With pride in their heritage and a strong belief in education, Nigerian nurses are promoting healthcare careers in the African-American community.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm, in 2016 more than 37% of America’s home healthcare aides were African-American.  Yet, even taking into account this significant percentage of workers, only a small percentage of our nation’s nurses are African-American.  Specifically, BLS notes that in 2016 there were 3.1 million registered nurses in the United States, yet fewer than 12% were African-American.  But a nationwide organization is trying to reduce this inequity in the African-American community and encourage the development of more nursing leaders from their own community.  In promoting their core values, the National Association of Nigerian Nurses in North American (NANNNA) is challenging its members to seek higher education in order to become valuable nursing professionals.

In 2007, after seven Nigerian nurses were brutally murdered by their husbands, NANNNA was formed by uniting six existing American and Canadian Nigerian Nurses’ Associations.  The roots of NANNNA are entrenched in the belief that all people, including Nigerian women, should be free from any environment in which domestic violence may occur and should be empowered to succeed in both their personal and professional lives.

From November 2 through 5 of 2017, the 8th Annual NANNNA Scientific Conference, held in Dallas, Texas, brought together more than 374 of the organization’s 3,000 nationwide members.  Upon entering the conference, attendees (including us, the authors) quickly realized that we had more in common with our Nigerian brothers and sisters than we first realized. During the four-day conference, NANNNA members displayed the pageantry of the Nigerian culture and shared their mission to challenge stereotypes, build confidence in their membership, and take their rightful place in the American healthcare community.

Keyna, a Nurse Practitioner from the Dallas Chapter of NANNNA who has been in nursing for 31 years, was one of the first people we met. About her fellow NANNNA members, Kenya said, “We like to talk, embrace each other, give thanks and encourage each other.  If you haven’t figured it … Nigerians are not shy.”

Jane Ekwoyne, the national president of (NANNNA), provided the welcome address, and this strong leader captivated the audience. “Welcome!  Great Nurses.  Excellent Nurses.  Scientific Nurses.  Compassionate Nurses.  Hardworking Nurses. Elegant Nurses.  Beautiful Nurses. And Handsome Nurses.”  This final pronouncement did not go unnoticed, as the NANNNA membership later voted to elect the first male president in their organization’s history.

Near the end of her opening remarks, Ms. Ekwonye singled out new NANNNA members.  “See yourselves as the missing piece of the puzzle in the NANNNA picture.  Without you, NANNNA is not complete.  Join, participate, and do not let anything intimidate you.”  This culture of inclusion from the bottom to the top makes NANNNA an influential force that helps to promote excellence within its membership.

Rafael, a wide-smiling licensed vocational nurse (LVN) who is working on becoming a registered nurse (RN), was attending his first NANNNA conference.  He shared that this scientific conference is one of the most motivating forces for members like him and his wife.  “Seeing others’ success is believing.  I sold everything in Nigeria to start here in America.  We need to continue learning, mentoring, and encouraging each other. That is what NANNNA does for me and its members.

One of the strongest foundations within the Nigerian culture is the belief in education and that, with a strong academic background, anything is possible.  This was evident on Day 2 of the conference, when each member of a particular panel was introduced to the NANNNA membership.  The speaker announced each panelist’s first higher education degree and waited for the audience to applaud.  When the second panelist’s degree was announced, more applause ensued.  Given that MDs, PhDs, and Nurse Practitioners were among the panelists, so much applause was heard that attendees felt we were at a motivational seminar.  At the end of this session, we met proud NANNNA member and University of Phoenix graduate Sister Augusta, who is employed by the State of Texas and works with disabled adults and adolescents.  Sister Augusta said, “Nigerian people are proud to say the word ‘degree,’ as it adds value to us and shows our accomplishments.  At a very young age, we are reminded that education is a stepping stone that propels our people.”

Saturday evening proved to be the highlight of the conference, as all the participants came together for the annual gala that included an awards banquet, a fundraising event, and an induction ceremony for the new president.  Stellamarius, a beautiful soul with 36 years of nursing experience, shared her insights about the conference experience. “This conference allows recognition of members’ accomplishments, joy for the organization, and the ability of the NANNNA members to give back to their native Nigeria.”

The gala began as the mistress of ceremonies announced the honored guests and shared each guest’s biography, which highlighted his or her unique educational and civic accomplishments.  NANNNA member Patricia explained that the local Dallas conference participants wore “White dresses with blue head garments.”  These host-city participants served as ushers, danced in a group around each honored guest, and slowly escorted each guest to his or her seat at the high table.

Seated next to us was NANNNA member Charity, who traveled more than 6,000 miles from Nigeria to attend the conference in support of NANNNA’s mission.  Charity explained that the gala was a joyful manifestation of all that the NANNNA members had accomplished, and she noted that she looked forward to the fellowship and dancing, which progressed into the evening.  Charity said, “After dinner, we will also have fundraising to support our less-fortunate people back in Nigeria.”

After the honored guests were seated, the main door opened, and outgoing NANNNA president Jane Ekwoyne appeared to the membership.  There was a rush to the door so that NANNNA members from all over the country could usher Jane to her seat at the high table.  More than one hundred ushers participated in this moving tribute to the NANNNA president.  The Nigerian people are highly religious and give thanks for every good fortune, and this ritual represented a way in which members could show their appreciation, similar to a standing ovation.  Next, all eyes, ears, and hearts turned to the opening prayer, at which time the group collectively gave thanks to God. The most elegant prayer included thanks to the Father for the hearts and souls of NANNNA’s leaders and members, the ability to serve their employers and patients, and finally for the safe journey back to their own lands, including Nigeria.

As dinner concluded, the gala focused on fundraising that was designated to benefit those less fortunate in Nigeria.  The hope was that more Nigerian people could receive the education needed to become medical professionals and one day join the membership of NANNNA.  This was symbolic in that many of the NANNNA members had humble beginnings, and through their hard work as well as the generosity of others, they have become leaders in their nursing professions.  Jane Ekwoyne commented, “NANNNA is very appreciative of the opportunities available to us in the United States and this country has played a very important role in our personal and professional development.”

As we left the gala, we confirmed our strong belief that NANNNA is indeed taking several positive steps to help African-Americans not only enter but also succeed in our nation.

For more information on the National Association of Nigerian Nurses in North America, please go to www.nannna.org.

Co-Authors:  Gregg Falcon is the Campus Director of the University of Phoenix and Angilique Falcon is a Pediatric Nurse for Continuum Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.