Growing up among eight siblings in the Hillside Court public housing complex, Osita Iroegbu lived in a neighborhood plagued with poverty and violence. Today the first-generation Nigerian-American works to empower at-risk minority communities in Richmond.
A public relations and marketing manager for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Iroegbu got her career start as a reporter with The Richmond-Times Dispatch, hoping “to serve as a voice to the voiceless,” she says. “For too long, the community members in places such as Hillside were viewed as numbers, statistics. They weren't people.”
Iroegbu got her chance early: A friend from her days at Boushall Middle School was killed while Iroegbu was working as an intern at the Times-Dispatch. “I knew when people read a sentence or two about him. … They would automatically attribute his death to preconceived notions or stereotypes,” Iroegbu recalls. Encouraged by her mentor, columnist Michael Paul Williams, Iroegbu wrote about her friend's life “to let the community know that [he] was a gentleman who had a family, a life, hopes and aspirations.”
A past assistant director of university relations at Virginia State University, Iroegbu teaches in the school's mass communications department and also founded the Little Princesses Mentoring Program, which pairs VSU students with minority elementary school girls to provide tours of VSU, along with mentoring and life-skills workshops. The goal is to make college aspirations the norm, not an aberration; the first beneficiaries came from Hillside Court. Iroegbu proudly notes that she and all of her siblings are attending or have graduated from college.
Among her community activities, Iroegbu is a leader in the African Community Network, a nonprofit linking local African immigrants and African-Americans, work recently inspired by Iroegbu's first visit to her father's home village in Nigeria.
She hopes for Little Princesses girls eventually to connect with Nigerian schoolgirls, she says: “From Hillside to Nigeria, you know? Why not?”