"I'm going to go to their offices, because whenever I hand out the CV nobody replies or they say ‘no’. So if I meet them face to face, I can blag my way in."

Toyin Owoseje | Proving Persistence Is The Key, Wrench and Bulldozer For Unlocking Opportunity’s Door

Feature Post Of The Week

In Her Words |

Principle 2:
The Beloved Community
is the framework for the future.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr |
Six Principles of Nonviolence



social integration | soh-shuh l in-ti-grey-shuhn |
"the blending and unifying of social groups, most commonly seen in the desegregation of races throughout history"

Yaaya asks:

To what extent do you feel social integration
for European black women has been achieved in the nation you live in?


Join The Conversation

Yaaya Asks About | Social integration for black women in Europe and for European black women globally

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Mary Osinibi, The Virtuosa Of Human Truths

Mary Osinibi is a multidisciplinary London-based artist who uses acrylic paints, photography, hand drawn sketches and digital art to inspire, educate and encourage people to speak up for justice and make an impact in the world they live in. She is influenced by African Art, Cubism and Fauvism Art; and her own self-exploration of faith – her own desires for change and transformation in herself. For Mary, art has the power to enrich lives and alter attitudes; it is capable of engaging and encouraging the human spirit”.

Mary’s impressive portfolio focuses on the feelings, thoughts and experience of real people. Each colour is significant and evokes the notion that not everything is at it appears. For example her ongoing project, The Aftermath passage tells a story of people who have been impacted by migration, war and conflict, through a series of contemporary portraits expressing the emotions and testimonies from each participant.

Featured in The Aftermath Passage is Emmanuel Jal, a child soldier, born in the war-torn region of the Southern Sudan on an unknown date in the early 1980s. Through unbelievable struggles, Jal managed to survive and become a recording artist, achieving worldwide acclaim for his unique style of hip hop with its message of peace and reconciliation born out of his personal experiences.

Jal appeared alongside Reese Witherspoon as one of the lead roles in the Warner Bros 2014 film release The Good Lie. Jal has since been awarded the Calgary Peace Prize, the Humanitarian Award and has been honoured by Ban Ki Moon at the United Nations for his peach efforts in South Sudan.

Like Emmanuel Jan, other inspiring stories have been encapsulated by Mary. Prior to the Aftermath project was ‘the Lazarus project’ which explored and restored life to old, mysteries ancient masks – reviving untold stories of great kingdoms, cultures and customs.

Mary spends a lot of time in solitude when creating artwork, so when she is not painting, she mostly travels with friends or reads historical books. Throughout 2017, Mary will be showcasing works from the Aftermath Passage in different locations in the United Kingdom. She is currently offering portrait services using her signature style of paintings which is inspired by the Fauvism style which began around the 1900s.

Mary Osinibi: an extraordinary talent that gifts us art imitating life so vividly and colourfully through a kaleidoscope of human truths. She is Yaaya.

Image Sources | Courtesy of Mary Osinibi's website: www.maryosinibi.com

Monday, January 02, 2017

Yaaya Reads: Valerie Kerri | The JJC Handbook: Adapting To The UK With Ease

"Feigning a 'britico' accent
will not get you anywhere and will not make you appear more widely traveled
or more 'foreign' "

Valerie Awele Kerri is an entrepreneur, mentor and author of The JJC Handbook - one of the bestselling Nigerian books of 2016. Miss Kerri, a Nigerian, moved to the United Kingdom in her mid-20’s and suffered a ‘culture shock’ which spurred her on to writing a book about how Africans (Nigerians especially) can adapt to the UK with ease.

For all those who may not be aware, J-J-C is a Nigerian slag for ‘Johnny Just Come’ loosely meaning ‘naïve new comers’. This comical but useful guide brings back relatable memories and in her book, Valerie deals with issues such as ‘What to do when you’re confronted by ticket officers on a train and how to succeed academically with immense parental pressure; after all winners ‘don’t have 10 heads’…

The official launch of the book for the first-time author was in August 2016 at the trendy Shoreditch area in London. Amongst others, in attendance were noted poets and artists like Poetolu, Cherrelle Morris and Kenn Obi. When she is not writing, Valerie runs Kerri Consulting a career advice and personal branding consulting service in North West London. She helps new immigrants with adjusting to the new UK environment. In the pipeline for 2017, Valerie plans a tour for her book across the UK universities to promote her book. She is also writing a new book ‘The JJC memoirs’ an autobiography that is an accompaniment to The JJC Handbook.

Valerie is proud of her Nigerian heritage and has been on the board of directors for the Igbo Culture and support network UK (ICSN UK), for many years. She is an avid traveller and lover of new experiences.

Follow Valerie via her blog, Twitter @valeriekerri, and Instagram @thejjchandbook.

Source | Images courtesy of Linda Ikeji's Blog and Amazon.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Event: Chibundu Onuzo Book Launch For 'Welcome To Lagos' | Thursday 12th January 2017

Chibundu Onuzo:
Welcome to Lagos

Join us to celebrate the publication of ‘Welcome to Lagos’, a stunning literary portrayal of modern Nigeria, by writer Chibundu Onuzo.

Award-winning novelist Chibundu Onuzo and friends take you on a musical journey through Lagos to celebrate the publication of her incredible second novel, Welcome to Lagos. Onuzo will be in conversation with Ellah Allfrey, editor, literary critic and former deputy editor of Granta.

Chibundu Onuzo's first novel, The Spider King’s Daughter won a Betty Trask Award; her novel was long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Etisalat Prize for Literature, and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize.
Follow Chibundu: @ChibunduOnuzo

More information about this event on the Southbank Centre website.

Thursday 12th January 2017

5.30 - 7pm

Admission Cost:

Central Bar Foyer
Level 2, Royal Festival Hall
Southbank Centre

Image Sources: Faber & Faber and Amazon.
Click here for more upcoming events!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Who Have You Chosen To Be In Your Circle Of Influence?

"I always say that you don't need lots of friends. You just need people in your life that will encourage you and motivate you ..."

One way to build personal resilience when it comes to life challenges, is to develop a good support network - your circle of influence. A strong support network will prep you at the start line, cheer you on during the toughest laps of your sprints and marathons, celebrate your efforts at the finish line, and do it all again for your next race.

In part three of our five-part post, Toyin speaks to Yaaya about why support networks are both powerful and important, who sits within her circle of influence, and how we can rise by lifting others.

And so the conversation continues …

Because Life Is Not A Solo Act


How important are networks of support?
Toyin O:
I think it is extremely important. For me personally, I always say that you don't need lots of friends. You just need people in your life that will encourage you and motivate you, even if it is just three people. If you don't have that, it's good that you can find that in different places, as long as they are like-minded people and they have a positive influence on you. It's amazing how much that can push you. Friends will call me to ask for advice on their situation, and by the end of the conversation, they haven't only just learnt from me, I have also learned from them.
Can you comment on the importance specifically for black girls and women?
Toyin O:
It is important especially for black girls and women. We go through a lot of stuff - it's almost like we have this stigma that we are born with. I mean not only are you a woman, but you are also black. I know times are changing, but it's not changing as fast as they should be. So sometimes it's good to have a woman that has been through those social challenges of being a black woman.

In this day and age, these young girls are growing up and seeing things that are misguiding them, and they need positive people around them to support and help put them back on the right track. Like little girls saying they want to be porn stars, it breaks my heart. And sometimes I feel it's hard when you have older parents, because sometimes you don't want to listen to them. So it's good to just be able to have someone you can just click with.
How can role models or those that have gone before us be support networks?
Toyin O:
When you know somebody or somebody from somebody that you can say that you know has done this, or worked there, or started her own business, it gives support and motivation for your own dreams.

Some girl that I know, that I knew while growing up, opened up her own salon. And it's like "woah, she's giving me motivation!" I wanted to start my business years ago, but I was sort of slacking. So now I am seeing loads of black women my age doing well and succeeding. That is encouraging me to work hard and strive. My sister started her own business too.
How do you network to create a great support network?
Toyin O:
There are all these mentoring schemes going on. For example, Sotonye Duri, organises lots of these motivational speaking events, which are great if you are woman that wants to succeed, be empowered, and inspire because you can be mentored by a woman there already doing the same. So that is one of many good ways to gather people around you that have achieved so that they can work alongside you as you work at your own achievements.
In a previous Question of the Month, Yaaya asked “who/what are your most valuable support networks?” We'd be interested to hear your response.
Toyin O:
My support network is my family. I always tell people, I don't need lots of friends. I have four sisters that love me regardless, so if you don't want to be my friend, I am not bothered.

I am so close to my family, and my partner has a big family as well. So we're both really family-oriented, and that's where we get our support from. I know regardless of what happens to me, or what happens in my life, my family will always be there. They are not going to judge me, so whatever I am going through, I know I can always go to them. So they are my greatest support. Whether I am starting a new job, or a starting my own business, they are the ones that will be cheering "go Toyin, go Toyin!" (Laughs).

I want to say, that even you don't have a close family, you can have friends that are like family. You just need a close circle of friends that will support you.

Lift As We Rise


How important do you think it is to mentor others, especially black girls and women?
Toyin O:
I think it is very important. If you are in a position to help people, you should always do it. I feel like if you are reaching goals, you should always help other people come up as well. You shouldn't just want to only succeed by yourself. If you have learned something, impart your knowledge onto other people. That's why I always use my life as an example when I talk to people. If I am doing something well, why should I be keeping it a secret, because I would want others to do well too.

When I see my younger sisters' friends, I give them advice as well. If I see them slacking, I feel it is important to encourage them. Without you realising, these kids are looking up to you, and they've allowed you to have a platform in their lives where you can teach them how to do things better, how to be better, and to believe they can be successful.

The world shows them they can't, that they have to fit a certain criteria to be successful. So you have to constantly remind them that regardless of what the world or media says to them, they can be anything. You can be a dark-skinned woman and be the CEO of a company, and if you don't want to be the CEO of somebody else's company, create your own!

Woman In The Mirror


Looking at a younger version of yourself, what do you want to say to her?
Toyin O:
Be happy because everything is going to work out the way it is supposed to be. I feel like I can have no regrets because they girl that I was at say, ten years old, has helped shape the woman that I today.

The only thing I would have told my younger self is "just relax", because I stressed out a lot, especially when I was looking for a job. Whether it was the positive or negative things, everything worked out for this moment. So I am just grateful, so I just feel it is important to savour every moment.

I guess I feel like I should have told myself to stop stressing and enjoy life more because everything has worked out fine.
Imagine being an older version of yourself, what would say to present day self?
Toyin O:
I told you you were going to be successful! (Laughs). I told you, I told you!

Stay connected for the penultimate part of our conversation with Toyin, where we discuss her social and cultural identity as a woman raised in Britain by traditional Nigerian parents. In this part of the interview, we also dispute the notion that ‘black is a behaviour’ and discuss why being the token black person might not be such a bad thing.

Like this post? Leave your comments below to continue to support Yaaya’s vision of providing platforms to voice powerful stories of incredible women like Toyin. Invite others to join the conversation by sharing this post!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Role Models: Choice Or Chosen?

"If I have seen further
it is by standing
on the shoulders of

~ Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton could not have better emphasised the importance of role models with this sentence. It unpacks the idea that we can see further on our journey when we can be lifted on the wisdom and experiences of those that have gone before us - ‘those’ referring to people that inspire us to believe our aspirations can be realised. The interesting question is whether one consciously chooses to be a role model, or whether one is (unbeknown to them) chosen.

As far back as history records, people have needed role models, as much as they have needed a sense of identity, a sense of belonging. Role models can inspire us to great heights and encourage us to chase dreams. They give us that “I too can do that!” feeling. When faced with new challenges, unfamiliar situations, they provide the foundational blueprint, a living and/or familiar compass, as it were, to enable us navigate our way forward.

How then are role models created? Do people make a conscious choice to become role models, or are they chosen by the person seeking said compass? If becoming a role model is a conscious choice, does this bring an associated social, moral, and cultural responsibility that the self-elected exemplar must then observe? A responsibility to demonstrate and embody ideals to be emulated by those the role model seeks to inspire or influence?

Or is it in fact, the other way around? Do we as human beings, choose our role models? Do we seek out those whom we identify with, on a socio-cultural level, and adorn them with our expectations? This is particularly true for public figures, from athletes to musicians, politicians to corporate leaders. However, imposing such responsibility on said individual does not always meet with warm acceptance. Cue Rihanna, who has stopped short of signing her utter disinterest in being a role model in blood and ink.

If role models are chosen or self-elected, what are the parameters (if any) of selection or acceptance by us (society)? Whose responsibility is it to educate us into making the right choices? More importantly, who should our role models be?

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Disarming Ignorance And Empowering The Human Condition One Article At A Time

"To me, it's about being the type of journalist that makes people say ‘yes, I read that and it moved me.’"

Sitting in a busy sandwich shop in Westfield Stratford City, Yaaya welcomed the chance to capture the beginnings of Toyin’s journey of self-discovery as a journalist.

In the second post of our five-part interview, Toyin resolves the cliffhanger of the previous conversation. She candidly shares with us how she got her first internship with Heat magazine using a special formula: mix a little bit of luck with a whole lot of undeniable determination.

And so the conversation continues …

There's No Passenger Seat On A Journey Into Journalism


To quote what you previously said, how did you “blag your way in” to get a job at Heat magazine?
Toyin O:
So I walked in, and I pretended that I knew where I was going (laughs). I got to the reception, and I was like "oh, I've just been here, I am bit lost. I am trying to find Heat". The receptionist directed me to the location, and then I asked to speak to the editorial assistant. I introduced myself and said I was looking for an internship. She was looking at me as if to say, "you are not really supposed to be here," but I asked hopefully "is it possible to get anything [here]?"
That takes guts.
Toyin O:
I think she sort of liked me, because I was like "anything, I don't mind". I was fortunate because a prospective intern had cancelled the week before. I was like "God is so good!" She took my CV and said she would call in the next half-hour. I walked out, and literally about ten minutes later, she asked "oh, can you come on Monday?" And I said "yes, I'm coming in!" (Laughs).

So I went in on Monday, literally it was so boring I did barely any writing.
That is unfortunate. But what did you learn from the situation?
Toyin O:
It was a big wake up call, because I sort of realised that this is what journalism is about, it's not always about the glamour. So I stuck it through for the week. Luckily, I was smart because at Bauer Media, the offices have a lot of different publications. So I made a point of making friends.
Kudos to you for recognising the importance of networking.
Toyin O:
So when my week was coming up, I was referred to an editorial assistant for More magazine who needed somebody for the following week. So I went to More magazine for a week. They realised I was capable, so they started giving me little bit more responsibility. For example, I wrote the captions.

Then after that, I worked at Closer magazine to help out on their web desk. I was asked if I had any web experience, and I have to confess that I blagged it a bit really: "Yeah, I've got it". The work was unpaid. Meanwhile, I was supposed to do something at my retail job, so I sort of called in sick, because for me, I'd rather do this [journalism] for no money than get paid to do something I wasn’t passionate about.
Toyin O:
So I went in for two weeks, I got to do some much writing for the website. They really liked me so they extended my internship. The web editor went on maternity leave, the assistant editor was away, and the lead writer took the position of the editor, so I was second-in-charge. They got me to do loads of things, and I got to go to all these events. I ended up staying at More for three months. It wasn't paid, but I got so much experience.
But you left?
Toyin O:
The only reason I left was because I kept trying to get a permanent position there but there were issues with budget. And so it got to a point where my partner was like "babe, if you stay there, they are going to know you are just working for free and let you keep working for free. So you basically just have to step out, have a leap of faith, and hope that the experience you've got [with Heat and More] will get you another job closer to your goal.”

So I left More magazine and continued my work experience at the retail job. Then I applied for another internship, which was paid. I did a lot of internships, I even worked at a construction magazine for a bit. So I got the internship and I went in three days a week. I was supposed to be there for three months, and ended up staying there for six months. However, they couldn't employ me was because they were having to make cuts at the magazine. So I was like "drats ... again! No money!" (Laughs).
Which magazine was this?
Toyin O:
Mobile magazine, it was a technology magazine. The thing is when I initially applied for it, it was just because it was paid and I would get to write. But I actually loved it! It was a technology magazine, and seemed like it was going to be so dull, but it wasn't. Anything that had to do with mobiles, sim cards, handsets, I would do it.
Where there any career defining lessons or exciting opportunities in this role?
Toyin O:
Because I was the junior writer, they would send me out onto the streets to get stories. I got to see what kind of journalist I would like to be. While I was there, I got to go to Nice and Monaco for all these mobile technology events. I remember I went to Monaco because Orange were launching a new NFC device. but all the senior writers weren't able to go, so they were like "Toyin, do you want to go? Free holiday, first class ..." Of course I didn’t hesitate to accept. I stayed in a five-star hotel. From my balcony you could see all these beautiful yachts. I was there for a couple of days, I travelled first class. I'd never travelled first class in my entire life! It was amazing.
Good on you for just putting your hand up for that opportunity. Sometimes an opportunity is just about taking a chance.
Toyin O:
IB Times had hired me because they had seen my writing at Mobile magazine. The job specification was actually for a general news writer, but they really needed a lifestyle writer. I accepted the role, and since then it has just got better and better.
That’s great.
Toyin O:
Within a short space of time, I have built up lots of experience doing different kinds of writing. And now that I am in the process of starting my own business, I can take with me all the skills I have acquired. I had to do things the hard way, so having to go through all these internships was a blessing in disguise because I got to pick up different skills. So if you wanted me to write a celebrity story, I could that. A hard-core news story, a technology story ... I could do all of that.
Can you tell us a bit more about this business ... unless if it is confidential?
Toyin O:
Sure, basically I am starting my own online publication. Actually, it's not just an online publication, it's going to be my own brand. It's going to have three branches to it. It's going to be: a YouTube channel, a print magazine, and an online edition. That's my project.
And you are doing this by yourself?
Toyin O:
Yes ... by myself. I know it sounds really weird, but it's my little baby. Although, I have received advice from family and friends, I have just kept it as my little thing. This is simply because I don't want to feel bad if I don't take their stuff on-board. And if I have a partner, I feel like I will have to make compromises, and for my dream, I don't want to have to make compromises.

If Journalism Is An Art, Who/What is the Journalist’s Muse?


What keeps you motivated? What inspires you?
Toyin O:
On my website, when we write stories, at the bottom of the page, there is an option to leave feedback for my work e-mail address. I get e-mails from people all round the world … from people blasting me (laughs), to people saying how much I have changed their lives.

Depending on what story I write, I'll have people every other day sending me an e-mail. I remember there was a story I wrote in response to a video I saw online, it was about a video that had gone viral of a Malaysian woman beating her child. When I wrote the story, the website at work was going crazy, and people were writing e-mails about how much I had affected them. For example, one woman wrote "I am crying tears right now, and holding my child so tight. I can't believe someone could do this."
That’s powerful.
Toyin O:
For me, I am motivated to write things that matter: writing that will inform people, change people's lives, and make people see things in a different light.

To me, it's not just about being a journalist, it's about being the type of journalist that will make people say "yes, I read that and it moved me." That's what keeps me going, it's the fact that my writing it getting out there and is being read because the message matters.

Look out for Part 3 of our five-part post, where Toyin talks to Yaaya about why surrounding yourself with the right people can create a powerful circle of influence.

Like this post? Leave your comments below to continue to support Yaaya’s vision of providing platforms to voice powerful stories of incredible women like Toyin. Invite others to join the conversation by sharing this post!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Toyin Owoseje, Proving Persistence Is The Key, Wrench and Bulldozer For Unlocking Opportunity’s Door

Meet Toyin Owoseje - a young, strongly-opinionated, ambitious woman blazing her own trail in the world of media as a lifestyle and entertainment journalist. Her persistence and work-ethic has motivated her be open to all opportunities, and dare we say bulldozed opportunity’s door to create her own luck. You don’t believe us? Read for yourself!

In the first part of this five-part post, Toyin talks to us about why platforms like Yaaya are a necessity for today’s young black girls, how she navigated her own path into Journalism, and why sometimes you have to take risks and fake it until you make it.

And so the conversation begins …

Toyin Meet Yaaya. Yaaya Meet Toyin.


Toyin it is a pleasure to meet you again. Most people won't know this, but we actually went to secondary school together. When you responded to our initial invitation, you spoke high praise for what Yaaya was trying to do. Would you like to share why you feel platforms like Yaaya are much needed?
Toyin O:
I feel like, in this day and age, a lot of black girls are … misguided. It is really hard to find inspiration and motivation, especially in this industry where the media is telling you how to look. Music videos are telling you that if you shake your booty, look good, and are light-skinned, you will get far in life. To be honest, we haven't got enough inspirational women out there that are going to stand up for women of all colours and say “yes, you are beautiful regardless of what you look like.”
By “enough inspirational women out there”, do you mean celebrities?
Toyin O:
Most of these celebrities that young women are looking up to are contradictory of women themselves. Some are saying that they are not trying to be a role model but are still feeding off the fan-base of people that are trying to be like them and making money off of it. Seriously?!

So it is good to have a platform where it's a positive message and women can actually learn from each other. We need more social initiatives like this because women are getting lost.
Can you elaborate?
Toyin O:
Young girls are saying basically, “I just want to be kept, I don't need to be successful because if Amber Rose can go from a stripper to a house-wife, so can I.” Girls are not even trying to make their own money now: “I need to find a rich guy, marry, and I am good.” That is what some of these reality shows and celebrities are showing them. So, It's good to have space where like-minded women are visible to remind us that you can be independent, successful, and just keep it classy.

The Journalist In Profile


You are currently a Lifestyle and Entertainment Journalist at International Business Times UK. Can you tell us more about your role?
Toyin O:
Basically, I am the person in the office that gets to do the … interesting stuff (smiles).

Our publication is business, but like The Financial Times, we also have sections for sport, lifestyle and entertainment. I am the designated lifestyle and entertainment writer in the office, so I get to cover fashion, lifestyle, celebrity news, showbiz, art, music … anything that comes under that umbrella. And I get to just go to really cool events, meet people. Some people will say I get to do the 'soft' journalism - some will say it as a good thing, some will say “it's not really journalism”.

I like to mix it up as well. Because I am lifestyle and entertainment writer and a general writer in the office as well, I get thrown in to do more [hard-hitting news], which I like. A while ago, I did a story about Stella Damasus, I don't even know how to pronounce her name right, sorry. She is a Nollywood actress, and she spoke about …
“Child Not Bride” …
Toyin O:
Yes – child marriage. And I felt really touched by it. It's not really my area because we have foreign writers in the office but I said to a colleague, “she is a Nigerian celebrity [who has spoken up about child marriage in Africa]”, to which he replied “we don't really know her”. However, I said “well, she is known! And I think it's a big story.” So I wrote that story, even though it's not really under my bracket.
How long have you been in the role then?
Toyin O:
I have been at the International Business Times since … it's going to be almost three years.
And what has your journey been like into journalism? How did you get into journalism?
Toyin O:
It has been hard (laughs). Like most graduates, when I was in uni I was very naïve. I sort of thought “okay, if I get a degree then I will come out and get a job”. Nah! So I came out, had my degree, I was just like yeah, started applying for all these journalism roles, writer roles and administrative roles. All sorts of roles ... anything and everything to get me into the door.

I applied over the course of a year and a bit. I was very stubborn, I didn't apply for anything else but journalism related roles. And everyone was like "no, no, no". I think I got about two hundred "nos", and some of them didn't even bother replying. Literally!
That is tough. Unfortunately, in this job climate, it is a situation that a lot of young people can identify with.
Toyin O:
I had been unemployed during time , so my partner was like "babe, seriously you're not working and you need to sort of look elsewhere for now, and apply for jobs you might not necessarily want but that would build up your experience." Unfortunately when I was in university, I made the mistake of doing only one internship, which was the mandatory one for my course. So when I came out of university, I actually didn't have that much experience. Even though, in theory I did, and I could write. It's just that my CV just looked really plain.
What was your game plan?
Toyin O:
So after I got my wake up call about a year and half in, I just thought let me take a retail position. It hurt my pride. I took the job just to pay the bills, and while I was there I started applying for internships. I applied for a few, got a few nos.

Then I finally just tired one day so I walked in, this is how unhappy I was, I woke up one day and I said "babe, I'm going to the West End to hand out my CV, I'm going to go to their offices, because whenever I hand out the CV nobody replies or they say ‘no’. So if I meet them face to face, I can blag my way in."
Toyin O:
I left my house around eight o'clock in the morning, and walked the West End up and down looking for all these addresses I had collected. I went into their offices and a lot of them said "no, we can't see you, you have to [apply] online."

Luckily enough, I went to Bauer Media, the Heat offices. Do you know Heat magazine?
Toyin O:
So I walked in, and literally blagged my way in.

Yaaya continues the conversation in Part 2 of our five-part post where Toyin talks to Yaaya about bagging her first internship at Heat magazine and what sustains her love for journalism.

Like this post? Leave your comments below to continue to support Yaaya’s vision of providing platforms to voice powerful stories of incredible women like Toyin. Invite others to join the conversation by sharing this post!

Image Source | These images do not belong to Yaaya. Image courtesy of Toyin Owoseje.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Maya Angelou, "Bringing The Gifts That My Ancestors Gave"

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass.”

~ Maya Angelou

Still I Rise”, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” and “Phenomenal Woman” are all works of Dr. Maya Angelou filled with words and images which have simultaneously humbled, enriched, humoured and taught many across the globe. At 86 years old, Maya Angelou’s life has “ended”, but her long lasting mark on literature, poetry, American history and most of all people’s hearts, has and will outlive her. The goodness of humanity, the diversity of human life and a tirelessly fighting spirit are wrapped up in this Arkansas Southern Belle.

Here at Yaaya we think of Dr. Angelou as a teacher, a healer and wisdom giver, due to her loving and resilient nature, which has been an undeniable force in the 20th and 21st century. Her words, stories and experiences carry a weight steeped in history, trauma and joy, which has been to both young and old and powerful and powerless, a guide and comforter through challenging and triumphant times.

The magnitude of her presence and words, has not only struck chords amongst her dearest literary admirers, but also those within the realm of politics, music and sport. Respect is what she demands, and respect is what she is given. Wisdom is what she exudes, and listening ears is what she receives. Grace is what she illuminates, and her light is what we absorb.

With all the attributes that Yaaya celebrates in women such as power, resilience, leadership, ambition and success, Dr. Angelou is all this and then some. Be it through her storytelling gifts, her poetic celebration of womanhood and African ancestry, her life as a singer, dancer, actor, cook, young single mother, civil rights activist, professor, film and television producer, playwright or traveller, these snapshots illustrate a colourful and richly lived existence.

Depending on the decade or decades in which she assumed many of these roles, she fought and overcame racial prejudice and sexism refusing to let these experiences define her reality or limit her aspirations. In her later life, the experience and wisdom she gained through living through over eight decades, befriending historical icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and acting as critical social commentator, earned her over 30 honorary degrees, the mentor of choice for the powerful and famous, and an unwavering, endearing respect across the world.

Ever true to her Southern and African American roots, she is seen by many as being one of the prominent voices of Black America in modern times which is easily visible in her writings. To borrow some of her own words to celebrate her life and her longevity despite it's end, it is fitting to say: “We the descendants of the enslaved, children of the South, we never say that someone has died. You never die. You “pass over.” Maya, you have passed over. But your legacy will live with us forever. You. Are. Yaaya.

Image Source | Image does not belong to Yaaya. Image courtesy of Dr. Maya Angelou, The Official Website.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Oh, How Time Flies ...

"We are hugely indebted to all those who have given us their support, contributed to Yaaya, provided feedback, read our blogs, and engaged with us in any way.
You are Yaaya ..."

In our introductory post, we told you about the beginnings of Yaaya - an initiative founded out of a social necessity for black girls and women in 21st century Europe to share their own personal stories. Our mission is for such stories to inspire thought-provoking discussions that will give social visibility to black women and black women's experiences.

In continuation of our first post, we wanted to celebrate the journey made thus far, celebrate our excitement for the journey ahead, and thank our supporters for continuing to be active in our conversations.

And so the conversation continues …

Happy Birthday Yaaya


It has been almost just over a year since your official launch in May last year. How would you describe your success story to date?
(Pause) We still find it unbelievably humbling to see how far an idea to address the social invisibility of black girls and women in Europe has opened many doors and windows of opportunities. Possibly in the beginning, we underestimated how pivotal Yaaya could be within our communities.

As of today, we celebrate the fact that we have published over eighty posts, and completed two industry cycles highlighting black women working in academia and creative industries. We are currently on our third industry cycle, highlighting black women who work in the media, which includes an exciting interview with Belinda Otas, the Assistant Editor of the New African Woman Magazine. Our work in this short space of time has attracted over 23,000 page views on the blog alone.

In addition to this, we have provided insightful coverage on events such as Africa At Spitalfields, Africa Fashion Week London, and two of the Royal African Society’s events, Africa Writes and the Film Africa Festival. Our work hasn’t stopped there. We have produced commentary and sought to start discussion around black feminism, immigration, and racism within politics.

We feel we have come a long in way in such a short space of time, but our feet are firmly placed on the ground because we know there is still a lot of work to do. It's exciting times. (Laughs)

What Are You Talking About?


One of the aspects I appreciate about your blog is the diversity of your content to address your three principles regarding social visibility, fair representation and role models for black girls and women. Why do you have these different 'conversation threads'?
So we have five on-going 'conversation threads'. The first was 'In Her Words’ , which is a series of industry-spotlight interviews with black women on different professional and personal journeys across a wide range of professions. Here we showcase the different representations of black women, highlight their aspirations, and seek to motivate the readers of their story. We have interviewed women working in academia, fashion and textiles, home interiors, art and design, and media.
Excuse my bluntness – what is the point of this series?
We felt we needed a platform that would give sound to the voice that is usually unheard in the media: through the myriad of possible questions that can be asked, we want to understand our interviewee, a black woman, in her words and hopefully inspire others of all races, sexes and backgrounds to join her conversation and start their conversation to share their stories in their own words.

Then we have our 'Yaaya Asks' thread.
Yes, the responses to these questions have been insightful!
We're glad you feel that way. Every month we publish a question related to a particular theme that aligns with our principles. These questions aim to foster dialogue by being open-ended and are intended to speak to our readers’ personal experiences or observations.
Why do you feel this particular interaction with your readership is important?
It is important, because our objective is get everyone to feel comfortable talking about identity, ‘race’, gender and other socio-political issues concerning black women in an open forum. What better way to get people talking than to ask a question? (Smiles)
Especially in conservative Europe!
You hit the nail on the head. We feel that in Europe, these such conversations are held in private, probably for fear of causing offence, or such issues are brushed under the carpet, probably for fear of causing social conflicts. We usually post these questions once a month and collect responses via Twitter and our Facebook wall.
I noticed that you started adding a Yaaya commentary, in addition to publishing your readers’ responses. Why is this?
Yes, so a representative collection of the readers’ responses to the question of the month are published in the 'Yaaya Asked' series. We include our own commentary to provide context, a summary, and a more detailed focus on the question.
I understand. And then, there is the 'Reflections From Europe' conversation thread?
Yes - this is a collection of articles, typically with a socio-political focus, to provide a European perspective on world issues and events. Check out our post in remembrance of Dr Martin Luther King. Even when we re-read this, it was definitely food for thought on how that dream of social equality is not just something you read in American history. We still have that dream in present day Europe.

We also have a series called 'She Is Yaaya' -
I love this series. Very inspiring!
Can we ask what you have found inspiring about it?
Oh, I see you have assumed the interviewer role so soon!
In my opinion, I feel this series is much needed as one solution to address the need for greater social visibility of black women. For example, I see the ‘She is Yaaya’ series as a strong and passionate intent to showcase more positive images and role models to inspire black women and girls. And you know what is even more important?
To see women celebrating women. (Smiles) That sense of sisterhood is important, not to be exclusive or anything, but to disprove the notion that women can't be supportive of each other because of that sense there is only one 'female position' at the top.

What do you hope your readers will get out of this series?
By celebrating the achievement of black women in Europe, we hope that our readers will be able to recall successful black women in Europe that they have been inspired by. Our objective isn’t to necessarily ‘produce’ role models, but to instead show that we already have them in our communities.
You know, I officially raise my hand up and admit that I couldn't answer your first 'Yaaya Asks' question - to name top five black women in Europe.
Can you name five now? No pressure (laughs).
Honestly, I could probably only give you three immediately off the top of my head: Cecile Kyenge, Diane Abbott, Mariam Osman Sherifay.
That is still a great answer – considering they are all politicians, and we don't think many people could have named three top black female politicians in Europe.

Ah ... so there is still more work to be done! (Smiles).

Who Do We Think You (Yaaya) Are?


Do you feel that all your readers now understand who Yaaya is and who Yaaya is for?
Yes. And No.

We think our readers understand that Yaaya provides a platform for black girls and women to be heard. But perhaps something that is sometimes getting lost in translation is the idea that Yaaya is a platform for black women to be visible, not just a platform for black women full-stop. It's not an exclusive, membership only club where the entry requirements demand that you be (a) black and (b) female. That is not the case.

We believe that the goal to see black women visible within their communities, work-places, schools, and boardrooms is an ideal that should be supported by everyone, not just fellow black women. We think there is a universal benefit to seeing social equality around us, and so seeing black women visible, especially for the younger generation, is crucial. So everyone, regardless of race or gender plays a key role in this cause. We need to move on from this thought that race and gender is a conversation that only certain people are privy to discuss.

Preparing For Take-off: Planning For Success


What are your goals for Yaaya in your second year?
As a platform, we seek to better engage people with the stories and commentary we produce, as well as those told by others. Our aim for this is to really begin to facilitate productive conversations amongst large groups of people online.

We are also experimenting with different forms of media such as film and sound, that diversify our delivery of stories and commentary to our audience.

Another aspiration is to also boost our human capital, by developing our own understanding of the issues Yaaya is concerned with, and make valuable connections with those who share the same aims as us. Arguably at the top of our list, we strongly desire to build a brand. This will take time; however 2014 is the year we aim to get the ball rolling!
Those are some very well thought-out aims!
Yes they are. We have taken time to reflect on our first twelve months, and feel that in order for Yaaya to really ‘take off’; there are key short and long term objectives we must aim to meet.

To Our Supporters: You Are Yaaya


How important have your supporters been for you?
We are hugely indebted to all those who have given us their support, contributed to Yaaya, provided feedback, read our blogs, and engaged with us in any way. You are Yaaya, and we thank you all very much! We hope you stay engaged and stimulated by our work, give us feedback, and remain with us on our ambitious journey.

Like this post? Leave your comments below to let us know your thoughts. Invite others to join the conversation by sharing this post!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Event: Justice Rising | Wednesday 26th March 2014

Justice Rising:
Moving intersectionality in the age of post-everything

Featuring renowned academic expert and social activist for racial equality, Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, Professor of Law at UCLA and Columbia.

Crenshaw has lectured nationally and internationally on race matters, addressing audiences throughout Europe, Africa, and South America. She has facilitated workshops for civil rights activists in Brazil and in India, and for constitutional court judges in South Africa.

Her work has appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the National Black Law Journal, and the Stanford Law Review, among others.

More information on the LSE website.

Wednesday 26th March 2014

6:30 - 8pm

Admission Cost:

Old Theatre
Old Building
London School of Economics and Political Science

Click here for more upcoming events!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Event: How is London being transformed by migration? | Monday 24th March 2014

Public Lecture

The London School of Economics hosts this thematic conference, drawing together insights from a 2-year London project which explores migration and the transformation of London.

Chaired by Barbara Roche from Migration Matters, the lecture features experts from leading academic institutions addressing recent changes in London migration from a variety of perspectives.

More information on the LSE website.

Monday 24th March 2014

1:30 - 6pm

Admission Cost:

Hong Kong Theatre
Clement House
London School of Economics and Political Science

Click here for more upcoming events!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Feminism vs Racism

“ Here at Yaaya, we think that this sudden interest in Feminism is brilliant!... However what intrigues and worries us is why there is not an equally heightened interest in speaking about the ‘other’ equally important social problem - racism?

Of late, we’ve realized that Feminism has become an increasingly popular subject in Britain and around the world. In fact, we can’t recall a time of when Feminism has received so much attention.

It’s almost impossible to not come across an article, blog post, tweet or comment about Feminism and gender equality nowadays. Feminism is now debated on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. National newspapers such as the Guardian have resident Feminist commentators, and international campaigns about the girl-child in the developing world now seem to have unprecedented attention. Gender inequality has claimed its place firmly on domestic and international political agendas, and celebrities now perform at large concerts to raise awareness of gender inequality, domestic violence and rape.

On an ideological level, the historical origins of feminism and its future trajectory are openly debated by the young, old and politically indifferent. Black feminists in recent times have actively challenged racism within Feminism on social media platforms, and the inability of some white feminists to see and accept their prejudices and privileges. In addition, there has been more discussion about men’s roles within the Feminist movement, and how gender equality and challenges to patriarchy also benefits men.

Practical solutions to address the different experiences of women have also come to fore, especially within the corporate world. “Mentoring”, “coaching”, “sponsoring” and “leaning in”, are some of the terms that get bandied about in corporate activism, as companies strive to increase the number of women in senior and executive level positions. The Guardian recently set up the Women in Leadership Network that aims to produce debate about women in leadership positions, and corporate women’s only networks and online mentoring platforms such as Visible Women engage in several initiatives designed to boost female leadership; from connecting women with mentors to help them achieve their goals, to running development seminars and workshop.

We must say what topped it all off for us, is when Beyoncé sampled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s popular speech , “Why we all should be feminists” on her ‘Flawless’ track in her new self-titled album. Granted Beyoncé is noted for her ‘female empowering’ tracks, however sampling this speech was particularly significant, as it brought issues of gender inequality to an audience who may not have deeply pondered on some of the questions and experiences of women and girls that Chimamanda asked and described. For a few seconds, celebrity feminism i.e “paying my own bills”, sexual confidence, having multiple sexual partners, and looking beautiful wilted against a proper representation of the issues that ‘real’ Feminism is concerned with.

Here at Yaaya, we think that this sudden interest in Feminism is brilliant! As a platform that is interested in creating conversation and debate, we fully welcome dialogue about social ills such as gender based inequity around the world. However what intrigues and worries us is why there is not an equally heightened interest in speaking about the ‘other’ equally important social problem - racism? Or rather, why does Feminism and gender equality feel like ‘safer’ topics to discuss, than race.

We’ve noticed that in many European countries (Britain included); an honest and open debate about racism does not exist. There is neither the forum, nor the willingness to openly speak about it as a nation, because it is admittedly an uncomfortable topic for many people to speak about. There seems to be an air of dismissiveness when racism is spoken about, as though it is somehow an irrelevant, “solved” and anachronistic topic, that people of colour are overly sensitive about. Such attitudes may be the result of Europe’s unwillingness to confront and remember ugly parts of their history such as slavery, colonialism, racial violence and institutional racism.

If this is the case, then we point to America, a nation that also has a history of slavery, like Europe, albeit on home soil. Racism, race relations and race is openly debated in America on different platforms. It’s discussed openly on news channels, and in the world of academia, there are journals solely dedicated to the study of race relations and racism. In addition, there are several well known initiatives that have been developed to address the social and economic disparities experienced by particular ethnic groups. One of the most recent is Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’Initiative which has been launched in an attempt to address the challenges facing young boys and men of colour.

Explanations as to why there seems to be more dialogue about race or racism, or at least an appetite for it in America is arguably rooted in several factors. For starters, America experienced a civil rights movement which forced a national discussion of the ‘race problem’, and pressurized successive governments to enact civil rights legislation and equal opportunity employment measures (affirmative action). Such measures ensured that African Americans had the same legal and constitutional rights as other Americans, and that there were measures in place to address the disadvantages suffered by black Americans who were (and still are) rooted in centuries of discrimination. Secondly, with such steep racial inequalities that continue to plague America, success stories of African Americans who have achieved great success seem to be emphasised more, as they are contextualised within their experiences of growing up black in America, which is statistically one of the most disadvantageous groups in America.

In Europe however, particularly countries with significant ethnic minority populations like France and the U.K, there seems to be a denial culture about racism, which is particularly seen through questions like: “how can you be sure it’s racism?”, “You have taken it the wrong way”, “why does everything have to be about race?” Such questions can often make people who are interested in the study of racism and race relations, or those that have experienced racism (covert and overt) feel as if they have been characterised as race-agitators, paranoid, extremists, anti-establishment, irrational and walking around with a chip on their shoulder. Some people as a result altogether avoid conversations about race and racism, due to fear of being shut down.

Such dismissive questions are confusing, as anecdotes from women about the experience of gender inequalities in the workplace through examples such as “I’m often passed over for important projects” or “I feel as though I’m not listened to as much as men”, makes us wonder ‘how do they know that such situations is a result of their gender?’ and forces us to question why such experiences of sexism is not met with the same level of contempt or defence as they often are when racism is concerned?

A controversial example of playing down racism was when a black female cafe owner Martha-Renee Kolleh put up a sign on her shop window reading: “I am a black woman. If you are allergic to black people, don't come in”. This sign was influenced by her frustration about the covert racism she has experienced by potential customers in the white majority town of Ossett (west Yorkshire) who walk in and right back out of her cafe when they see her. She tested her theory by employing a white woman in her cafe, which consequently resulted in locals patronizing her establishment. The reaction by commentators on several news sites to Martha-Renee Kolleh’s experiences in Ossett was to label Ms Kolleh as ‘over sensitive’, and that her belief that racism was the main factor in the lack of customers she received was ‘incorrect’. Other factors were instead offered which consequently downplayed her experiences of the racism she believed she suffered from. This incident, in addition to countless other similar ones, forced us to question: ‘why is it so hard for some people to accept that racism exists?’

Another response we’ve noticed about the discussion of racism is something we like to describe as ‘oppression Olympic diatribes.’ Comparisons between slavery and the Holocaust, and comments of how ‘Jews don’t play the race card’, or ‘aren’t overly sensitive about race like black people’ are common. Other dismissive arguments also include the absurd rhetoric about ‘forgetting’, ‘moving forward’, and protest that ‘class inequalities are a more important issue to discuss than racism’. So why do such sentiments exist?

One answer to this question of ‘blindness to racism’ is white privilege; or rather the normality of whiteness in society, which makes it difficult for Europeans to comprehend racial micro aggressions or structural racism, as it is not part of their day to day experiences. In this sense, it’s understandable that some white people are unable to relate to, or emphasise with experiences of being able to pick up on seemingly covert racial biases or being a victim of structural racism. Understandable, yes. Acceptable, no.

In conclusion, this article is not trying to infer that racism is a greater social - ill than feminism. On the contrary, it’s pointing out that though some societal problems are easier to discuss than others, and that they shouldn’t be met with contempt and insensitivity, but given the same level of time and attention.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Race and Gender: Categories That Exclude?

“ If we cannot engage with all sections of society but only with black women, black people, and women, there is simply no point to Yaaya’s existence.”

Our decision to create Yaaya was motivated by our concern about the experience of social invisibility amongst black girls and women in Europe, which is rooted in the intersectionality of racism and sexism. Yaaya aims to provide a platform to celebrate the successes and ambitions of black girls and women across a spectrum of different industries, and to also celebrate their journeys and experiences of being female and black in their respective European nations.

Indeed, platforms and debates concerned with black women’s experiences in the workplace, media and educational institutions are numerous. The internet has undoubtedly been the most revolutionary medium for creating conversations about black womanhood, which has produced intense debates online and offline. For example, during the summer of 2013, Twitter was by far the most effective social media platform used as a “campaign” tool by black feminists to voice their discontent with the failure of Feminism, as seen through hashtags such as #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.

The #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag clearly highlighted how, for black feminists (and their sympathisers), Feminism is a movement that is white and middle class at its core, which has failed to adequately acknowledge the role racism plays in the experience of patriarchy in black women’s lives. So popular was this debate, it was subsequently taken offline, as it gained the attention of national media in America and the UK. For example, in the UK, BBC Woman's Hour discussed it during their hourly radio programme, and Channel 4 News invited guests such as Bonnie Greer to speak on the subject.

Other hashtags like #SmartBlackofWomenTwitter was again created by black feminists in response to a list of the 25 of the smartest women on Twitter produced by Fast Company, which failed to include any woman of colour. This hashtag forced people to discuss and acknowledge the social invisibility experienced by black women in mainstream media and society at large, and cleverly encouraged black women to come up with their own lists of smart black women. It wasn't long before Fast Company realised their oversight and published a list called 18 smart women of colour.

For us at Yaaya, such debates are crucial in Europe in particular, because unlike in North America, Europe cannot boast a list of high profile black women past and present that are recognized and celebrated for their achievements. This was reinforced by a poll we conducted in April 2013, where we asked “who are your top 5 celebrated black women in Europe?” Our respondents could easily name five black women in America and Africa, but struggled to name their equivalents in Europe. This reinforced for us the little progress Europe has made, particularly in those countries with significant black populations, in regards to the representation of ethnic minorities in high profile positions.

Yaaya's existence therefore seems credible and valid right? If you answered yes, then we are incredibly pleased that you recognise the importance of our presence. However, this is not the case for everyone. Since launching in May 2013 we have had to answer the very valid question: “Why is this platform only for black girls and women?”

After explaining our interest in the intersectionality of racism and sexism in black women’s lives, and the absence of celebrated black women in Europe, we soon realized that such questions were fueled by reactions towards categories. Terms such as “black” and “women” are highly political, as well separatist, as they label groups of people based on uncontrollable characteristics. It is therefore completely understandable for people to feel excluded from platforms such as Yaaya, and in turn our content, if they feel they do not identify with one or all of the social groups we write about.

We therefore now realize that a large part of our work will be to also challenge the natural tendency as humans to identify with categories and labels that we have been programmed to subscribe to. This is because in order to challenge racism and sexism, it requires the inclusion of all concerned citizens. If we cannot engage with all sections of society but only black women, black people, and women, there is simply no point to Yaaya’s existence. To create an awareness and ultimately realise tangible changes, inclusive discussion is paramount especially with decision-makers and key stake-holders.

Our seminal post reflects the importance we place on inclusive conversations as we want “talk to motivate action,” and action to motivate more talk.” We invite all those concerned with our mission statement “to sit around the table,” and contribute their views whether they support ours or differ.

Yaaya in short isn’t just a platform for black women, black people or just women, it is for everyone who is concerned with:

  1. The intersectionality of race and gender.
  2. Racism in Europe.
  3. The diverse experiences of black people in Europe.
  4. Discovering inspiring stories of successful and ambitious black girls and women.

So, how about it? We want to hear from you. Share your stories, experiences and perspectives with us.

Email us at: yaaya.info@gmail.com

Join the conversation!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...