by Wally Bakare
Born into a middle class family in Lagos, Nigeria, and the oldest child with 14 siblings, I consider myself very fortunate to have had a father who loved me dearly. He set in motion the course of my life in very practical and deliberate ways.
My parents divorced when I was about 3 years old and I was primarily raised by my dad, Tola Bakare, who unfortunately just passed away in March of this year. The one constant factor in my childhood was the undeniable love my father had for me. I was his first son and he did everything to provide me a stable environment to develop and grow.
My dad’s initial plan was for me to go to the United States for my undergraduate studies but due to unexpected financial challenges, he couldn’t afford it. This was when the first thought and idea of moving to the United States was planted in my head, becoming a dream of mine.
I graduated college at the age of 20 with a BSc in Political Science from Lagos State University where I met my now ex-wife. Shortly thereafter I enrolled in at The University of Lagos, eventually graduating with a Masters of International Law and Diplomacy degree. My career goal then was to join the Nigerian Diplomatic Corp in hopes that I could someday be posted to the United States as a diplomat.
However, after graduating I had no connections to get into the diplomatic Corp. I was able to get a job as a sales consultant for an emerging Computer and Information Technology company, Omatek Ventures, where I worked until I immigrated to the United States in 1994.
In those early years of my professional career, I was introduced to a great friend of my sister-in-law who become a professional mentor to me. I would stop by his office periodically to see him. It was on one of these visits that the trajectory of my life changed completely - he informed me about the Diversity Lottery Immigration Visa program created by the United States Government that allows 55,000 people to immigrate each year. He gave me the form for that year, 1993, and simply asked me to complete and mail it, which I did dutifully and prayerfully.
It was about a year later that I received a letter in the mail informing me that I was randomly selected out of 1 million applicants and was eligible to move to the United States with a guaranteed Green Card upon arrival.
Shortly after receiving the letter, the reality of what it meant sunk in and we had to start preparing for our relocation. However, we ran into a major snag. Where would we find the funds to travel, who would sponsor us, where would we live? These were all requirements that needed to be met before we could obtain our immigrant visas to travel. As spiritual beings, we believed in the power of prayers and stayed hopeful. With just 2 weeks before we had to go to the embassy, everything came together.
We were sponsored by a kind medical doctor who had never met us before. My boss, who was the CEO of the company, bought our one way tickets. My sister-in-law and my uncle gave us $100 each, and my cousin who lived in Baltimore agreed to provide us accommodation with no other support for exactly one month.
This began our new journey in the United States. We arrived at Dulles Airport in the fall of 1994 on a snowy cold winter Saturday and were met by my cousin. That was our first time seeing snow and we were ill-prepared for the cold temperature. We had to stop by Ames department store before we got home to buy our winter gear, using half of the $300 we arrived with.
Knowing that we only had one month to stay with my cousin and had to support ourselves, we were out on the streets of Baltimore the next day, which happened to be a Sunday, looking for a job. Fortunately I got a job just a few blocks from home at a pizza restaurant. My new employers asked me to start that Monday, and I said yes without knowing exactly what I would be doing.
My job was distributing flyers in different neighborhoods all over Baltimore. I would walk for four hours in the winter cold going from home to home putting pizza flyers on doors. I got paid each day and on my way home stopped at the grocery store to buy food for the next day. This was our life for one month while we waited to get our green cards.
One month exactly after we landed in the United States, and per our agreement with my cousin, we moved out into an apartment in Lanham, Maryland, with another couple that had arrived 3 months before us on the same immigrant visas. They were very kind to us and allowed us to stay rent free for over a year.
With both an undergraduate and graduate degree and two years experience working in computer consulting, I thought it would be easy to find a sales job at a computer and electronics stores. Yet several of my applications went unanswered and the few interview opportunities I had ended with no offers. After a month of doing nothing I was ready to get any job, leading me to apply for a commission-only sales position selling Rainbow vacuum cleaners.
A year later my wife and I were expecting our first child and the cost of insurance was taking a chunk of my meager commissions. I decided to start looking for a full-time job with full benefits, which led me to Office Team, a temporary placement agency. I was offered a role to work in the file room at Nextel Communications in McLean, Virginia. After nine months, I became a full-time employee as an accounts payable coordinator. I stayed at Nextel for three years until I was offered a managerial role at Comcast Cable, which is how I got into the cable and broadband industry.
The challenges of trying to acclimatize to a new world, having to build a new career, going to school at night, all while raising two children took a toll on my marriage and led to our eventual divorce. My ex-wife and I are blessed with 2 amazing kids, Daniel and Dawn.
It has been 23 years since I got my first corporate job. I am currently the Area Vice President of Field Operations at Charter Communications, and am engaged to an amazing woman. I dedicate my time and treasure to helping minority students obtain successful college careers through Tilga Scholarships, created in honor of my father who had hoped to send me to the very country I now call home.
I am an immigrant success story, but my success came on the backs and kindness of the various strangers, family members, and friends that gave me a hand along the way. To each of them I am eternally grateful.
About the Author
Wally Bakare is the Area Vice President of Field Operations at Charter Communications in Southern California covering Orange and part of Los Angeles Counties. As the company leader in the market, Wally is responsible for the efficient and effective operational performance of the company with clinical focus on employee engagement, customer satisfaction and operations excellence.
Since 2018, Bakare has served on the UCR Foundation Board of Trustees. His Tilga Scholarships, named in honor of his father, has provided financial support for up to 25 students at University of California, Riverside, The Ohio State University and Tuskegee University.
Wally has being recognized over the years for both his impact to the industry and his community. He was recently named by Cablefax Magazine as one of the 2018 Most Influential Minorities in the Cable Industry (his 6th time on the illustrious list). In 2007, Diversity MBA Magazine named him one of the Top 50 under 50 Corporate Executives on the move. In 2009, the Industry diversity organization NAMIC awarded him a Luminary Award and in 2010, the Columbus Business First named him Top Forty under 40 in Central Ohio.
He is blessed with two children, Daniel, a graduate of Purdue University currently working in Los Angeles, and Dawn, a Senior at Kelley School of Business, Indiana University.