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  • Writer's pictureJess

Celebrating black women leading the way

To celebrate Black History Month I want to highlight a few of the many black women who are pioneering and trailblazing in their fields and creating a lasting legacy for future generations.

"Books are a passport to all kinds of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom."

As a child I loved reading, I was that kid who had the torch under their duvet after lights out. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on and, I still firmly believe that books are a great way to break down barriers and give windows into a new world, be it real life or fiction.

Here are 5 of my favourite fiction books by black female authors:

Yaa Gyasi – Homegoing – a page tuner spanning decades and telling stories of the black diaspora in the USA, I found the characters engaging and familiar. It's wonderful story telling with some historical facts, too.

Oyinkan Braithwaite – My sister the serial killer - I am the middle child with sisters, I found the relationship between the sisters in this book and their totally different personalities and values interesting. I recommended this book to both of my sisters and it led to some interesting Whatsapp exchanges!

Candice Carty Williams - Queenie - I really couldn't put this book down. I found myself relating to Queenie and feeling really angry at her at the same time. Mental health is sensitively explored as is loneliness and the necessity for one to see themselves represented in everyday work and media.

Malorie Blackman – Noughts & Crosses - When I started this book I remember being utterly drawn in by the characters, it's so wonderfully written I really felt like I was on the 'journey' with the characters. My son has just started reading it and he is enjoying it too! What I really love about Malorie Blackman is that her books can be enjoyed by young and old, I can't wait for her biography which Merky Books announced this week, which will be coming soon.

Diane Evans – Ordinary People - This book tells the story of 'ordinary' middle aged people and what I love most about it is that the characters in the book are black / mixed and unremarkable. It's a beautifully written piece of fiction that tells the story through the lens of 'everyday' rather than purely through the lens of race - refreshing!

When I was growing up I was always so excited to see women who looked like me on the screen, I find it so affirming that for my daughter and the young black women in my life, seeing people who look like them in prominent roles is the norm not the exception and I hope as time goes on it will be so normal that they will be able to take it for granted, they will see themselves represented in all walks of life.

Some more prominent women making waves and those who have inspired and continue to inspire me that I’d love to share with you - this is a far from exhaustive list!

Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC - she was the first black woman QC and I wanted to be her! She was a black woman from East London and if she could do it so could I! I remember doing my work experience aged 16 at a Barrister's Chambers in Temple, London, my careers adviser had told me that it was unlikely that this would happen, but I was undeterred, I wrote a number of letters and got a 'yes'. It was an amazing 2 weeks for a 16 year old daughter of Ghanaian immigrants back in 1992. It made me re-assess whether it was actually what I wanted to do... BUT, I made the experience happen and seeing this lady made me believe that it was possible. It was the beginning of my ingrained belief that ANYTHING is possible.

Vanessa Kingori MBE – she has achieved a number of 'firsts' in publishing, and she always does so with good grace. It is a joy to see a black woman owning her position and making a difference.

Tobi Oredin – The founder of Black Ballad - a UK based lifestyle platform that elevates the voices of Black British women through content, community and commerce. I love that Tobi has unapologetically made it her mission to share the stories of black women. All too often media platforms seek to tell the story of 'women of colour' or 'BAME women' when the fact is as black women we have a unique experience, and, as black women we are not homogeneous. With Black Ballad, Tobi has created a forum for the many varying voices of black women to be heard. She is blazing a trail which will make a huge difference for generations to come.

Melanie Eusebe – An Entrepreneur, former Management Consultant, strategist, speaker, broadcaster and the founder of The Black British Business Awards. I've heard her speak and she is real, relatable and from what i've heard a genuinely good person! I'm inspired by the grace with which she wears her many hats, and, the fact that she created a vehicle to recognise black business owners with the BBBA's - giving a positive platform.

Diahanne Rhiney – The founder of the Baton Awards which recognise BAME pioneers in Britain. in her own words she is a "Global Empowerment Ambassador who is on a mission to successfully equip women and girls around the world." I had the pleasure of meeting Diahanne earlier this year and she was warm and encouraging and definitely someone who walks her talk.

Funmi Fetto - An accomplished writer who has contributed to the likes of Vogue, The Guardian and Glamour magazine. She has been very vocal about how she feels the beauty industry still fails black women and she has put her money where her mouth is and made it her mission to shake up the cosmetics industry to make it more inclusive and diverse. Her book 'Palette - the beauty bible for women of colour' was published this month. I love to see that she is using her voice and her influence to make positive change.

Eunice Olumide - This multi-talented model and activist is a positive and empowering voice in today's media. Recently I watched her refuse to be bulldozed on breakfast television, speaking eloquently and authoritatively in the face of ignorance and privilege. This woman is the real deal.

Dina Asher-Smith - The fastest British woman in recorded history and, the 2019 World 200m champion - aged 23! She also has a BA (Hons) from Kings College London! I watched her performance earlier this month in Doha and her interviews, and heard Jessica Ennis Hill talk about how Dina had carried her bags at the 2012 olympics when she was just 16. She is articulate and open and unafraid to show her emotions. She embodies the fact that with hard work and determination dreams do come true. A true role model for today.

Black history month is about celebrating the contribution that black culture and black people have made to British society. I welcome this celebration and I welcome that children and young people are being taught of black accomplishments at school, I can't help but feel annoyed that this isn't 'the norm'. For me the celebration should be part of society and school in general. The optimist in me continues to hope that this will happen as time goes on and in generations to come and with the work that the women above and many many others are doing we will move to a more inclusive society. I've seen some shift in my lifetime and more black voices are being heard and long may that continue.



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