This project has been a blessing for me, in more ways than one. Being a young black creative in an outside region from any of the major UK cities had left me feeling slightly exempt from the linked communities and creative hubs that I would have liked to fit into. With a lack of diaspora links to my Zambian heritage, and introverted nature, I often wondered where I could fit in the media – an industry that I loved, and also questioned a lot of the time.
Discovering Black Ballad, a publication that rides for black women in Britain – something that I could relate to straight away, a niche in the media; it was something that was there for me. Especially as a fresh post-graduate at the moment, looking for graduate jobs, freelancing roles, navigating the creative industry during a pandemic, and on top of that, people being put on furlough, the competitive rate is amplified. Even before knowing the pandemic would go this distance, I found the Black Ballad regional editor role posted and thought that I’d try, but did not imagine that I would get this chance at all.
It was so great to talk to all these writers, to go on the journey with them, to edit and just admire their work, the words they had written would read beautifully and I would read it back many times. I’d find myself telling my friends and family about all these stories and for me, I didn’t realise that there were so many black women going through these experiences in my region. As I’m from a small, predominately white town in the East Midlands, I haven’t been surrounded by a big community of black women who look like me.
I’ve always wanted to go into the creative industries, so to find a platform based in London that is specifically for black women, and to see the effort gone into looking for our regional experiences for was amazing and enough to encourage me to apply. When the pitches started to come in, it was a wonderful experience to see all these stories that I could relate to, that I could learn from, and that I could empathise with straight away. I particularly loved the creative spaces piece as Nottingham’s creative scene is something that’s like home to me and I’ve only recently started to find out more about the black women that do exist in these spaces that I have long admired and tried to be a part of – they are hidden but they do exist in quantities and have achieved great things – I think this is great to put a spotlight on for other young or older black women in the region who may also be unaware or intimidated by a similar thing.
When my family moved from South Africa, where I was born, to Britain in 2002, we joined my mum, who had settled in Mansfield as a nurse. I went to a Catholic primary and secondary school, and always had a group of white friends – there would be two or four black and Indian children in the class, including myself. People would say to me ‘you should date that guy’ meaning the one other black person in the year group, and we would know it’s simply because of the mutuality of our race as we had nothing in common and barely knew each other. These ignorant micro-aggressions that usually came during school experiences would then become familiar. Until I made the decision to go to a sixth form college in Nottingham, the closest city to me, that’s when I started to experience a whole different culture. In fact, I actually realised here that I didn’t fit in this new group that I had joined into, a group of black women that had similar features to me, black women that could relate to my experiences but at the same time, had different ones too because they had grown up in the city and not a town. My friends at college had been surrounded by people that look like us and had similar cultures, they were more exposed, so there was this different slang and lingo that I had to learn – I was that awkward black girl.
Then, at this time, I felt like I didn’t fit into either groups in my life because of this environmental factor – but overtime, I learnt so much from them and they learnt from me and it became this integration that I loved and it really prepared me for my university life too. You’re one of many people and you’re in this integrated world, not just different cultures, but living in an international and EU world, that was at least, my experience of the Warwick bubble. It was something I wanted to carry on in my life and now having moved back temporarily to my hometown, it was something I thought I feared I would miss out on again. But now having this opportunity with Black Ballad, it’s allowed this exposure to carry on for me and I’ve become more integrated because of this role as I’ve made connections and friends with other black British women who have befriended me when I was looking for commissions and call-outs.
I’m also thankful that I got to share this experience with my mum. When I would be on a weekly editorial meeting on Google meet, my mum would say, in shock, how there are many black women’s faces present, and I would explain the concept of Black Ballad and realise how amazing it is as this is something that’s not always there in the media – diversity isn’t that common in Britain’s workforce. Then writing the black nurses Q&A piece was special too as I got to talk to my mum and her friends, and I learnt a lot from them and remembering things I had heard from them growing up, but now to apply it to statistics and data that I had read online, data that people needed reminding of was really important as this platform shone a light on that.
I feel very grateful for this opportunity as I now know more black women in the community, and feel like a strong, black woman myself. I’m more motivated, with less of an imposter syndrome in my skills because I’ve had that reinforcement and the championing from other strong black women in the team – through Tobi, Jendella, and Vanessa along the way. Especially the other regional editors who have been inspiring to learn from and in witnessing what they are doing in their different avenues of creativity. I feel truly inspired and would recommend to anyone who feels like they don’t fit into any space in their life just to take an opportunity and to find their niche, and ride with it – see where your inspiration takes you and you’ll be wonderfully surprised.