For me, Dr Mena Fombo is the definition of the phrase: 'I don’t know how she does it.' She is the founder of not one, not two, but four businesses. As well as being a businesswoman, she’s an activist, well known for her campaign “No. You Cannot Touch My Hair” and TED Talk under the same name. Her work raises black voices and contributes towards Bristol as a city. As well as becoming the international ambassador of the city, she received an honorary doctorate for her equalities work from UWE in 2019. It is no surprise that she was also voted Woman of the Year in 2019.
Dr Fombo moved from Bristol to London to work over seven years ago as a programme manager and life coach within the voluntary sector. I asked about her motivations to return to Bristol. “For me, Bristol is Home,’ she said. “My coordinator was from Bethnal Green. She was so passionate and knew the journey and the story of her area. That was a big deciding point for me to return. I’d grown so much in that time. I could really contribute and add value to Bristol”.
From the outside, Bristol is often viewed as a vibrant multicultural city. In June, videos of the Colston statue being toppled into the harbour went viral. I wondered if Dr Fombo felt energised by the city as an activist. Whilst she loves Bristol in many ways, she refers to it as a tale of two cities. Yes, there is an exciting creative sector. There are also disproportionate outcomes for children of black and other minority ethnic backgrounds. “I love Bristol. But, I felt how hard it was to live in as a black woman once returning from London. I came home and told everyone that I felt blacker than ever”. Dr Fombo returned to Bristol in 2015, and in the lead up to Brexit, attitudes surrounding racism had changed, she even had strangers would touch her hair and shout slurs at her across the street.