OkayAfrica's 100 Women
Photo courtesy of Oronike Odeleye.

To the Girls With Heavy Names

Oronike Odeleye's name isn't just a direct line to the continent. It's the blueprint for how she lives her life and the reason she spends her time protecting Black women and girls.

"Something to be cared for," Oronike Odeleye tells me when I ask the meaning of her name. It also has a backstory that connects her directly to the continent. Her father, an African-American sculptor, lived with a family in Nigeria after graduating from Howard University in Washington D.C. An elder bestowed him with a list of children's names from which he chose Oronike. The name, too, chose her, as she continuously demanded her parents' watchful eye. "I was a busybody," Odeleye says, describing her childhood in Atlanta, "always in trees, doing daredevil stuff."

Her name continues to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. As of late, it reflects the boldness of her activism as the co-founder of #MuteRKelly, the viral campaign to "end the career of serial mental, physical and sexual abuser, R Kelly," the Facebook page reads. Her name signifies her work itself, advocating for young women preyed upon in a culture steeped in misogynoir.

When we first caught up with Odeleye about a month ago, the charges against Kelly had just been filed. The 52-year-old singer pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims. Three victims were between the ages of 13 and 16 when the acts allegedly took place. As expected, the ensuing days were hectic for Odeleye. She was "cautiously excited," since Kelly escaped a conviction before. "We're taking everything minute-by-minute and seeing how it goes. We're really hoping that they have a strong case," she told OkayAfrica. But her work mobilizing efforts to financially divest from the man and the music already feel like a win for those who have been fighting and telling the public for over 20 years of the horrors they knew.

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