Posted 11:39 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020

Wale Elegbede, ’05, in September did something less than .02% of the world’s population has done — spoken at a TED Talk, a sought-after opportunity to share “ideas worth spreading” on a world stage.

Alum highlights La Crosse, ideas to end discrimination, racism, Islamophobia

Wale Elegbede has a message about getting rid of discrimination. And the 2005 graduate is getting that message out worldwide, thanks to a recent TED Talk.

Elegbede, a 2019 UWL Rada Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, says experiences along with his background uniquely prepared him to talk about American society’s difficult and challenging topics of discrimination and racism.

Born in Nigeria during a military regime, Elegbede also lived in Lomé, Togo, and observed autocratic authority of a president who ruled the small West African country for 38 years until his death.

Elegbede saw how prejudice and bias influenced decisions that marginalized certain groups. And, he heard rhetoric from dictators who, when left unchecked, led to ethnic and religious discrimination.

“Discrimination is very pervasive in the United States,” Elegbede notes. The most recent example: this summer’s happenings in Minneapolis where racism and discrimination contributed to the death of George Floyd.

“I believe discrimination plagues us because we have not made it our collective business,” he explains. “I believe that in order to get rid of discrimination which includes racism, Islamophobia, and hate crimes, we need to go from a state of ‘not my business’ to ‘everyone's business.’”

Elegbede, who currently lives in Rochester, Minn., says his La Crosse experiences, where he saw a shift to “everyone’s business,” were core in his TED Talk given in September.

“In La Crosse, we put this into action in the work we did at the La Crosse Interfaith Shoulder to Shoulder Network,” he explains, mentioning a group in which he is one of the founding members. “I also talk about the awesome positive response of our La Crosse community and how La Crosse community members made standing up to hate and discrimination their business.”

Elegbede encourages people to not get discouraged by what’s going on in the world. He argues that problems associated with discrimination, racism and Islamophobia can be solved by putting desire and focus to work.

“We need to focus on things we can control, and there is a lot,” he notes. “For example, we can control being nice and supportive of others. We can control what we say. There is an African Proverb from my Yoruba tribe which states a speech is like an egg, once it drops, it can’t be withdrawn. Let us choose our words wisely and use language that lifts people up instead of tearing folks down.”

Wale Elegbede, ’05, and his wife, Audrey, pose in front of the tribute to distinguished alumni award winners in the Clearly Alumni & Friend Center. Wale was a Rada Distinguished Alumni Award recipient in 2019.

Given that less than .02% of the world’s population has spoken on a TED stage, Elegbede never put the feat on his bucket list. But he jumped at the opportunity when offered.

“I initially thought of doing a TED Talk on leadership, project management or strategy but ultimately decided if there was one idea I could ever share with the world, what would it be?” he explains. “What came out was doing a talk about how we can make our community and world a better place by fighting discrimination, racism and Islamophobia. I chose discrimination because of my personal connection to the topic and ideas that I have put in action to address discrimination.”

Elegbede says his talk went well and was highlighted on the TED Blog. It was also selected by TED’s editorial team to be featured on — not a given for all TED Talks. “That is a big deal,” he notes.

While he has had interest from organizations to present keynotes, Elegbede says his biggest hope is that his message is heard.

“I desperately want more than anything else for my talk to inspire us to make changes to eliminate racism, discrimination, Islamophobia and other hate crimes such as anti-Semitism,” he says. “Imagine that kind of a world. Imagine the endless possibilities and opportunities that kind of world would offer to all of our children!”

Learn more about Elegbede