Although I’ve never been embraced by Amma, the living legend from India who gives healing hugs, I’m sure Bukola Oriola’s hugs rank right up there with hers. In 2010 I wrote a story on Bukola about how she changed her troubled life from a human trafficking victim to a business proprietor. Last year I followed up with a photo at the grand opening of her shop Bukola Braiding & Beauty Supply in Spring Lake Park.
So when I stopped in her salon two weeks ago to write a story on a benefit she is hosting to collect school supplies for kids staying at the Alexandra House, Bukola greeted me with a huge smile and a full-body, wrap-your-arms-around-me hug. Not a tepee-style hug, as my fiance calls it, where people lean in toward each other and uncomfortably pat each other on the shoulders. But an earnest, I’m-not-kidding kind of hug one is lucky enough to receive in a lifetime.
When I think of the obstacles Bukola, 35, has overcome - mental abuse, rape, hunger and imprisonment in her own home - and all that she’s accomplished in the short time she’s been in the America (2005), I’m amazed not only at her resiliency and tenacity but at her passion to give back, to steadfastly plant herself on this USA terra firma, to bravely stand as a stalwart beacon of hope for others and to serve as a vessel of community outreach to victims of abuse and human trafficking.
In 2007, Bukola arrived on the doorstep of Alexandra House, an Anoka County shelter for abused women, with her one-year-old son, Samuel. They had neither clothes nor money, nor a safe home to return to. A native of Nigeria, Bukola was an award winning journalist in her homeland. She came to the United States to marry a man introduced to her by a family friend. At first things were fine. But the marriage took a turn when her husband later held her hostage in their home for two years. He did, however, let her attend church. And he did let her braid congregants’ hair. Sensing a money-making opportunity, he set up a make-shift salon in their home. Bukola braided customers’ hair for hours. He kept the money.
After he tired of her, he called the police one day, Bukola said. She found the phone ripped from the wall. She suspects he called the police to say she had gone into a rage. He, perhaps, planned to file for a restraining order. A reason to have her deported, she said. The police came to the house when her husband was away. Bukola told them about her dire situation. They advised her to seek safety at a shelter immediately. That’s when she hurriedly wrapped Sammy up and they headed for the Alexandra House. Since that time, Bukola has lifted herself out of her mired existence and emerged as an advocate for the abused.
Not only is she now operating her own business, she has written a book titled “Imprisoned,” the story of her life. Additionally, she has a cable show also called “Imprisoned” (visit www.imprisonedshow.com) aimed at helping abuse and human trafficking victims.
Recently, Bukola was excited to receive her green card. It will allow her the opportunity to base her business in Minnesota and to speak internationally as an advocate for the abused, she said.
This fall Bukola plans to attend Anoka-Ramsey Community College and take computer and marketing courses. Ultimately, she plans to major in communications and minor in social work. She will continue to tend to the immigrant community. She will also continue to grow her business.
Aug. 26 Bukola is hosting a free fund-raiser at the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park from 2 to 7 p.m. She asks people to bring school supplies or donations to help kids get a strong start for the school year. Highlighters, glue sticks, crayons, number two pencils and more are on her list. The supplies will go to kids at the Alexandra House, where she so graciously received help a few years ago. Bukola foresees a successful event. “In my inner mind, I see smiles on the faces of kids who felt hopeless because they were homeless,” she said.
For more information visit www.bukolabraiding.com or call 763-516-4359.