this Earth, to serve others. In service of others, I've learned about myself and I've been able to then serve myself better. And when I think of feminine genius, I think of service because it's a huge part of who I am and my connection to my faith. And I also think of being a good troublemaker, like, shaking the table, shaking out the dust that exists in society. I think women have a keen way of seeing the nuances in society and relationships, and using that skill to help those that are oppressed or help those that are in the margins is what I like to do the most, whether it's in the gym or in a school or in society. That would be how I explain my feminine genius.
45:27 RACHEL: That's awesome! And that's such a great image too, you know, being a good troublemaker—emphasis on the good! A good troublemaker who's willing to shake off the dust in society. Y'all, underline that! Star that, highlight it, keep it somewhere. That's good! We need to be doing more of that! So Ogechi, thank you so much for sharing some of your wisdom, your time today, sharing you today. And I was wondering if you could lead us in a closing prayer to end off this episode?
45:53 OGECHI: Yes! In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Lord, thank you for allowing us to meet and talk today and sharing our hopes and dreams and our stories. I ask that those that are listening are empowered to see those that are in the margins, to listen to their stories and to speak up for them when they are able to. I also ask that we all have a service-minded heart that serves you through our families, our relationships, our vocations, and that we carve out space for not only prayer, but for ourselves. To fill our cups so that we may overflow the graces that you give us onto our relationships and society. Finally, I ask that the world that is better reflects the world as it should be, as you created it.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, a world without end. Amen.
47:05 RACHEL: Thank you, Ogechi!
47:06 OGECHI: Thank you!
47:15 RACHEL: Thank you again to Ogechi Akalegbere for joining me on The Feminine Genius Podcast today! For more from Ogechi, be sure to tune into her podcast “Tell Me If You Can”! You can listen and subscribe to it wherever you listen to your podcasts. And, you can follow Ogechi on Instagram @gechmeifyoucan and check out her website, gechmeifyoucan.com. All of these are in the episode description below.
You can stay up to date with The Feminine Genius Podcast by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, we're @femgeniuspod, and you can listen to this podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud, Spotify, Stitcher, and many other platforms. All this information can be found on our website, femininegeniuspodcast.com.
We'll talk to you soon, and God bless always!