EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange experienced its own “Coming to America” moment straight out of the hit movie from 1988 starring Eddie Murphy on Friday, July 27, when Mayor Ted Green, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake and members of City Council welcomed Nigerian monarch Imperial Majesty Oba Adeyeye Enitan Babatunde Ogunwusi Ojaja II to the city.
Green literally rolled out a green carpet, not a red one, to welcome Ojaja to East Orange and, once the king arrived, he was preceded and announced by a royal crier, just as with Murphy’s character, Prince Akeem of Zamunda. A member of Ojaja’s entourage did actually sprinkle flower petals on the ground and the green carpet in front of him as he walked from his chauffeured car to the pavilion and podium set up in his honor.
“We should be excited for East Orange. We should be excited for our young people, who are going to witness seeing a king probably for the first time in their lives, not just on ‘Coming to America,’” said Green on Friday, July 27. “What made this so special today was all of you. Thank you so very much, King Ojaja, for gracing us with your presence today. Thank you.”
“Having our king, King Ojaja, here today, it means so much, because in the beginning of my administration, we talked about how we build bridges and today shows that,” Green said. “Today shows that building bridges is not just in East Orange. We want to build those bridges and build those connections as far as Nigeria to here in East Orange. When you look at the city of East Orange, we are a very diverse community and many of our Nigerian sisters and brothers play such a role right here in public safety, our courts, city hall, local government and our education system. So we’re very happy to honor our king today. We’re very honored to know that, when you look at East Orange and you look at Nigeria, we share the same thoughts and we share the same things that we want for our community and our countries.”
Oliver and Timberlake echoed Green’s sentiments about East Orange and Nigeria’s shared dreams and ideals. Oliver revealed Timberlake’s aspiration to become an official African princess, but Ojaja said neither needed to marry into his royal family to be recognized as genuine African nobility.
“I am here again on very short notice and it is nice for me to meet our lieutenant governor. I will tell you something today and I mean it. Please go and do your DNA, ancestral DNA. You will realize that your ancestors are naturally queens,” said Ojaja on Friday, July 27. “You will realize that you took the right blood of who they are because I can feel a lot of positivity around you. I can feel a lot of wonderful energy and beautiful drive around you and I can feel that sense of leadership anytime I am around you. I felt it the first time I came. I am so feeling it now. You are naturally born to be a leader. That is who you are and that is what you stand for.”
Ojaja said it’s not by accident that Oliver and Timberlake were elevated to their current positions.
“It’s not by accident that you have been elevated,” said Ojaja. “I will come here again and I will be very positive that you will continue to be elevated. You will continue to be climbing that ladder in political status, until you get to where you naturally belong.”
According to Leonard Jeffries and Akil Khalfani of the Essex County African Institute, Ojaja’s visit to East Orange was part of the king’s latest tour of the United States and other countries, including Brazil, the Caribbean and New York City.
Jeffries said there is already a long history of East Orange municipal leaders such as Green reaching out to Nigeria and other countries on the African continent to build bridges, something that began during former Mayor Robert Bowser’s administration. He and Khalfani said they hoped the king’s visit to East Orange would be the start of something mutually beneficial.
“Mayor Bowser did make many trips to Africa and I was blessed to be able to make many of those trips with Mayor Bowser. In fact, one of them was a major conference in Nigeria in the traditional area of the Ooni and we did go to see the Ooni and I had the pleasure of representing the black mayors from America and the Caribbean. And I had the pleasure of paying respects for the Ooni and that meant prostrating before him, and I had done that with two other Oonis, because I’ve been going back and forth to Africa since 1961,” said Jeffries on Saturday, July 28.
“My wife went to Nigeria in 1960. We’re one of the leading couples involved in African and African-American education. Bob Bowser, whose family is a friend of the Jeffries family, took the lead in having us link up with the mayors in Africa. We need to have unity and pan African unity, wherever black folks are. They have to figure out how to form their organizations economically, politically and culturally, because we’re up against a whole world system, who are putting their thing together against us. So the best antidote to that is unity.”
Ojaja echoed Jeffries and Khalfani’s sentiments during his remarks and reiterated his belief that even greater things are in store for Oliver, Timberlake and Green.
“Unfortunately, your own ancestors did not miss the boat, but my own ancestors missed the boat. But it will give us a very good opportunity to show to the whole world that, truly, we are born in the lineage of kings and queens, in the lineage of true leaders, because kings and queens are born and not made. You speak very passionately all the time. … Today, I will pray for you. … You were not there when I came around; you have been elevated. You will continue to be further elevated and so shall it be.”