Unapologetically African

I spent half of last Saturday in one of the most beautiful buildings in Newcastle, The Catalyst – a beacon for data and healthy ageing innovation. Just a seven-minute walk from St James Metro station in the centre of Newcastle, The Catalyst is one of the best venues for all manner of events. One thing that we champion here at Teakisi is supporting the community, especially encouraging marginalised communities to take up spaces. Plenty of us sometimes feel we can’t walk into certain building or meetings, simply because we don’t feel like we belong – it takes a lot of confidence for one to walk into a room and feel like they belong. So walking into a place like The Catalyst is not something anyone would find easy to do, and in order to achieve our goal I tapped into that confidence. Thanks to Professor Jane Robinson and Sian Been from Newcastle University, Molly Calveley and The Catalyst team, Teakisi was able to have this space all to ourselves!

The Catalyst

Beautiful thing is that I didn’t enjoy this lovely space all on my own, I made sure I brought others with me.  Last Saturday was spent in the company of some amazing African women. I have always been drawn to women who dare to make a difference in the world. Women who have a unique approach to effecting change, everyday women with unique gifts which stimulate the minds of those around them. Those present included Chanttelle Gillies (Founder of Lexelina Designs), Olateju Orekoya (Chef and Fitness Expert), Maria Baraddas (Founder of Goretti Vegan Portuguese Food), Kemi Gates ACCA (Spokenword Artist), Ngozi Ossai (Founder of Gozi Haircare), Mrs Adebusola Adayemi (Teacher), Bukie Adebola-Ezeh (Founder of Bukie Signature), Godstime Onyebuchi (Masters Graduate in Public Health), Dr. Claire Ogah (Founder of Overley Couture), Steph Edusei (CEO of St Oswald), Bridget Peters (Founder of Bridget Peters Marketing) and Shumba Wileman (Transformation and Money Mindset Makeover Coach). The purpose of the gathering was to connect, let our hair down, share our personal experiences of what it’s like to be an African woman in the communities we live in, the highs and lows and our collective narratives. We discussed a range of topics, such as education, mental health, racism, discrimination, gender equality, having fun, lack of a support network and risking it all to follow our passion. We also explored things that were most significant about our personal experiences in the wider context of a society in which women are underrepresented in many ways.

Being born, growing up and being taught in a patriarchal society has its price. Sadly we live in this world where our uniqueness that makes us African is not acceptable to some. Society wants us to change who we are in order to make others comfortable. To stop being confident, loud and bright just so we do not outshine others. To present ourselves with a somehow watered-down version of who we really are. What most people don’t see is that we are much more than just Africans in the the United Kingdom. We are people who are born and raised in the United Kingdom. People who pay taxes and contribute in our communities. We are people who educate your children and look after your loved ones. And at the same time, we as a community are people who are still trying to navigate through the constant institutional racism that we face on a daily basis while raising our own children and running organisations and businesses.

As I looked at this particular group of African women in my presence, there was beauty, vibrancy, intelligence, courage, vulnerability and hardworking individuals full of sass! I was also reminded of the power of having total control of our narratives and not apologising for embracing our culture and heritage. This right here is the true definition of being unapologetically African. Unapologetically African means loving yourself and your people. It means being proud of who you are, being comfortable in your own skin and not burying your shine because it makes others uncomfortable; it means fighting for equal representations and that each and everyone of us has the power to change the world. Being unapologetically African is remembering that we can become the best doctor, author, solicitor, business person and anything else we put our minds to. It’s making sure our voices are heard in a world that wants us to stay quiet.

We might have had different views and experiences on some things but we all agreed that not all people who aren’t black are racist. People like us and other minority ethnic communities are very much aware that this journey we are going through will not be equal for all without allies. An ally is an individual who stands up for the equal and fair treatment of people different than them. An ally acknowledges the limits of their knowledge about oppressed people’s experiences but doesn’t use that as a reason not to think and/or act. An ally does not remain silent but confronts oppression as it comes up daily and also seeks to deconstruct it institutionally and live in a way that challenges systemic oppression, even at the risk of experiencing some of that oppression. Being an ally entails building relationships not only with people oppressed by their identities but also with people privileged by their identities in order to challenge them in their thinking. Or simply as Kayla Reed said;

A – always centre the impacted

L – listen & learn from those who live in the oppression

L – leverage your privilege

Y – yield the floor

It was important that everything that was discussed on this day was recorded so that we, our families and everyone else who is interested can really get to know about our pain, our failures and our triumph. So yes, this conversation was video recorded (will be available later) thanks to our collaboration with Young Women’s Film Academy (YWFA).

The Young Women’s Film Academy (CIO) is a registered charity led by women focused on improving the well-being of girls and young women while providing them with film making skills. Their aim is to support girls and young women aged up to 25 in the North East of England to advance their lives, through the provision of: activities which develop skills, capacities and capabilities which will enable them to participate in society as mature and responsible individuals; the promotion of resilience and good mental health and education and training. We can’t wait to share our African women chat video with you all.

In a world where African women and women in general have so much to cope with, there couldn’t be anything better than coming together to support one another. An individual woman can become powerful, but when women stand together, they are impactful. This is exactly what happened last Saturday and we were all left feeling that this should not be a one off but something that will be constant.

Will you be joining us?

 

 

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Sources: Simmons Anti-Racism Research Guide, The Catalyst, Young Women’s Film Academy, Kayla Reed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Salha Kaitesi
Mother, Daughter of Rwanda| Founder, Artistic Director and Executive Editor of Teakisi| Gender Equality and Empowerment Champion| None Of Us Can Move Forward If Half Of Us Are Left Behind

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