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May 2, 2022

To the Village Girl Who Made Me

Popular CNN anchor Zain E. Asher was born to first-generation Nigerian parents in South London. She was raised by her mother, Obiajulu Ejiofor, after losing her father in a tragic car accident when she was just five years old. Drawing on tough-love parenting strategies, Obiajulu taught Zain and her three siblings to overcome the daily pressures of poverty, crime, prejudice and much more. Zain’s remembrances of Obiajulu in her Mother’s Day blog post will inspire you to read her newly released memoir, WHERE THE CHILDREN TAKE US, where she pays tribute to her mother’s strength, tenacity, perseverance and relentless support.


We were in the kitchen on a cool September evening when my mother received a phone call that would change our lives forever.

It was supposed to be my father, who was on a road trip with my big brother. They should have been home hours earlier. But the voice on the other end of the line wasn’t Dad’s. It was an unfamiliar voice that said almost matter-of-factly: “Your husband and your son have been involved in a car crash. One of them is dead, and we don’t know which one.”

In the coming hours, she would learn that my father --- the only love she’d ever known --- was gone, and my brother was clinging to life in a hospital thousands of miles away. In that instant, my grief-stricken mother, who was four months pregnant, was left alone to raise four children. Emotionally, she was broken.

Yet somehow, facing obstacles I cannot imagine as a mother myself, she carried us on her back and fought with every fiber of her being to give us a better life.

What an extraordinary road it’s been.

It seems impossible that my mother, an immigrant widow from a small village in Nigeria, who was now living in a neighborhood beset by poverty and crime, would raise four children who shattered every expectation. Her tough-love discipline and her relentless sacrifice are the reasons I am today an anchor at CNN; my brother, an Oscar-nominated actor; my sister, a doctor; and my eldest brother, a successful entrepreneur.

Today, I am roughly the same age my mother was when she got that harrowing phone call. I have two young children of my own. And on this Mother's Day, as I do every Mother’s Day, I will reflect upon the magnitude of the challenges my mother faced, how she fought and overcame to push my siblings and me to become our best selves.

After the accident, she did anything and everything she could to keep us focused on anything besides the empty chair at the dinner table. Even while working 10-hour shifts, six days a week, she filled our house with hope and discipline. She plastered newspaper clippings of Black success stories all over the walls to show us what we could achieve. When my brother discovered acting at age 13, she taught herself Shakespeare --- despite barely finishing high school herself --- to push him to be better. And many nights, she’d keep us up past midnight to teach us our subjects, months before they were presented in class.

My mother would tell you she did nothing special. In a way, I suppose, she’s right. She simply raised us the way she had been raised, the way her parents had been raised before her, and theirs before them. In the remote Nigerian village where she grew up, this is just what parents do.

It is that resolve that generations of Nigerian mothers have drawn from. But I know today that my mother is a giant among them. She is a true force of nature, my unassuming hero. And on this Mother’s Day, I pay tribute to her life of sacrifice and devotion to us. If I become half the mother that she is, my children will be incredibly lucky.