Deidra Okwena leads such a full and busy life that it almost seems that there must be two of her.
A Colorado native whose parents are Jamaican immigrants, Deidra works full time as an IT project manager for FirstBank. She also serves as executive director of her husband’s immigration law firm.
“It’s partly my Jamaican heritage,” Deidra said. “We work really hard.”
Deidra is the first person in her family to obtain a four-year college degree – in marketing. She has put it to good use. Her first job out of college was as executive administrative assistant for then-Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. She then shifted into IT work for Da Vita before moving to FirstBank.
She grew up as the child of a pastor, so a church community is a cornerstone of her life. While she was launching a career and working long hours, she was also hoping to find a husband with whom to share her life. Her fellow church members told her that she should broaden her horizons by traveling, and also work on her cooking skills.
She took the advice to heart.
“I went through some bad relationships, and through that I learned a lot about resilience and mental health and the power of boundaries, taking care of myself,” she said. “I went on many trips by myself, to Nigeria, England, and British Columbia. And through all that travel I gained a lot of knowledge about different cultures.”
Through her church, she met a young lawyer, a recent immigrant from Nigeria. They married and settled eventually in Aurora. Deidra, who was familiar with the African leadership group, urged her husband to apply for the second cohort of ALG’s Leadership Africa program.
“He loved it. He said it pretty much changed his life,” Deidra said. “He’s very introverted, and it gave him more connections, more clients, more opportunities.”
When Deidra saw what Leadership Africa did for her husband, she decided she should apply for cohort three. She is finding the experience equally transformative.
“I’ve always been impressed with ALG, with Lori Collier, Papa Dia, just the whole vision, especially bringing together the African immigrant and African American communities,” she said. “Leadership Africa is an impressive program. As a woman of color, I appreciate the focus on developing me as a more effective leader in my community.”
Based on her own life experiences and where she has ended up, Deidra said she has some advice for young aspiring leaders:
“Believe in yourself. Work hard. You’ll get where you want to be. A lot of the younger generation is entitled and they think that things should just magically appear. But you have to do the hard work. You have to have the times where you’re overwhelmed and stressed, but it’s pushing through those moments that you truly see God and that God truly has a plan for you.”