Oak Park Village Manager Tom Barwin spends most of his Monday nights at village board meetings, hearing residents protest about parking or trustees squabble over spending. But this past Monday he was 6,000 miles away in Abuja, Nigeria, hanging out with three professional football players.
Barwin’s 24-year-old son, Connor, shipped out to Nigeria last Friday. The second-year defensive end went there with his Houston Texans teammate, Amobi Okoye, along with defensive tackle Frank Okam (of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and defensive back James Ihedigbo (New York Jets).
The four NFL athletes flew off to Nigeria as part of the Amobi Okoye Foundation, started in 2007 to help bring supplies and education to Okoye’s native country. When Connor told his dad about the endeavor, the five-year village manager immediately raised his hand and asked if he could come along.
“I told him I was thinking about going, and he kind of invited himself,” Connor Barwin said from his cell phone at JFK Airport in New York, Friday, as he waited to switch flights.
Along with taking part in the foundation’s humanitarian efforts, the senior Barwin said he hoped to meet with Nigerian officials — including the governor of Calabar — to learn a little about how their government runs. In the 10 days there, he planned to split his time equally between the capital city of Abuja, Calabar and Lagos (the second-most populous community in Africa with nearly eight million residents).
“I just think the great thing about traveling is it opens up all of your senses to just absorbing how other cultures live,” Barwin said last week before flying out.
Connor said his dad’s always been interested in other societies, and he thinks he inherited some of that mindset.
“It’s something that he’s been doing ever since I can remember,” he said. “I think it’s rubbed off on me, as well as my brothers. The idea of learning about other cultures, embracing all kinds of diversity and seeing the good in it is something that we grew up learning about.”