Ayodeji Ogunniyi was a pre-med student when his father was murdered by three young men. So Ogunniyi decided that becoming a teacher, not a doctor, would help ensure his father's death was not in vain. (This StoryCorps interview initially aired Oct. 30, 2011 on Weekend Edition Sunday.)
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It is Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. Ayodeji Ogunniyi is an English teacher at Thornton High School in Harvey, Ill. His family came to the United States from Nigeria in 1990. Ayodeji's father worked as a cab driver in Chicago, and he always wanted his son to become a doctor. But while Ayodeji was studying pre-med in college, his father was murdered on the job.
At that point, Ayodeji says his life changed course.
AYODEJI OGUNNIYI: Eleven o'clock that night, the knock came. They told us that my father was found in an alley, and he was murdered. I remember yelling no! really loud. And my brother was going haywire, and he punched a hole in the wall; and then my mother just - she started to pull her hair, and she scratched her face.
They found the murderers in four days. They were 18, 19 and 22. I was angry. I was very, very angry. I didn't want to retaliate. I just wanted to just ask them why. What happens to a person? Where do they get lost to become murderers? So you know, at the time, I was tutoring at an after-school program for some extra money, and these kids came from the same conditions that the people that murdered my father came from.
A student came to the after-school program. He was probably around 16 years old. We were doing something where everyone had to read out loud. He stormed out of the classroom, and I went out to talk to him. And he just broke down. He said, it's hard for me to read. There are many people that cry because they're hurt, they've been neglected. But to cry because you couldn't read, that spoke volumes to me.
So we got him in some other programs, and he started to read; and it just was like this gift that money can't buy, for him. And by me giving that to him, I totally forgot about the pain of the murder, and I wanted to continue to give more of what I had, to heal.
It just dawned on me - everybody, at some point, sits in a classroom. That could be the foundation for everything else, so that's when I said that whatever happened to my father, it's not going to be in vain. I'm going to follow my heart and become a teacher.
INSKEEP: Ayodeji Ogunniyi at StoryCorps, in Chicago. His interview will be archived along with thousands of others, at the Library of Congress. The podcast is at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.