Amid applause and cheers from the audience, a young woman steps confidently onto the America’s Got Talent stage. In response to judge Simon Cowell’s query, “Why America’s Got Talent?” Kechi Okwuchi responds, “I want to share my voice.” The 27-year-old went on to share a story of survival, hope, and unshakable faith. That story and her rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” brought the audience and judges to their feet. Not surprisingly, her talent earned her four “yes” votes.
Born and raised in Nigeria, singing was always an important pastime in Kechi’s life. That pastime turned to therapy after a fateful day in 2005. Kechi, along with 60 of her fellow classmates from Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja, Nigeria, were traveling on Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145, when something went terribly wrong:
Fifteen minutes to the end of the flight, the pilot announced that we would be landing soon in the Port Harcourt airport. I was sitting in an aisle seat next to my close friend Toke. Suddenly everything seemed different. We were going down way too fast. Someone in the back shouted, “Is this plane trying to land?” I turned to my friend and we held hands. I asked her, “Maybe we should pray?” but before we could start, there was a loud sound and the next thing I remember was waking up in Milpark Hospital, South Africa. To this day I don’t remember the actual impact of the crash.
The plane, carrying 109 people, had slammed into the ground and burst into flames. Kechi was one of only two survivors and suffered burns over 65 percent of her body.
Kechi spent the next seven months in the hospital with a majority of that time in intensive care and has endured more than 100 surgeries. She credits her faith, family, friends, and singing for keeping her going.
Before the crash, Kechi was content to view God through her mother’s faith, viewing God as an entity to be respected and feared. During her hospital stay she developed her own personal relationship with God, learning to associate God with pure, unconditional love rather than something to be feared.
There’s truly nothing like prayer. It reinforces faith, which gives you courage. It calms you when things get really hard to deal with. If there’s one thing I learned through this experience, it’s the value of faith.
She eventually moved to America in 2007 for reconstructive surgery and later enrolled in the University of St. Thomas where she graduated summa cum laude in 2015, sharing these words in her commencement speech:
To me, this degree is not just a degree. It is a gift to the 60 students that died in a plane crash I was in 10 years ago. It represents the fulfillment of a promise I made—to those students and their parents—that I would reach this important milestone on behalf of those they lost.
Life Is a Journey
Kechi’s life continues to be an amazing journey. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. and singing remains a passion. Unbeknownst to her, a friend signed her up to audition for the 2017 season of America’s Got Talent. When producers called to say they were interested, she took it in stride. Her faith in God and her optimism has transformed any “whys” into “why not!”
When asked what words of encouragement she wanted to share with the Daily Word audience, she replied:
Keep moving forward. Any obstacles you think are blocking you can be overcome.No matter who and where you are, you are always going to encounter obstacles. Never give up. Someone, somewhere, is going through the same thing, or worse. Later you will look back and see how you were able to make it through, and you’ll find the confidence to overcome any future challenges.
This article appeared in Daily Word® magazine.