Sunny Odogwu, an imposing figure at 6-foot, 8-inches and 325 pounds, stepped to the podium at the Shalala Student Center ballroom.
The microphone disappeared into his hand as the Hurricanes football player tilted it upward before beginning his talk to the assembled crowd of students, faculty and staff.
“No matter how bad of a day I am having,” Odogwu said, “I always try to remind myself of where I have been.”
As part of the Dear World three-day storytelling event at the University of Miami, students and others were encouraged to share a message, written or drawn, on their body about a story that inspires them each day. Hundreds of students passed through the doors at the StormSurge room in the Whitten University Center on Thursday to share emotional, inspirational and joyous stories with their fellow ‘Canes.
Five students, including Odogwu, were chosen by the Dear World production team to share their story with the rest of their peers on Thursday night.
“I grew up in a 10-foot-by-10-foot room with my six siblings, my mom and my dad,” Odogwu said. “If you don’t know, it’s basically the size of two Mercedes vans.”
As part of Nigerian tradition, Odogwu’s parents and youngest siblings took the twin-sized bed in the room. The oldest person took the “couch,” which he said was more “like a little chair” and the rest of the family slept on the floor. Given Odogwu’s size, he opted for a different option.
“I grew too tall and too fast so I always slept outside,” he said.
Odogwu’s picture beamed on a projection screen behind him, two hands facing out in the shape of the “U.” His right palm read “Started in a Dungeon,” his left “Now I’m Here.”
Odogwu’s parents were able to help him make it to the U.S. where he would eventually play basketball and attend high school in Maryland. During his senior year in high school, his friends convinced him to try his hand at football.
The student-athlete’s story was just one of hundreds that were shared with peers during the event.
That is what Dear World is all about: sharing a vulnerability within yourself that will ultimately help you grow stronger.
President Julio Frenk, who shared his message of “Fall Down Seven, Get Up Eight,” also participated along with other administrators Wednesday afternoon during a photo shoot.
Michael Baumhardt, associate director of student activities and student organizations, was an integral part in bringing Dear World, which traces its roots back to New Orleans in 2009, to the University of Miami.
“Dear World is a great way for our students to have a safe space to express themselves and share their stories with fellow students,” Baumhardt said.
The event was sponsored by various departments within the Division of Student Affairs and University Athletics. You can find images of the University of Miami photo shoots here.