From Ogechi to US

"We should pay more attention to building bridges to establish understanding"

My name is Marijn Ogechi Agbarakwe, an entrepreneur from Ghent.

I am of Nigerian decent on my father's side and Belgian on my mother's side. I'm an interior architect who also does event management. On top of that I'm also a marketing manager for a company based in Europe and Asia.

I have been through a lot to get where I am now, and I think that I can still grow. As a teenager, I spent a lot of years with anger in me because I felt like I had to do more than the average person to earn my respect. I didn't understand this because I grew up with less struggles than most people. I have a mother who gave me a lot, I got a good education and a lot of love.

But I had to learn the hard way that not everyone was willing to lend me a hand. I was not even able to land a small job. I had to stay positive and apply for a lot of jobs before I finally got where I wanted to be. That’s the ugly part of this world. As I grew older, I turned all that anger into hunger for success.

I did everything in Ghent and finished my studies as an interior architect but my hunger for more success paved the way to different fields.

Despite my background in interior architecture, with literally no marketing background at the time, I

worked in the field for 2 years and people believed in me. I’m convinced that if you work hard and don't listen to the people who want to determine which domain you belong in; you can get in anywhere. Nobody ever asked me about my marketing degree, but I did get online certificates and took courses which made it clear to people that I am serious and that I do have the skills to do that job. I Certainly didn't let my studies limit me!

Working as a person with a migration background wasn’t easy either. I learned that I have to have some kind of game and if you've mastered that well then, your skin color isn't going to stop you. At first, I was a bit naive and I really thought it wouldn't matter but it really does matter how you present yourself. I felt like I got the edge by caring more and paying attention to details.

I've been obsessed with events, did almost nothing else in my early twenties and I just said to myself that I'm going to keep learning from the things that don't work out. I've addressed a lot of sponsors and heard a lot of no’s but over the years the same companies have come on board.

There's work to be done on migration. We need to invest more time in education, it starts young. If I look at the lower level, much more attention should be paid to building a kind of bridge in order to establish more understanding. Even in secondary and higher education there should be much more awareness. I have a lot of white and black friends; a lot of those white friends didn't even know what was going on before they knew me. If more energy was put into awareness we would live in a better society.

I'm 29, I've already done something, but I still have so much to do. I have a lot of friends, who I call mentors who are much further away. I want to invite such people to give me wisdom because it is thanks to such people that I am also in a favourable position so I think it's very important to bring my story out.