Black Women Challenging The Status Quo

For Black History Month, we are shining a light on some of the incredible Black women we had a chance to interview for issue one of the Disruptors magazine-book series.

Minna Salami 

Minna Salami is a writer, social critic and feminist. She is the author of sensuous knowledge.

If you want to read about our world, the ideas that shape our world, from an African-centred, woman-centred perspective, instead of the European-centred and male-centred perspective, sensuous knowledge is telling the story of society and the issues that impact all of our lives with women at the centre; this is our story and it’s my unique take on it.

Minna Salami graced the cover of the first issue of our magazine-book series, Disruptors. It was an honour to interview her – learn from her lived experiences and insights on issues that affect women, especially regarding African feminism which she is passionate about.

At the time – this was 2010 – there was this idea that there isn’t a thing such as African feminism, you can’t be an African woman and also a feminist. I wanted to put that out there and say that yes, we exist. On top of that, I wanted to also scream about the assumption that, being an African feminist automatically means fighting against AIDS and Malaria. We can be philosophical as well.

 Samata Pattinson

Samata Pattinson is a woman of many talents. She is an entrepreneur, and the CEO of Red Carpet Green Dress, a global organisation showcasing sustainable fashion on the red carpet at the Oscars every year. She is also the author of THE TRIBE™ Empowerment Journal, The Fashion Designer’s Resource Book, and a writer, producer, and presenter.

RCGD is a women-led global change-making organisation working from ‘moment’ to movement – Suzy Amis Cameron conceived it during the press tour for her husband, James Cameron’s film “Avatar” in 2009. RCGD is best known for its red carpet design initiative in exclusive partnership with the Annual Academy Awards®, to their ongoing collaborations with global brands to deliver sustainable products to market. In Issue 1 of Disruptors magazine-book series, Samata explained: 

“We started the idea that a simple question like “What are you wearing?” on the red carpet could become a more meaningful conversation about impact and much more. Our Oscars campaign helps us to reach a global audience in one night — quite literally with one dress (or tuxedo). Through the red carpet, our campaign reaches millions in nearly 100 countries.”

As CEO, Samanta’s vision for RCGD focuses on a long-standing exclusive partnership with The Academy, ongoing eco-collaborations creating accessible sustainable products for the global fashion industry with impact brands, sustainable retail, the creation of educational and entertaining digital content, alongside the expansion of RCGD’s global presence.

In 2013, Samata published The Fashion Designer’s Resource Book. She wanted it to be “a version of everything you always wanted to know about fashion — but were afraid to ask”. Her book breaks down the basics of business and offers resources for everyone no matter one’s knowledge of fashion. Most importantly, she wanted to highlight the importance of the fundamentals of business more than creative brilliance. She also touches on maintaining integrity and balance while going through the fashion industry.

Lastly, she founded THE TRIBE to bring women from around the world together and to inspire, encourage, and support each other in a celebratory atmosphere. By creating products which seek to empower women, THE TRIBE believes in the butterfly effect and inspiring women to be kinder to themselves, and about themselves. THE TRIBE is about encouraging a shift in mindset. She shared with us: 

“I am passionate about helping women say #IAmEnough. Recent studies, including the Women Under Pressure White Paper (which surveyed 6,000 women) revealed that whilst women are under more pressure than ever before, there are fewer outlets to release tension and fewer positive messages of encouragement. I wanted to create a space to help women celebrate who they already are.”

 Agnes Mwakatuma

Agnes Mwakatuma is the founder of Black Minds Matter UK (BMMUK), a charity on the mission to redefine and reimagine the road to better Black mental health. 

With BMMUK, Agnes Mwakatuma wants to remove the stigma and remodel the services to make mental health topics more relevant and accessible for all Black people in the UK. 

BMMUK works alongside skilled and certified Black therapists to provide 12 weeks of fully funded therapy. They supply free mental health resources through various social platforms to better educate and equip Black people with the tools to manage their mental health.

Black people seeking therapy can get in touch via their website. If they are eligible for the service, they then complete the online application. Each potential client is sent for a comprehensive initial therapy assessment with a senior therapist. If BMMUK can cater to their identified needs, they get matched to an experienced Black therapist.

Jamelia Donaldson

Jamelia Donaldson is the founder of TreasureTress, a lifestyle and beauty company that provides beauty subscription box services, creates safe spaces with braiding masterclasses for Black girls and contributes to the beauty industry by making Black women visible.

Jamelia has always adored hair. When she was a child, she loved to do her friends’ and family’s hair. However, she wasn’t a fan of her own hair, which led her to explore different hairstyles that would make her feel more confident. She was also frustrated. As a Black woman, she regretted the lack of access to quality hair products. She thought that most shops were uninspiring, unwelcoming, and lacked variety and knowledge about Black women’s hair. 

She decided to create TreasureTress to “introduce an element of fun, community, and excitement when it came to discovering new air products”. She also wanted to educate consumers. TreasureTress wants to be more than hair products, but to be about sisterhood, experience, safe spaces, and have a lasting contribution to the beauty industry by making Black women more visible. 

When we asked Jamelia about the journey of creating TreasureTress, she told us that it taught her resilience. She also touched on the difficulty of being a black woman founder:

“As a black woman and founder, it can become overwhelming and borderline toxic knowing you have to be twice as good as anyone to get any opportunity.”

Chanju Mwanza

Chanju Mwanza is the founder of the Zambian Narrative, a project that aims to connect children and young people around the world with Zambian culture and languages through bilingual books. She’s also the co-host of a podcast show, bringing up Black joy, a podcast on Black motherhood.

Chanju moved to the UK when she was seven. That’s when she felt different for the first time. She grew up in the Midlands where she was often the first or only Black friend that her friends would have. She realised that there were some elements of her identity that her friends did not understand and was faced with stereotypical questions. Such experiences ignited her passion for representation and ensuring that young people have access to resources that help them understand and celebrate different identities and cultures. She wanted to teach children that, “there is no one way to be ‘Black’, to be ‘African’, or to be ‘a girl’. That we are all unique and can learn from each other’s cultures and identities”.

Chanju launched the Zambian Narratives Project in 2019, intending to connect children and young people around the world with Zambian culture and languages through bilingual books that are available in the country’s seven national languages and accompanied by audio-visual narrations. Growing up, she never had any books that represented her Zambian identity and living in the diaspora. Every time she went back there, she would ask at bookshops for bilingual books that would help her learn the languages, but there weren’t any. So, she decided to write the book she wished she had growing up. She wrote her first book, A Family Adventure, which acts as a melting pot for children living in Zambia, in the diaspora and beyond. It shows the value of Zambian languages and gives positive representations of Zambian society. She shared with us: 

“I created this book so that children can see themselves represented and see that their languages matter. That their realities are worthy of grand stories to be passed down to the next generation.”

When we asked her about the process of writing her book, she also highlighted the support she received from her family, her friends, and her community both in Zambia and in the UK. She told us:

“For anyone that is trying to start a project like this, I would advise them to look at their connections and see how they can support in making the project a success. It’s hard to do these things by yourself, and having that community behind you, pushing you to achieve your best, and also holding you accountable to make it a success is so important.”

Chidinma Nnoli

Chidinma Nnoli is an artist who explores the sociocultural constraints women face especially in the African diaspora drawing from her personal lived experiences. Her work explores sociocultural issues such as womanhood, sexuality, mental health and feminism. She uses her work to send messages of liberation and empowerment with the aim of dismantling, educating and changing the conversation.

Nnoli grew up in an Igbo-Catholic Nigerian family. She shared with us that the “autocratic patriarchal type” gave her anxiety. She found refuge in books. Reading made her see a new world that seemed better than the one she existed in. She started writing about her experiences. Later, she decided to turn the poems she wrote as a teenager into paintings. She explained: 

“These poems were about growing up in a strict Catholic home, trying to rid me of that conditioning, sexuality and identity.”

Her series, “a poetry of discarded feelings” is about the purity façade women often have to put on. In countries such as Nigeria, women are often held to a higher standard of purity and punished for being too sexual. 

This project was born from Nnoli’s experience of being blackmailed. A male acquaintance of hers threatened to release some pictures. It made her realise that women are the main victims of blackmail and how damaging on a personal and professional level it can be for them to be seen as impure’, and ‘dirty’. 

Speaking about her artwork, “Wanderlust”, she told us:

“Wanderlust is about slowly exploring sexuality, being on a journey, a journey towards finding and understanding your body and ridding yourself of shame that you’ve been conditioned to hold within you as a woman. This project really helped me realise how powerful being an artist is, turning this horrible experience into something beautiful while also making an impact with the narrative.”

Chloe Pierre

In recent years self-care, mental health and overall wellness have become keywords on social media. There are currently over 59 million posts on Instagram under the hashtag wellness (#wellness) and you don’t have to scroll that much to realise which demographic this movement centres around. 

That is where Chloe Pierre and her company, thy.self come in.

Chloe Piere is a Digital Marketing Professional who founded thy.self in 2018. Thy.self is a wellness movement and a growing community to make self-care and wellness more accessible and approachable through inclusive practices and events. 

Chloe Pierre is one of the 35 Women we interviewed in issue 1 of Disruptors magazine-book series. She is a second-generation Black British Caribbean with a background in Marketing, PR & Communication. She founded thy.self after an “intentional journey of self-discovery” – breaking up with her ex-partner, and removing toxic lifestyle and substances from her environment. That lead her to a clearer understanding of wellness and how the industry neglected different demographics in terms of diversity. From there, thy.self was born and has since been a champion for diversity and inclusivity in the wellness industry.

Since its launch, thy.self has hosted events in collaboration with gal-dem, Nike and Samsung, furthermore, they were featured in British Vogue and Forbes.

You can join thy.self and their movement by signing up to their newsletter! 

Desta Haile

The world is getting more and more interconnected and there are not many people that are as international as Desta Haile. Haile is a Bangkok-born British- Eritrean musician who lived in  Barbados, France, La Côte d’Ivoire, Jordan, Belgium,  Brazil, Turkey, Philippines and now lives in London. Throughout her life, she dedicated herself to music as a solo artist but also as a singer who provides backing vocals. Through the latter work, she realised how much easier it could be to learn languages through music. 

Music connects and transcends language barriers; so she founded Languages through Music. 

Not only does Haile hope that Language learning becomes more fun and creative but she also hopes that people would be able to learn more about the culture of the countries that speak their target languages. For this, she was awarded the BOZAR Brussels Afropolitan grant, which helped her to collaborate with African artists to create “fun materials for learning Kinyarwanda, Lingala and Swahili through Music”.

She currently holds the position of the  Deputy Director of the Royal African Society. Their mission is to amplify African and their diaspora’s voices in global conversations around academia, business, politics, the arts and education to create “more equitable relations between Africa and the UK”.

Mireille Harper 

Mireille Harper is a multi-hyphenated creative and feels most at home in publishing, around the world of words. She is a Lewisham-born and Bromley-raised sensitivity reader, editorial director and trustee for Migrateful. At the centre of her work is amplifying marginalised voices and sharing stories.

As a sensitivity reader, she reads manuscripts and scripts to read if the material is appropriate and does not perpetuate harmful stereotypes or old-fashioned views. This is only one of the side hustles she pursued while working her way up the career ladder in publishing. 

She also works in PR & Communications and does freelance writing. 

Currently, she holds the position of editorial director of Bluebird and One Boat.

“I see the role of an editor as a vessel – you are propelling someone’s words forward, helping them to transform them into a wider body of work and then sharing this thing to the world”.

She is the author of DK’s Timelines from Black History and contributed to DK’s Timelines of Everyone, The Black History Book and Migrations.

Among her many hats, she is also a trustee for Migrateful. Migrateful’s mission is to support vulnerable migrants and refugees who struggle because of language barriers and legal reasons in finding a job. 

Rahel Tesfai

“Black Hair is an integral part of black cultural identity, and I don’t think this has been fully understood in the UK.”

Rahel Tesfai in the Disruptors magazine-book series, issue 1.

To smoothen out the hair booking and hair treatment experience for black people in the UK Rahel Tesfai founded Frohub.

Tesfai was born in Eritrea and arrived as a refugee in Sweden by age four. Her background is in marketing and technology, her career was headed into digital and strategic marketing in global start-up businesses until she grew frustrated with some hair salon’s treatment towards afro hair, and founded Frohub in 2018. 

FroHub is an afro hair and beauty community and a booking platform. There you can search and discover hair salons and beauticians and book them. Furthermore, Frohub shares hair and beauty tips through blogs, tutorials and forums. Tesfai believes Black Women should enjoy their hair and be proud and confident if they choose to wear their hair natural. In general, Tesfai wants to eradicate negative connotations with black hair and challenge the current hair industry. 

“Historically, hairdressing has been one of the key industries that have given black women economic independence.” FroHub supports and nurtures hundreds and thousands of upcoming hairstyling and beauty entrepreneurs. 

Reneé Davis 

Renée Davis is a journalist, writer and founder of the networking community Out the Box.

For Renée Davis community is central to everything she does.  During University she started her blog, where she was able to hone her craft and establish her style. Straight after University, she was ready to start her career in journalism and after a conversation with someone from her church, she found her journalism mentor. Who supported her in her job search and helped her in landing her first full-time working role in a weekly magazine in London. 

Quickly realising the challenges black professionals and creatives face in the industry Davis founded the networking community Out the Box. With Out the Box Davis hopes to create a safe space for Black professionals, where creatives can feel inspired, thrive and be successful in their chosen fields. 

“I think building sisterhood and safe spaces for Black Businesswomen are important, and I’ve found comfort and solace in creating, and being part of such networks!”

Out the Box has also partnered with Google and the department of works and pension to bring free courses to their members in UX design, IT, Project Management and Data Analytics. You can join the community by subscribing to their newsletter! And see all their workshops and events on their social media.

Renée Davis is also currently the community manager of Mentor Black Business. Mentor Black Business is a resource for Black Business owners, to connect with other Industry professionals, Change Makers and Leaders. 

Issue 1 of Disruptors magazine-book series is available in digital and print copies. You can get a copy of issue 1 of Disruptors magazine-book series to read stories from over 35 women challenging the status quo for positive impact here.

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