Dr. Bola Omotosho was on the phone, gently yet sternly reminding a fellow Mount Hope Housing Company board member of her fundraising duties. He joked and giggled between serious suggestions in his usual deep, Nigerian cadence. When the call ended, it didn’t take long for his phone to ring again. And again.
Omotosho isn’t just the Board of Directors president for the Mount Hope Housing Company, a Bronx-based nonprofit community organization that creates affordable housing and other outreach programs. He’s also been president of the Harrison Avenue Homeowner’s Association since 1998 and was elected as Community Board 5’s chairman in 2007 after nearly a decade of holding other committee positions. Apart from his volunteer work, he’s an infectious disease researcher at Montefiore Hospital and has five children aged 12 to 19, including a set of triplets.
By all accounts, the focused 50-year-old has quickly climbed the leadership ranks in Community District 5 because, he says, he wants to improve the quality of life for his family and neighbors by making parks safer and getting parents more involved. He’s made no secret that he’s not at the top of the ladder yet as he toys with the idea of running for elected office.
“Do I want to give it a shot? Why not?” he said, flashing a grin. “Not to put another feather in my cap. It would give me an opportunity to do more. My passion is to help the community, to give back. My goal is to find the correct balance to do more for the community without sacrificing my family responsibilities.”
Though his linebacker frame can be intimidating at first, Omotosho, known in the area as simply Dr. Bola, routinely tilts his head slightly to listen during conversations, pausing before giving thoughtful responses. He prides himself on being prepared – if not over-prepared – for meetings of any kind. He reached behind the driver’s side seat in his car and produced a rainbow collection of expandable folders, with documents protruding from crevices.
“I carry a lot of flash drives in my pocket,” he said.
Born in Nigeria, Omotosho was named after his father, James Olajuyigbe Bolarinde Omotosho, a successful lawyer, who dreamed of his son following in his career footsteps. He died when Omotosho was only 6, and his mother, a nurse, began steering him in another direction. A top student at age 16, he was one of only two students admitted that year straight into a Nigerian medical school.
After finishing his studies, which included graduate degrees in both anesthesiology and computer science, Omotosho landed a prime job with the Ministry of Defense working at the Nigerian Navy hospital. Unlike many of his schoolmates who wanted to migrate to different countries in search of better-paying jobs, Omotosho had very little ambition to move.
But in 1995, after having married and starting a family, the Omotoshos placed themselves in a green card lottery since his wife, Oluremi, was traveling back and forth between Nigeria and the United States for her work in international finance. They won green cards and relocated to the Bronx. They chose to live in Community District 5 because a friend living there offered to co-sign on a small one-bedroom basement apartment nearby.
Two years later, the family was still living in the tiny basement home that was meant to be temporary. That was when Omotosho noticed new construction going up only two blocks away on Harrison Avenue. Omotosho started building a relationship with the contractor in order to move up on the waiting list for one of the houses and in 1998, the family moved in.
The city charter that regulates new dwellings mandated that the housing association elect a president. The contractor recommended Omotosho. He has been president of the group ever since, even though the position is supposed to be rotational. “They refuse to let me go,” he said.
Omotosho immediately began working to improve the quality of life on his block. The biggest problems were parking issues and stolen garbage cans, exacerbated by the growing gang and drug presence. In addition to working with the 46th police precinct and the community board, he faced the gang members himself, confronting the young men about their activities.
“The neighbors were afraid of gangs because they’d been threatened,” Omotosho said. “But I didn’t care. I was with the Navy. They didn’t scare me, and those kids weren’t used to that. They eventually left and the quality of life skyrocketed.”
Eventually, the community board suggested he join their ranks. On the education committee, he spearheaded a project to install a $100,000 green roof at the St. Simon Stock School. As chairman of the health committee, he brought in sponsorships for more green markets. Now, as chairman, he’s in the process of creating a new business improvement district for Burnside Avenue.
Still, for Omotosho, family comes first. Four of his children graduated high school at 16 because they’d started school in Nigeria and were moved ahead of their peers once they migrated to New York. All four are well into their college careers at private universities, studying everything from finance and economics to political science. The youngest is in eighth grade at St. Simon Stock School.
“So far, I’ve been able to prove a lot of my colleagues wrong that you can’t raise a child in the Bronx. They all choose to live in Westchester,” Omotosho said. “The same way I manage my different hats, I do the same with my kids. Goals. Education.”
All five children attended private school in the Bronx, though son James spent his senior year of high school at the Eagle Academy Charter School. Even so, Omotosho is adamant that whether children attend public or private school doesn’t matter.
“The public school system curriculum is great,” he said. “At parochial school, we pay for discipline and parental involvement. But it doesn’t make any difference for the kids who can’t afford it. For my kids, their peers were still everyone – public and private.”
District Manager Xavier Rodriguez said he’s been impressed with Omotosho’s commitment and dedication to his work. During Hurricane Irene, Rodriguez said Omotosho was out knocking on doors to make sure residents knew about the storm and were prepared with supplies in the event of disaster.
“He’s willing to do the work,” Rodriguez said. “I think that’s what people respect – that it’s not just something to go on a resume.”
Jose Caraballo, who has served on the community board with Omotosho for 14 years, said the chairmanship by itself is demanding without his other commitments.
“For these three years, he’s shown far and beyond that he takes on challenges good and bad,” said Caraballo, who sits on the housing and health committees. “If he’s been spread a little thin, it’s not showing. It’s never been a conversation where he’s stressed out.”
Caraballo said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Omotosho run for office, and thinks he’d do well.
“He has the energy and the drive to fulfill the promises,” Caraballo said. “That’s what he’s shown me.”
Omotosho said he knows people think he wants to run for office.
“People say, ‘Bola can’t be doing all this for nothing,’” he said. “I’ve paid my dues. I’ve shown that I’m committed, not only to my community board, but to New York. We are all human beings. You should be able to give your service.”
Rodriguez said he thinks Omotosho is part of a new crop of leaders in the district, since many are on the verge of being “aged out.”
“The Dr. Bolas of our district, the immigrants,” Rodriguez said, “they’re the future in terms of the next activists that will emerge.”