To say that Toluwanimi Obiwole has kept herself busy for the past four years while at CU Boulder is an understatement. Between being named Denver’s first-ever Youth Poet Laureate, redirecting her academic path, authoring two chapbooks and participating in organizations across campus, she has filled her college experience to the brim.
This month, Obiwole celebrates another milestone. She joins the class of 2017 and, together, they will officially move their tassels from right to left to signify their college commencement.
In 2013, Obiwole came to CU Boulder not fully knowing the path of self-discovery that awaited her. Born in Nigeria and raised in Denver, she made the short move to Boulder where she initially enrolled as an architectural engineering student due to practicality. However, having written poetry since she was young, Obiwole felt a gentle tug to take a different educational path.
"I caught myself being pulled towards the arts and humanities," she said. "I realized my gift would be better used in a different field."
After switching into CU Boulder’s Ethnic Studies program, Obiwole began building upon her natural potential and passion. With the switch, she also found community by getting involved in campus organizations. In fact, finding community was her favorite experience at CU Boulder.
"I loved bonding with the people in the African Students’ Association and the Black Student Alliance. When I first joined them, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I’ve found people who identify with me.' I was able to branch out and find community here that I could identify with, which really enriched my experience here."
Embracing ‘authentic self-expression’
The concept of exploring one’s self-identity is a critical part of the college experience for many students, and Obiwole found this to be a core concept she adopted into her poetry. Having built her name and reputation in the Denver poetry and art scene, Obiwole used each opportunity to give voice to a notion central to her experience: authentic self-expression.
"Mostly I advocate for visibility and being able to understand other people’s stories. Often underrepresented communities feel pressured to be a certain way in order to survive and navigate society, but I advocate for being true to yourself as a form of social change."
Obiwole not only drives social change through her art but has simultaneously gained professional experience and attention with her art and poetry. As a previous participant in Minor Disturbance, she now serves on the organization’s advisory board, as well as co-executive director of Denver-based Slam NUBA. Her positive influence has been recognized by the university, as she was awarded the 2017 Excellence in Inclusion Award from the Department of Women and Gender Studies.
As for future plans, Obiwole is determined to continue advocating for social change as she writes, teaches, collaborates with artists in Denver and slams (poetry, that is). With plans to move to Baltimore by the end of the year, Obiwole intends to apply to graduate school to obtain her doctorate in ethnic studies and become a professor so she can continue to positively impact people on their individual journeys to self-discovery.