Actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, City Councilmember Robert Cornegy, and two human rights activists groups gathered Thursday morning on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan in a show of support for the victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
The participants wanted to show a coalition of force does exist in New York City, despite the world’s relative silence. The demonstration served as a call for action to end Boko Haram’s terrorization of the people of Nigeria and also a plea for the U.S. to send humanitarian aid to those displaced by the conflict.
Akinnagbe, best known for his role as cold-blooded assassin Chris Partlow on the HBO series The Wire, experienced inequity firsthand as the child of Nigerian-immigrant parents.
He told the Village Voice about how in his youth, he bounced around from fenced-in shelters to run-down projects, many of them surrounded by suburbs. His impoverished upbringing would later inspire Akinnagbe to become an outspoken activist in different parts of the world.
“I do it because I have to,” he told the Voice. “I don’t really see a choice. This is part of who I am. It’s who I’ll always be. I can’t have gone to the West Bank and Israel and witnessed the apartheid I saw and not come back and say something about it. I couldn’t live with myself. I can’t have lived in the shelters I’ve lived in and seen what my mother went through and not say something about how we deal with our homeless. I couldn’t sleep.”
In 2011 Akinnagbe visited Nigeria for the first time and almost instantly felt a connection to his parents’ homeland. He has since returned several times, and now spends much of his free time lending his voice to raise awareness of the Boko Haram massacres:
“I knew my history didn’t start with slavery,” he said. But “to go someplace and see a nation of people who are a variation of you is empowering.”
“Everyone feels their struggles are unique to them,” Akinnagbe told the Voice. “All these different races of people out in the streets — different colors and different languages — protesting for the same thing, the same rights. If we recognize our brothers and sisters and their struggles, we are stronger.”