From sleeping under staircases and on the streets of Mushin area of Lagos, hawking to survive, scavenging for leftovers at parties with friends, to becoming a hero who is impacting lives globally through his Arts in Medicine Fellowship, Kunle Adewale’s story is one that should be told to inspire many people aspiring to greatness.
Adewale, who is the founder of Arts in Medicine Fellowship, is a Nigerian visual artist that has been flying the flag of the country high in the diaspora through his selfless service to humanity.
The visual artist uses arts in medicine programmes to facilitate healing for patients. His beautiful works have transcended the shores of Nigeria and even earned him Kunle Adewale Day in the United States.
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In an exclusive interview with Legit.ng’s Tunde Ososanya, Adewale disclosed that he has always been a man called to serve, adding that what “sets his soul ablaze” is the knowledge that someone’s life has improved by his acts of kindness.
Adewale’s humble beginning
Life wasn’t rosy for Adewale who was born into a family of 17. He lived in a single room apartment with his family in the slums of Mushin, Lagos.
According to Adewale, he attempted the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) seven times, meaning he kept trying his luck on the examination for seven years.
His selfless service to humanity earned him Kunle Adewale Day in Cincinnati
John Cranley, the mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, declared August 2 as Kunle Adewale Day in the city for his selfless service to humanity.
Speaking about the honour, Adewale said:
“It was a humbling moment for me, particularly because of my background story. In all my life, I never imagined for a second that a day will be named after me in the United States of America. I’m aware that such an honour cannot be bought but must be earned through value addition in a global community.
“Contrasting this honour with my years of hardship (seven years and seven attempts at writing WASSCE before gaining admission; being born into a family of 17 and living in a single room apartment with my family in the slums of Mushin, Lagos; sleeping under staircases and on the streets; hawking on the streets; scavenging for leftovers at parties with friends) I know it can only be God and I am more than grateful.
“I am thankful to John Cranley, the Mayor of Cincinnati Ohio, for the honour of Kunle Adewale Day, and to Mama Annie Ruth, the founder of the Eyes of the Artists Foundation, for being an instrument of blessing in this regard. I didn’t allow my background to put my back on the ground because I am destined for a higher ground!”
His Arts in Medicine Fellowship
Adewale, who once worked as a primary school teacher, has been able to take Arts in Medicine Fellowship to an enviable height after founding it in 2017 the grant support of the US Mission in Nigeria and the US Department of State.
According to him, he started arts in health programmes in 2013 by partnering with the National Sickle Cell Centre in Lagos.
In his words:
“Even though we started small, my goal for the Arts in Medicine Fellowship was always for it to be big and to keep growing bigger. This is because I am a visionary leader and everything I do comes from the place of creativity, competence, consistency, commitment, compassion and collaboration for a greater good in the global community.
“We started arts in health programmes in 2013 by partnering with the National Sickle Cell Centre in Lagos. It was beautiful to see studio and community artists volunteer in that community art engagement.
“At this time, I was still a primary school teacher with a private school. I was unsatisfied with working from Mondays to Fridays, 7am-5pm. I told myself that there had to be more to life. So I dedicated my weekends to the facilitation of art sessions for children in hospitals within Lagos, Nigeria. Some of my friends were inspired to join me as well.
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“In 2017/2018, I founded the Arts in Medicine Fellowship with the grant support of the US Mission in Nigeria and the US Department of State. The idea of starting the fellowship came at the right time and the name of the fellowship was inspired while I was in the rest room, I think on December 30, 2017.
“Today, Arts in Medicine Fellowship is the largest Arts in Health network within Africa, with over 400 members in 13 countries.
“This year, we will be having our first Global Arts in Medicine Fellowship. We have applications already from countries like China, United States, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Ireland, Iraq, Kenya, Togo, Sudan, Tanzania, South Africa, France, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Botswana, Uganda, Qatar, Brazil, Ethiopia, Scotland, and the United Kingdom.
“The ultimate goal is service to humanity. I am thankful to all our team members, board members, mentors, partners, and the Arts in Medicine Fellowship alumni for being part of this global movement. They all made this fellowship the great success that it is today.”
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Adewale’s life at the Obafemi Awolowo University
Adewale gained admission to the Obafemi Awolowo University in 2007 as a direct entry student from Auchi Polytechnic.
He joined the Department of Fine and Applied Arts as an undergraduate but he would, however, meet some obstacle in the course of his education.
Adewale said he had low self-esteem and wasn’t even among the best in his class, adding that there were times his classmates would make jest of him or his classwork.
In his words:
“I had poor grades in my practical works but somehow managed to get better grades in the theory aspects. I was scrawny, and sometimes had to depend on my friends for food and accommodation.
“Occasionally, I would visit some of our fellowship sisters from the Redeemed Christian Fellowship, under the guise of paying a neighbourly visit while also getting fed. Oh my good Lord! (Laughs).
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“I even once had to sleep on bare floor in one of the hostels on campus while squatting with a friend. Beyond this, I was known for my humanitarian services on the campus: helping the elderly and hosting campus sanitation programmes, amongst other community initiatives through my organisation called ‘Agent505’.
“I was also known for my poetry performances in the Christian Fellowship events, which earned me the moniker ABLAZE (lol).
“Sadly, I lost my mum three months after my graduation. I still miss her so much. Overall, God has been good to me amidst my shortcomings and small beginnings. I tell more of my story in my memoir ‘ATUNBI’ The Grit, The Guts, The Glory. It was first published on October 1st in the United States, and is on Amazon. The second publication was done in Nigeria on December 20, 2020.”
African countries embracing therapeutic arts
Adewale said some African countries have embraced therapeutic arts engagement to improve the health outcomes of patients in their communities.
In his words:
“There are arts in health and art therapy programs in South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and a few others. More African countries are embracing it, which is why the Arts in Medicine Fellowship was established - to help students, professionals, scholars, researchers, government agencies and NGOs in African countries learn the best practices of arts in health. This is a movement that is gaining momentum and I am excited that we are making progress.”
Legit.ng previously reported that the people of Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, marked the first Kunle Adewale Day, a year after the mayor of the city, John Cranley, dedicated the day to the Nigerian visual artist.
The United States Mission in Nigeria disclosed that the Nigerian national received a grant from the US Department of State.
The declaration was made in recognition of his contributions to the United States and Nigeria in the field of arts and medicine.