Hope in a Dark Time for Asylum Seekers
Edafe Okporo’s story offers hope in a time when many of us feel despair about the state of immigration in the United States. At age 28, Edafe has lived more than most of us have in a lifetime: running from a civil war as a young child, advocating on behalf of LGBT rights in Nigeria (where homosexuality is illegal) and seeking and gaining asylum in the US. A handsome man with an intense demeanor, Edafe can break out into full body laughter in a moment’s notice, flashing his 1,000-kilowatt smile and endearing himself to anybody within a 20-foot radius.
For Edafe, helping people is as reflexive as breathing. While held in Elizabeth Detention Center, Edafe wrote letters for his fellow asylum seekers who struggled with written English. He currently works as the director of RDJ Refugee Shelter, the only shelter in New York City specifically for homeless asylum seekers and refugees. From Edafe I have learned that no matter how busy you are, there is always time to help someone.
So, when he told me he was publishing his memoirs, I immediately signed up to throw him a book party for Bed 26: A Memoir of an African Man’s Asylum in The United States.
The book gives a heartbreakingly detailed account of what it is like to be gay in Nigeria—a life of continual guardedness against being “outed” punctuated by fleeting moments of happy abandon at private parties. Then there is the cruel internet-enabled trick where Edafe was lured to an empty warehouse on the pretense of meeting a kindred soul and is brutally beaten as part of an a homophobic game. All along, Edafe moves forward, getting a college and master’s degree—the first in his family to do so—powered by the enveloping love of his family, especially his grandmother.
Bed26 is a book designed to provide inspiration for people facing difficult times or discrimination as he told us in the question and answer session at the book party.
“The purpose of me publishing this memoir was something I thought about, that when we share our story, we heal. Because we are able to move beyond our current trauma and see the future. When we publish our story, we give all the people behind us strength to know that if he can do it, I will be able to do it, even when I’m passing through that difficult time. Even if I died today, people will know I put pen to paper to be able to fight for the communities I am part of, and that was the reason why I published the memoir.”
He also wrote it for the millions of Americans who feel demoralized by the current state of immigration in America. Edafe told the crowd that he wanted:
“to be able to give people for generations to come a possibility that there was a time in America, or there was a time in Nigeria, when there was a law that was passed that persecutes people for being who they are. Today we have been able to achieve equality and see that this was the struggle that these people had. When they can understand their history, they will be better in their present, and even in the future.”