A time comes when less talk and more action is needed. And it is now! After ranting and raving ad infinitum about “the myth of beauty” that the modern black woman has been led to buy into (that we need to relax or weave our hair to be considered beautiful or simply to get ahead in life), I have moved one step to set up a website to celebrate natural hair. Check us out at www.MissProudlyNatural.co.uk.
All too soon it has come to that time of month when I have to share my reflections with you. I cannot believe it. So soon? Well this month, I do not feel like talking. Nor do I feel like writing. Because I am tired. Tired of talking. Tired of writing. And most definitely I am tired of not doing much but talking about the issues. Because the issues are many. I could talk about events in Nigeria. I could talk about life in Libya now that the West has succeeded in getting rid of the main man standing in their way and the oil. I could talk about what is happening to African “leaders” at The Hague. There is still so much to talk about and even more to do. But I am seriously tired.
But then I remember an event I attended on one fine evening earlier this year (February 2012) at Pearsons headquarters in London, and I am inspired to get it together and not be tired. Organised by Simone Bresi-Ando, founder of “I’m Possible”, the night’s event was entitled “ConversationS” and saw five of Britain’s high profile black women from very different walks of live share their real life experiences in what they hoped would be and indeed was an inspirational conversation.
Anchored by the ITN newsreader and journalist, Charlene White, who did an excellent job in keeping the conversation together, the panel comprised of company secretary and chief legal head of Waitrose and John Lewis, Margaret Caseley-Hayford; actress, singer and now author Michelle Gayle; Hackney vicar and chaplain to the speaker of the House of Commons Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin; official dentist on Channel 4’s “10 Years Younger” and clinical director of London Smiling group Dr Uchenna Okoye; and the first black female orthopaedic consultant Miss Samantha Tross.
Charlene’s informal relaxed style put the panel at ease so they could confidently and truthfullly share their experiences with a room of about 150 women who had paid for a ticket to attend the event. From the beginning to the end, all the panelists engaged the audience with thought-provoking quotes, inspiring life-stories and warmth that brought everyone in the room closer to their inner selves.
On arrival, guests were directed into a room which had been set up to resemble a cosy sitting-room by a team of professional, polite and friendly people. We were welcomed with a choice of wine, fruit juices or water and an array of food including rice and chicken. Oh yes, Simone had thoroughly prepared to cater for her black audience. Delicious tasting cupcakes were also on hand for those with sweet tooth.
The way the venue was set up provided the perfect opportunity for an interaction between women who have achieved their goals and those who look up to them as role models. As Margaret Casely-Hayford put it: “These sorts of conversation are like mentoring on a very large scale. I was interested in understanding what’s going on in the arenas of other women on the panel.”
And it truly was an opportunity to meet, mingle and converse with black women in the UK who are doing something with themselves. For Simone, the founder of “I’m Possible”: “The atmosphere in the room was attentive, positive and uplifting as the panel was an amazing source of inspiration, experience and knowledge who gave great tools of success to the audience. I felt honoured to be in their presence and for them to give their time in such a way; there’s no other place in the UK where this is happening; it’s good to be the first to do something.”
Truly, the atmosphere in the room reminded me of the good old days in Ghana, at my grandmother’s village, when we would all sit together in the compound, talking at the end of the day, when the sun had gone down and we had finished our evening meal and cleaned the dishes and pots.
After everybody had finished bathing, my grandmother and maybe one or two other older women, my mother, my sister and other relatives who also lived in the compound or nearby or visiting from out of town (like my mother, sister and I) all would come together and the children would listen as the elders shared their pearls of wisdom. It was a great time to be a child as we did indeed learn from our experienced elders. It was also a time for family members, both young and old, male and female, to really sit down and talk.
Back in London, in February 2012, Michelle Gayle said: “Everyone has ‘down days’ when your tank is running empty. Sometimes you just need to hear one thing to keep you going and put you back on track… You feed off people and I’m a great believer of positive energy in a room. Sometimes you need to be around positive, like-minded people just to walk you over the line or the next step.”
Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin commented: “I’m always keen to get people together; not just people of colour, to have conversation, to share with each other things to do with life that ultimately will enable us to improve our lives”.
Each of the panel members shared with us the details of their rise to success. And believe me, it has not always been a rosy journey. Can you imagine black women competing in the fields of dentistry, the Anglican Church, medicine, law and acting? Their journey, although challenging, proves that with determination, hard work, and faith, anybody who believes in themselves can achieve anything they set their minds to. At least that is what I took away from the evening’s get-together. I found the event refreshing, uplifting and indeed inspirational.
On the panel were a group of women who did not only talk the talk, but walked the walk. Dr Uchenna Okoye said: “It’s an exciting concept. There are so few things celebrating women and women of colour that I have been a part of it”.
Miss Samantha Tross added: “The calibre of women here today I find very exciting… It’s important for young black women to have a role model. When I was training, there was a paucity of female achievers that I could look up to.”
Apart from the success of the evening itself, “Conversations” proved that sometimes talking is not enough. Action is needed. And as I said in the very beginning, I really was not feeling inspired to talk this month. But that does not mean I have been sulking somehow in a corner. On the contrary, I have been very busy. Working on my new project, because I too have been guilty of the more talk less action crime, especially when it comes to the black woman and the whole hair issue. I think by now the whole world must have heard my rants and raves about the beauty myth that black women have bought into – that we need to relax or weave our hair to look as straight as European hair in order to be considered beautiful or to simply get ahead in life.
Well, I have now moved from ranting and raving into action mode. Yep. Yours Truly is now the founder of MissProudlyNatural. The movement is all about celebrating black women who choose to keep it real. That is, black women who are proud to wear their hair natural, in whatever shape or form, be it long, short, kinky, hard, soft, dreadlocks, plaits, afro … whatever natural style it is! I have decided to stop talking and celebrate it.
The first thing I did was develop a website, www.MissProudlyNatural.co.uk where women of colour with natural hair are encouraged to send in their pictures so the whole world can see not only the beauty in wearing natural hair, but the various styles people are rocking.
As the movement grows, the website will inform people where they can get their natural hair done, products available on the market, how to maintain natural hair, etc. There will also be events from talks (yes talks!) to parties. It is a huge task I have given myself, but I think this is something that needed to be done a long time ago.
As well as developing www.MissProudlyNatural.co.uk, I have been even more proactive. I have hit the streets of Kilburn, Peckham, and Catford (all in London) talking to women who already wear their hair natural. All these women, although of different ages, social groups and backgrounds, all choose to wear their hair natural because it is what it is! In less than a month since setting up the website, the number of visitors to it gives me hope. Talking to women on the streets also keeps me inspired and gives me the fuel to keep going. And everyday when I do something towards the movement, I feel even more empowered because it is good to talk, but even better to act. Less talk, more action. So forgive me for not wanting to talk too much this month. For now I just want to walk the walk. But hey these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.