HIGH PROFILE: Princess Moradeun Ogunlana concentrates on helping less fortunate women, children
by RENARDA A. WILLIAMS SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | November 15, 2020 at 8:36 a.m.
During Deun Ogunlana’s many years in Arkansas, she was pretty low-key about her status as a member of one of Nigeria’s oldest and most prominent traditional ruling families.
She didn’t tell all and sundry that her grandfather was the late Oba David Ajasa Ogunlana, who ruled Lagos from 1948 to 1969. Or that her great-grandfather was Oba Liyangu Owabagbe Adenuga, the ninth ruling King Akarigbo of Remoland in Nigeria.
Back in the day, she was just Deun Shonowo (her former married name), fashion designer and owner of a longtime African clothing boutique — later a bridal store — in what was Little Rock’s University Mall.
But Ogunlana’s dreams began to go beyond the use of African fashion to debunk myths and squelch incorrect assumptions about her native country. She acted on those desires, her work blossoming during a 10-year role as a member and vice president of the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission.
Nowadays Ogunlana, who moved to Houston but keeps her close ties to Arkansas, is a United Nations Global Ambassador for Peace. She’s the chairwoman and chief executive officer of the Global Summit Group Inc., a nonprofit organization that, through research and training programs, addresses economic equity concerns affecting women. The Global Summit Group is a participating member of the UN Global Compact, “a voluntary initiative based on [chief executive officers’] commitments to implement universal sustainability principles and to take steps to support UN goals,” according to its website.
Ogunlana is also president and CEO of Innovative Global Consulting (IGC) Group of Companies, a corporation that connects businesses in Africa to the world in the areas of infrastructure, agriculture, energy, business and economic development. She oversees the the Global Council of Women for Development, an exchange of best practices in accelerating women’s economic progress. The word “global,” in fact, is a thread that runs through many of the organizations and initiatives in which Ogunlana is involved as a creator, organizer or board member …. including Fight Cancer Global and the annual Global Women Empowerment Summit, an international gathering of female leaders from various nations.
And, Ogunlana is the founder of the African Women’s Health Project International (AWHPI), a nonprofit group with Arkansas beginnings that focuses on empowering women via access to health care, economic aid, cultural development and more. The organization was founded in 1999; incorporated in 2003.
“This amiable, decent, unassuming but fully focused [woman] is a real gem par excellence,” says Oba Aderemi Adeniyi-
Adedapo, secretary for the National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria in Abuja State. “For every generation, there is a Kennedy, and for every community, there is a Mother Teresa. Princess Moradeun is unmistakably our own Teresa.”
Another Nigerian ruler, Oba Adebisi Segun Layade of Araland, Ife Kingdom, concurs.
“Princess Moradeun is a woman of integrity, very passionate and always thinking of how to better other people’s lives through charity works,” Layade says. “She is a virtuous woman with a golden heart.”
A (ROYAL) STAR IS BORN
Ogunlana, who’s in her early 50s, is the daughter of the late Alhaja Jemilat Adeola Anjorin and Prince Richard Ogunlana, and hails from an extended family of 11 surviving siblings. Before divorcing, remarrying and having other children, her parents gave birth to four children together, including a daughter who died at 4 of an upper respiratory ailment.
Prince Richard was a member of the Nigerian Police Force and the family traveled a lot during Ogunlana’s early years. When he, then Alhaja, eventually left to study in Canada, Ogunlana and her two brothers went to live with their maternal grandmother, Alhaja Falilat.
Ogunlana refers to her upbringing as one full of “love and peace.” She fondly remembers her participation in the Eyo Festival (a venerated recurring Yoruba festival in Lagos). The festival is highlighted by the Eyo masquerades — dancers clad all in white, their faces hidden, wearing colorful hats and carrying opanbatas, or staffs. For each festival, Ogunlana’s grandmother would dress her in attire appropriate for her status. Ogunlana would then march with the masquerades, a privilege afforded only to royals.
“This was a distinct showing of our … background growing up, as at other times, we just mingle with everyone [else],” Ogunlana says.
After her graduation from secondary school, Deun was taken by her father to Chicago, where he had moved. In 1985, she moved to the Natural State to attend the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She later transferred to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and, in the meantime, married her now-ex-husband. She graduated from UALR in August 1991 with a degree in journalism.
Ogunlana saw a need to bridge the gap between Black Americans and Africans “as, at that time, there was a big divide and misconception of what it really was like in Africa.” To this end, she spent a lot of the time making educational speeches and conducting cultural programs on Africa, designing clothes and producing fashion shows in celebration of Black History Month. In 1994, she opened clothing boutique De African Elegance. She subsequently converted the boutique to a bridal store, Bridal Blessings, which spent its final days of operation at The Pines Mall in Pine Bluff.
There was more than clothing on her mind, however. The 1976 death of her young sister — who’d passed away at her side and who, despite being a royal, hadn’t had access to adequate health care — birthed a subconscious desire within Ogunlana to get said health care to those who she felt needed it most.
‘I CAN NEVER FORGET’
Fast-forward to 1997, when Ogunlana’s grandmother passed away in Nigeria. As the family celebrated her grandmother’s home going with a picnic on the beach, Ogunlana spied a small boy, wearing torn clothing and gathering some of the leftover food they had thrown away — “just kind of scooping everything up and putting some in his clothes, and eating some of it.
“The people that went with us literally shooed him away,” Ogunlana recalls. “When you see such things over and over again, you become immune to it. But me, I guess, I was seeing it from different eyes at this point” — the eyes of her grandmother, who’d taught her that whatever she did, she should do it for the good of others.
The boy retreated to where his mother was sitting on a mat on the ground, breastfeeding a baby. Her clothing was wrapped around her waist, leaving her bare torso exposed. Ogunlana could see that the mother’s other breast was gangrene-ridden and oozing. Flies were all around.
“It was a sight that I think I can never forget,” Ogunlana says. “Before that time … I was promoting a culture [via] a fashion show. I was promoting showing the beauty of my Africa to the world. But I think at that moment I knew that [I had to] go a step further …. I made it my lifelong objective to make sure that I bring a voice to the voiceless, especially when it comes to African women and children.”
Ogunlana was able to get some help for the mother, who did pass away about four months later, and the children. That was one of the first acts of the African Women’s Health Project International.
Next order of business: “We asked some of our friends and partners and supporters to sponsor a child’s education.” With as little as $50, donors could buy supplies and uniforms for an African child to attend school.
Then, she tackled the the matter of getting equipment for the hospitals there. Hospitals such as the one she remembers visiting and seeing a lone doctor on duty — a doctor forced to complete a Cesarean section with the windows open because of a lack of electric light.
Ogunlana set about trying to get resources not just to Nigeria, but to other nations whose health systems were in need. Having organized conferences in Little Rock that dealt with matters of economics and trade, she also began planning conferences to further the objectives of the project. In 2006, she led a group of the project’s advisory board members on a mission trip to Lagos, where they set up two health fairs.
NEW AND IMPROVED
Today, the project has chapters in nine countries and continues to grow. Ogunlana has regrouped the African Women’s Health Project International; its advisory board now includes people from all over the world. “I was able to reach out to a lot of my different friends that I’ve met along the way that I work with” as an ambassador with the UN and through her work with women in the United Arab Emirates, India and other parts of the world.
The project, she adds, is putting together a long-term strategic plan that includes monthly community outreach activities … especially in the area of food distribution, and especially in rural areas affected by covid-19.
The organization continues to hold free medical screening activities … fruit of its collaboration with some nongovernmental organizations and other groups. On Oct. 1 — Nigerian Independence Day — the project’s chapter in Kaduna State, in northern Nigeria, did a free health screening and lecture and gave out food donations to widows and orphanages. In October, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, AWHPI Learn Pink Mondays were held. People from around the world joined in on the monthlong, virtual breast cancer awareness initiative.
An African Women’s Health Project International health podcast has also been launched. “We want to be out in front of the people, letting them know that we’re here for you, especially post-covid,” Ogunlana says. “At the same time, we wanted to make sure that we’re falling in line with the United Nations sustainable development goals.”
It wasn’t Ogunlana’s expanding roles as an international women’s advocate that took her away from Arkansas, however. She moved to Houston in 2012 to take care of her father, who’d moved there from Chicago and become ill. He recovered, and she had “a wonderful four years” to spend with him before he finally passed away. (Two years later — same calendar day, same time — her mother died.)
Ogunlana chose to remain in Houston, where she’s also been busy with personal development. In October 2016, she earned a doctorate in international relations as well as an honorary degree in humane letters from the CICA (Canadian International Chaplaincy Association) International University and Seminary. In 2017, she was inducted as an honors fellow into the Institute of Information Management-Africa. And, she wrote a book. “The Achiever’s Power: Fifty Golden Nuggets to Becoming an Unstoppable Achiever” bears a foreword from Dr. Joyce Banda, former president of the Africa country of Mali.
Ogunlana’s pastor, Gbenga Showunmi of Destinystar Ministries International, considers her a valuable asset.
“She is an embodiment of wisdom, integrity and excellence,” says Showunmi, also a publisher who produced Ogunlana’s book. “I am impressed by her faith in God, and her tenacity to keep moving forward no matter the situation. I admire her passion to help women, especially during this pandemic. The way she is investing her time and resources into her assignment is second to none.”
Meanwhile, Ogunlana has racked up numerous accomplishments and awards including a 2017 Arkansas Governor’s Volunteer Excellence Award for her project work. She has been inducted at the USA, China and Taiwan Culture Development Center (UCT) at the UN as an Ambassador of Culture. In 2014, she was inducted as an Ambassador for Peace by the Universal Peace Federation at the UN and serves as the international coordinator for the Nigerian Ambassador for Peace in the Diaspora Initiatives.
But she takes the most pride in being a mother and grandmother. She has three grown daughters: Lola, a real estate agent; Bola, a lawyer who specializes in health-care law; and Shola, a sophomore at Houston Community College who has aspirations of being a nurse practitioner. Grandson Richard is in kindergarten.
In her free time, Ogunlana likes to read and travel … pastimes that, for her, bear a strong connection. Doing the former as a youngster allowed her to figuratively do the latter. “Because of reading I was able to travel to faraway places that I’m just now able to travel to [literally],” she says. “Reading prepares you for going to those places.”
Considering the hats she wears, Ogunlana had much traveling to prepare for.