Israel Oyelumade is a Senior communications consultant in the areas of leadership development and culture change. He speaks passionately about the power of words, Quantum language™ and the art of storytelling all over the world. He hails from the world of the creative arts, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, still acting and directing, he brings his years of experience from theatre, film and television media into all that he does;
As a director of Authentic Business, a CIC (community interest company) Israel travels to developing nations equipping leaders with the tools to bring national culture change across different ethnicities. He is also a church leader in Bath England and as such enjoys sharing hope of a greater future, that all can access.
Over the last years Israel and I have been facilitated quite a few transformation journeys together for corporate clients. One of the best moments is always when he starts telling a story and you can literally hear the proverbial needle falling because the audience is so captivated.
My conversation with Israel is about the connection between transformation, vulnerability and the power of storytelling. He shares with great openness one of his own transformation stories and how important it is for each of us to find out who we really are . Enjoy the read!
Israel, thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I have been really looking forward to this conversation. So, let’s just dive in.
What does transformation mean for you?
I think sometimes the term transformation is overused and we don’t really get to the heart of it. Ultimately, the word transformation comes from the Greek word “metanoia”, a transformative change of one’s mind. In the time of the Greeks, everything was about the mind. So, if someone could change one’s mind, they would believe then that person is transformed. The Hebrews say to transform means to have a complete change of attitude. It means to literally look at something and turn 180 degrees away from not being able to see it anymore. And therefore, the ability that you can’t turn back.
For me, transformation is not only a mind issue. I truly believe that somebody can change their mind, and yet the actions don’t follow. But if you change your heart then the body and the action and the emotions that go with that change cause you to demonstrate something that you haven’t demonstrated before.
Can you share a story of your own in which you have experienced a fundamental transformational shift that contributes to who you are today?
I used to be a very different person. I am a first generation British born Nigerian.
I was a very mixed up young man. I had spent a lot of time being really cool, being ultra-black, having the right posters on the wall. However, because being raised middle class actually meant to my black friends, I wasn’t black enough. I had issues with people who were not of my race and color. Part of that was because that’s what black kids did in that day. To be black in the UK while I was growing up, meant you hated white people. If you’re really black, then you would have beaten up a couple of white people, you hated the police. That’s what it was all about and I think to some extent that erroneous thinking is still ongoing.
Then I went to drama school, starting my degree at the RADA – Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, I realized in a class of twenty-eight people I was the only black person there. And what would happen every term is that you would have to give a demonstration to see what you have learned as an actor in the Royal Academy. It could be a Shakespeare sonnet, a monologue, a modern piece, a Jacobean piece, or an Elizabethan, anything that showed how you had made progress.
And whenever I came to that term, it was called speech and verse, I stood in front of all these dignitaries of the acting professional, well-known stars of the Royal Academy, ‘lords and ladies’ who were the best in their field, from theatre and film. And they said “ Israel, you know, each term is very expensive. So, come and let’s see if you are worth this investment.” And term after term, I would blow it. It wouldn’t land the way I wanted to. To the outside it always looked great. But for where I was, in the Royal Academy, it wasn’t enough. And then in my second year I lost it. I came to the end, I thought it went well and they gave me devastating feedback. I exploded. I kicked my chair, threw it across the room and I screamed. “do you know how hard this is?” and then I just disappeared, only to reappear after lunch. One of the teachers said that I had to see Nick, the principal. “That was it”, I thought, I was convinced that he would tell me off, suspend me or something. I went into the office. First thing the principal said was, “I don’t want you to feel sorry or feel the need to say sorry.” He made a long pause and looked at me. “This was the first genuine outburst we have seen from you. Welcome to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.” I was so surprised. He said “ It always appeared to us that you’re playing who you think you should be. But we want to know who you truly are. Not who or what you think you are.” He again paused. “Talk to me. What’s going on?”
And I said, “For most of the people in this Academy, Shakespeare is a common language. In all these classes, you talk about this common language. For me, growing up, it wasn’t. As a black guy growing up, I read very different books. We don’t recite Shakespeare in our lounge while someone’s playing the piano. I was much more into rap music and movies. And you’re asking me to deliver in a level of efficiency and understanding that other people have been living with for years. I find it difficult. And then I feel judged if I don’t come up to the mark.’ Now I paused. “I don’t want preferential treatment, but I at least want you to understand that I’m giving everything I could possibly give. And I don’t feel when you’re giving me feedback, that’s taken into the equation.” Nick was very silent. He said, “Ok, I want you to do something for me. We’re not going to score what happened today. We’re going to reset it. I’m going to give you two weeks to prepare a piece. I want you to find a piece in Othello. And in two weeks’ time I want you to come before us again and deliver your speech.” So, I went and thought… “Shakespeare again!” I thought “Hasn’t he listened to me?” But then something happened to me when I was reading Othello. Because he was black, I identified with him. When I spoke to the Academy teachers two weeks later, they were crying. And one of the teachers who is one of the foremost experts in Shakespeare said, “in all of my years, I have never heard it and understood it like that. Thank you. Thank you so much, one for educating us, too, because there is much to reflect about how we view some things. But, most importantly, thank you for allowing us to see how Othello truly is.”
This experience, as a black man in a white world of Shakespeare, in the white world of the most famous acting school on the planet, was a transformational turning point for me. It changed everything for me. Everything. And that led me on my journey.
So, coming back to your question of transformation. I was trying to be a white person in a predominantly white world because I believed that this was who I had to be. But in doing so I was betraying myself and the Royal academy for seeing me clearly. When I see myself clearly, others see me clearly and my color becomes immaterial. When you see someone clearly what you see is his/her heartbeat, you see the intention behind the words, you see the motives behind the gestures.
What interconnection do you see between transformation, comfort zone and vulnerability?
I think vulnerability is the constant escalator that you’re on when you enter into a place of transformation, it’s a moving system. Vulnerability is the first place of knowing you’re out of your comfort zone. And it is a constant invitation for new realizations. If you share your vulnerability it builds a stronger connection. The more vulnerability we show the stronger the, “Relationship Bridge” gets, and borders dissolve. I show you what I’m going through – It gives the other person permission to always sense where you’re at, even without saying it. I think that’s beautiful as we can’t walk alone. It’s an invitation to walk together.
What would be your most important recommendations on how to deal with transformation and vulnerability?
Be intentional about entering a space of vulnerability and transformation. Your attention and energy follows your intention and brings you the opportunity to manifest what you want to have transformed. Secondly, be kind to yourself. Pamper yourself. Transformation takes energy and you need to create yourself a space that allows this transformation to happen. Embrace it.
According to your own experience, what role does resilience and self-care play in a transformation process? How do you take care of yourself?
Self-care and resilience are super important. As I said before, be kind to yourself. Personally, I get up every morning and I have my two hours of personal time. As you know I am Christian, and this is my time communing with God. I live nearby a forest and I walk out in nature. In a family with three children, this is actually the time that I take for myself. And I also have a fitness regime, I do on Zoom with friends of mine. This is fun and I do something for my body at the same time.
How would you describe the essence of your work today?
The essence of my work is all about identity. I get excited when I am part of someone seeing themselves more clearly. If I know who I am, then I know what I bring to the world. If I know who I am, I don’t get jealous if somebody else gets the plaudits for something that I’m not called to do. So, I want to help people tell their story about who they really are. “Unleashing Heaven”, as I call it, the reality of who you’re truly called to be.
In my coaching, one of the first questions I ask is “Who are you outside of work?“ It doesn’t come easy to people to answer this question, they generally need to pause and think about it for a while. However, this is such an essential question. We have the tendency to always ask the wrong questions or ask questions to the wrong people. For example, the black communities in America are asking the question to the white community in America: “Who am I?” But they can’t answer it for them because the white communities are still trying to answer the same question for themselves. Black America need to answer it from within. And to stand for it, look for it and you to go for it.
So, that’s the heartbeat of what I do, it’s unmasking peoples’ true identity.
What are the moments in your work in which you observe real transformation happening?
Let me tell you a story about one of my clients for coaching, a very senior guy in the middle east. When we first met, he explained his situation and that anything he did just didn’t seem to work. He talked about culture and that there is something in his culture that is seen in the wrong way. I listened to him for a while and then asked the question, “how often do you take time to think about who you are?” He looked at me quite puzzled. “Ok,” I said, “let’s just go for a journey. Tell me about what it is to be an Arab man in your nation. And how do you relate to your own father?” He looked even more puzzled and said, “I don’t know what you mean.” “ OK,” I said, “let me share my story with you. I’m the first person in my family born in the United Kingdom. Everybody else was born and raised in Nigeria. However, when I was raised, I was raised as a Nigerian on English soil. When you stepped into our house, the food, the music, the artwork, it all looked and felt like you are in another nation. My mum and dad were the parents that they understood they should be, but not the parents I needed them to be.” I paused… “The first time I saw a father hug a man, his son, was when I went to a friend’s house. I saw his dad put his arm around him, playing with him, and talking and hugging him.” My client is now crying. I said, “when I went back home that afternoon, it was as if I was suffering from a bereavement, because I realized what I never had. I realized that I wasn’t having the relationship I was yearning for, because my father was locked in his own emotional prison, because he was raised in a certain way. So, then I realized that I also was holding something back from other people, but I didn’t know I was doing that because I was raised in a certain way.” I looked at my client, “Do you now understand what’s happening?” He understood. He said, “right now I am in a lot of pain, because everything you said resonates deeply with me. You’ve just told my story. How did you know?” And I said, “when you know who you are, you have the space to consciously sense and listen to everything that’s happening around you.” So, what I actually did, was truly see him, a ‘syncing of the soul’ and mirroring him back his own story. Sharing our stories to each other is so powerful, as it allows us to learn from each other and learn about ourselves as we resonate with other people’s stories. Telling our personal stories is one of the most powerful means in transformation.
For my client this moment together, was a turning point, and it was when his transformation journey truly started.
Based on your background and wisdom, what concrete recommendation(s) would you give to people/systems, who have the yearning to transform?
First you need to start with your own story, because the root of transformation lies in our stories and in our history. We are an evolution, a family line through so many experiences and vows that have been made – positively and negatively. There are so many interwoven things into who we are, it’s like being on a treasure hunt. You want to go on your own quest first, you want to be able to see yourself.
And then secondly, ideally you want to find somebody who’s there for you. What comes up in fundamental transformations are things that you cannot always make sense of yourself, for example, why you’re feeling a certain emotion. You need somebody to hold the space for you, to whom you can speak to, whom you trust.
And then thirdly, it’s about having the humility to realize that you actually don’t know much at all. Because not knowing and acknowledging that you’re still on a journey opens you up to really receive what’s coming up.
If we meet again for another conversation in a year from now – in the meanwhile you have been super happy and satisfied with your contribution to the world – what are you telling me that you did?
First and foremost, we as a family, we have been the family that we wanted to be to one another. Everything builds on that for me. I would have written a book, and I’ve assigned a good publicist and a good literary agent that understands my heart. It doesn’t have to be released yet, but it’s been written. I would have had a new acting agent starting from scratch again. And I would be leading transformations in one’s identity personally, creatively in a business context and in nations across the globe. When I close my eyes, I actually see the workshop we do.We have a format that is so deep that we can afford it to go bigger and still be deep. And I also see somewhere a platform coming for me to be a commentator on identity.That’s the fusing of the stories, the acting and the consultant, all of that fusing into one. Just being able to dance and play a lovely recipe.So, I’m excited about next year.
Any other question(s) you would like to be asked?
I think the ultimate question we should engage in is “how does love need to show up in our lives”?
I’m on a new journey of what love actually is. I thought I knew what it was. But I’d make love in an image that it actually wasn’t. I think when we get it, we understand why it’s so powerful. And I think we first need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “do I actually love the image I’m looking at right now?” Can you actually say I’m in love with the image that I see. Because if I can love the image that I see, then I go to the next stage of loving those that I see around me for who they are, not what I think they should be, because love meets you where you are at. Love is unconditional.
What do you believe in?
I believe that there is a God. I do believe in the heart of mankind. I believe that mankind is inherently good. I believe that Jesus is our hope. And I believe that we each have a calling. Our journey is to find that specific calling and walk in it.
What are you grateful for?
I’m grateful for life, for friendship, for my wife, my children. I am actually really grateful for having the gift of being aware. Being aware is a gift in itself, because it allows me to take myself to a place of being grateful for many different things because of that awareness. And I’m aware and grateful that I am very fortunate to live where we live.
What do just few people know about you?
My favorite cuisine is Southeast Asian cuisine. I’m very passionate about athletics. Almost nerd-like passionate. When the Olympics are on, nothing gets done, I love the Olympics. I was twenty four hours from signing a very lucrative record deal (no joke).
I was asked by the Vatican to perform a piece during an audience of the pope in London. They wanted me to portray the “Sermon on the Mount”, which is the famous monologue that Jesus gave. I did it on the stage in Hyde Park in front of 80.000 people. It was amazing!
Your “private” you (characteristics, likes, dislikes, your uniqueness, etc.)
I like order. I get really angry, for example, when food is cooked, and it takes ages for people to sit down. I have always music playing in the house. I have a real strong opinion about role models. I drop celebrity favoritism very quickly if they don’t model what I believe they should model, because I have a very strong, moralistic bar when it comes to people in the public arena. I sometimes like to go into my man cave and really get quiet. And then, at some stage I’m back again.
Israel, thank you so much for your openness and insightful stories, it was a pleasure having this conversation with you.