Mobolaji Akiode’s Passion Ignites Her Purpose for African Female Athletes

(Courtesy of ESPN)

(Courtesy of ESPN)

Mobolaji Akiode is the type of passionate individual who makes others better by her very presence alone. The sort whose palpable aura of determination is understood just through hearing her speak. Yet, it has been a combination of Akiode’s unrelenting passion for success and commanding presence that has created a life full of purpose both on the basketball court during her time as a star player at the Division I and international levels, and with the non-profit organization she started in 2010 called Hope 4 Girls.

“I can remember during her freshman year (at Fordham University), the team was down by two points against Marist with one second left and Mobo was at the line for two shots,” recalled Eric Sanders, Akiode’s academic advisor at Fordham. “She made the first, but missed the second, then took off right for the bus crying because she thought it was her fault that the team lost the game. She was that kind of passionate leader.”

That fiery spirit is the reason, in part, why the 32-year-old American-born Nigerian found herself on espnW’s inaugural Impact 25 list of the most impactful people for women’s sports in 2014.

Akiode, a 2004 Olympian and former co-captain of the Nigerian women’s national basketball team, was stunned to see her name among those of women’s sports trailblazers like Serena Williams, Becky Hammon, Mo’ne Davis, Robin Roberts, and even First Lady Michelle Obama.

“To be on the same list as people who are all superstars in their own right is just amazing,” the 2004 graduate of Fordham University said. “It’s such an honor for me, especially because my work doesn’t deal with sports here in America. I don’t know if I’ll ever be on the same list as Michelle Obama again.”

Don’t let Akiode’s humility and unassuming nature fool you about the tremendous impact she has made for African females, however. Akiode’s organization is based in both America and Nigeria and is dedicated to the increased participation and empowerment of young and disadvantaged African women in basketball. Her groundbreaking work as the founder and executive director of Hope 4 Girls has made her a spearheading leader for international women’s sports initiatives.

Following her three-year stint with the Nigerian women’s national basketball team after college, Akiode worked as an accountant for ESPN in Bristol, CT until 2009. It was then that she felt motivated to start Hope 4 Girls, in order to serve others on a larger scale.

“When I was working at ESPN, I had the opportunity to do community service,” Akiode recollected. “It made me think about Nigeria and what it’s like to grow up as a girl there and I just felt compelled to act. So, I decided to jump two feet in with Hope 4 Girls, and here we are now.”

Since 2010, Hope 4 Girls has created a gateway to basketball for young African women through a series of camps and clinics run by Akiode throughout the calendar year. At each Hope 4 Girls event, the messages delivered to participants go far beyond basketball instruction. Akiode and her staff work to mentor girls about the need for education, health, wellness, and social awareness in today’s global society.

“The mentoring is the most gratifying thing about Hope 4 Girls,” Akiode said. “I have a great time playing big sister, both as a disciplinarian and voice of reason.”

Akiode’s work has extended beyond the confines of the African continent and stretched into the American college basketball landscape. To date, Hope 4 Girls has helped six African girls land basketball scholarships through its fundraising and recruiting efforts, including Division I offers to Virginia Tech, Texas, Northwestern, and Butler.

As a standout during her own college career, Akiode was an All-Atlantic 10 Conference performer who finished her run with the Rams ranked in Fordham’s top 10 all-time in scoring and rebounding with 1,167 points and 554 rebounds, respectively. She was inducted into the Fordham Athletics Hall of Fame last January.

Aside from basketball, however, Akiode knows the value of a great education in an enriching environment. The Gabelli School of Business graduate developed her talents and found her voice while at Fordham.

“I really blossomed during my time at Fordham, and not just athletically and academically, but also personally and emotionally, learning that I could be anything that I wanted to be,” Akiode stated. “It was a great foundation that prepared me for the global life that I live now.”

The self-discovery that Akiode experienced as a student-athlete at Fordham is what motivates her to help other African girls find themselves through basketball.

“The girls in Africa don’t know what the possibilities for their lives can be through sports, and that’s something I want to continue to expose to them,” Akiode said. “I want to show girls that they can be leaders in whatever they choose to do.”

Although the recognition she received from espnW serves as a delightful reminder that she is living her purpose and aiding in the progress of African female athletes, Akiode is far from satisfied with her efforts.

“Working towards building a concession of role models in the continent of Africa that young girls can look up to is what motivates me on a daily basis,” Akiode revealed. “I never wake up feeling satisfied.”

While Hope 4 Girls has made great progress for young African women in basketball, plenty of barriers still exist for females interested in sports within the turmoil-ridden continent. And due to the absence of sports for girls in most African schools and a general discouragement of female participation in sports in Africa, Akiode believes it will take an aggressive effort by women across the world to create meaningful and lasting global changes.

“I think that we women need to have somewhat of a chip on our shoulders that says we haven’t come far enough, and we’re not just going to relax because we’ve made some progress,” Akiode stated. “We can do more, and if we continue to work and fight like we haven’t achieved that much, then I think we will continue to break more barriers.”

As long as Mobolaji Akiode and other impactful trailblazers are leading the charge for women in sports both in America and abroad, you can bet an unparalleled amount of passion and purpose will be on full display, and continue to make females eager to tackle any obstacles standing in their way.

Months Later, Mo’ne Davis’ Impact Persists

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

(Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

With the last traces of summer having just been trampled under the feet of trick-or-treaters across the country, Mo’ne Davis’ impact on the sports world is still just as strong as it was in the late-August heat.

The Taney Little League pitching sensation from Philadelphia stunned America with her 70 mile-per-hour fastball at the Little League World Series this past summer, and became the first girl to pitch a complete-game shutout at the annual tournament in Williamsport, Penn. During the 11-day, world-wide competition, the 13-year-old hurler also became the first-ever Little Leaguer (boy or girl) featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

And unlike many of her Little League predecessors, Davis hasn’t fizzled into obscurity with the changing of seasons.

Since Taney’s squad returned home from Williamsport at the end of August, Davis has been on the Tonight Showdonated her jersey to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and threw out the first pitch of Game 4 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals. She is also profiled in Teen Vogue’s November issue, and was recently named by Time magazine as one of the nation’s 25 most influential teens of 2014. Davis is set to receive the Musial Award for extraordinary character later this month at the annual Musial Awards in St. Louis.

Most noticeably, Davis is the subject of Chevrolet’s newest commercial, which first aired on FOX on Oct. 21 during Game 1 of the World Series.

The Spike Lee-directed 60-second spot depicts Davis as America’s daughter; a confident three-sport athlete, who eats pizza, loves her family, and stands for girls who want to play sports with the boys.

The spot ends with the tagline, “Chevrolet celebrates Mo’ne Davis, and those who remind us that anything is possible.”

Davis’ commercial not only keeps her as a mainstay symbol of empowerment for female athletes, but it could also prove to open up doors for college athletes in the future.

Following the release of Chevy’s commercial, the NCAA announced that Davis could profit on her likeness and still be eligible for future participation in college athletics.

NCAA spokeswoman Emily James said in a statement, “This waiver narrowly extends the rules — which allow Davis to accept the payment and still be eligible in any other sport — to include baseball.” James continued, “The NCAA staff also considered the historically limited opportunities for women to participate in professional baseball. In addition, Davis is much younger than when the vast majority of the prospect rules apply.”

While Mo’ne Davis is not yet, and may never be a college athlete, she has cracked open the door for certain unique circumstances to be considered by the NCAA as reason enough to grant compensation to amateur athletes. With the NCAA’s decision, the eighth-grader has inadvertently added to her list of ground-breaking influences on the sports world, in just a matter of months.

For Davis, Chevy’s commercial isn’t just a feel-good ploy to sensationalize her success and stir up some controversy within the NCAA; it is her reality, and it reveals why the pitching star may just emerge as the Billie Jean King of our time. An avant-garde female athlete, if you will.

Sure, there have been several other pioneering female athletes who have come before her, but none have been quite like Mo’ne Davis.

Courtesy of Teen Vogue

(Courtesy of Teen Vogue)

She is talented, poised, and self-assured. She knows what she wants, and she’s not afraid to go get it. She is wise beyond her years, and she has set a trailblazing precedent for other young women to follow.

The combination of these qualities is what has kept, and will continue to keep, Mo’ne Davis relevant long after her team’s elimination from the Little League World Series.

Because, even if Davis doesn’t make the successful transition to a regulation-sized baseball field, or if she is never the point guard for Geno Auriemma’s UCONN Huskies like she hopes to be someday, or if she soon finds another passion that takes her away from sports altogether, her influence on young women will remain revolutionary.

During the Little League World Series, Davis said, “Probably like a couple of years from now, there’ll be a lot of girls here, and then it won’t be just like all boys, so they’ll have to build like another dorm for girls, so it’ll be a huge impact if more girls start playing.”

With Davis as the budding spokeswoman of a new generation of American daughters, young females will follow her lead to defy society’s sports norms and emerge from the shadows of their male counterparts.

And pretty soon, the Mo’ne Davises of the world will be the rule, not the exception.