Last Saturday, I groaned as I rose from my bed and remembered that I had booked tickets for myself AND my girls to attend the 2nd annual Black Girl Fest. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have purchased just the one ticket and I would have jumped out of bed, super-excited at the prospect of spending a day in the company of some wonderful, like-minded women. But, when the tickets were initially released, I made the decision that all three of us were going to be Black girls together. On Saturday morning, I was side-eyeing everything that moved, including myself. During Saturday afternoon, I was side-eyeing my children for holding me back from living my best Black girl life. By Saturday evening, I was ready to book us three tickets for Black Girl Fest 2019…
Nicole Crentsil and Paula Akpan felt energised and inspired enough to create Black Girl Fest (BGF) after hearing my beloved cousin *many muffled coughs*, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, speak at the 2017 Women of the World Festival at London’s Southbank Centre. I was there too that night. I remember feeling that same level of exhilaration. Only, I didn’t act on it. I’m so glad they did. Paula and Nicole now feature on the Forbes 100 Women Founders in Europe list, at numbers 9 and 11 respectively 😏
So, back to Saturday. Ahead of the day, Nicole and Paula released a programme of events, across two venues (Shoreditch Town Hall and Protein Studios), and I, as per usual, was overly ambitious. My day could have started at 10.30am, with an intro from the founders and Jamelia’s keynote speech, followed by the Motherhood Reconstructed (featuring the doctor mummy, Ria) “Black women & pregnancy” workshop, then the “Black girls in books” panel (perhaps, at that point sneaking some snacks to my kids to keep them quiet), and then at least 2 other workshops before heading across to the marketplace to spend, spend, spend 👛💸 As it was, I arrived at around midday…just in time to catch the Motherhood Reconstructed ladies, Tamu and Leah, outside, post their workshop, as they made their way to Protein Studios, and just in time to join the rather long queue outside the “How to pitch your article” workshop in Shoreditch Town Hall. My girls were already complaining (“What is this one about? How long is it? What can we do?”) and I was ignoring them 😐
We eventually made it into the workshop and I could immediately foresee that this was going to be a challenge for my children. The room was full of women, and they were all different – different ages, levels of experience, skin tones, hair types and styles, fashion preferences – but they were also all the same. They were all Black. I clocked my two soaking it all in and I was delighted.
They are very used to being quite noticeably in the minority, even in “multicultural” London. The opportunities for them to walk into spaces that are full of people who look like them are limited to family and close friend events or trips to the Black hair shops in Edmonton or Tottenham, and even then…👀 This was a unique opportunity for them.
However, I can’t even tell you who was running the session, because I was also trying desperately to ensure that the girls were at least comfortable enough that they wouldn’t mind sitting in there, for up to an hour, without distracting my attention *throws head back and laughs and laughs and laughs some more* 😂😂😂😂 The speaker started. She dropped a couple of curse words and immediately apologised in my direction. The room (including my girls) laughed. I pulled out my notepad and pen to take notes. Still anxious, I sneaked a peek at my girls. Surprisingly, they were both engrossed. I started to take some notes. Kid 1+1 asked me for some paper and a pen, I assumed for the purpose of mindless doodling. When I saw that she was actually also taking notes, I felt the inside corners of my eyes begin to prickle and moisten. My heart almost burst out of my chest.
She didn’t really know what she was writing, but she listened attentively and she wrote down what she heard down. She told me afterwards that she wanted to make sure that, between the two of us, we didn’t miss anything.
The session ended and we went to grab some lunch. While the jerk mushroom and vegan mac & cheese was right up my street, for the kids, not so much. So, we left Shoreditch Town Hall and made our way to one of the many local eateries in the vicinity. On our way out, I was tapped on the shoulder by one of my Instagram faves, Jemima, aka the beautiful @limitlessbloom! I fangirled hard, but only briefly, cos my kids were hungry so we had to leave.
As an aside, my girls had decided that BGF was an Africa festival, and had been referring to it as such from the time that I had told them that we were going. I guess it was because the majority of Black events that we have attended together have been in some way related to Nigerian culture specifically, or a wider celebration of Africa. Another reason I was so happy that I was able to bring them with me to BGF was that they could see that celebrating Blackness in Britain does not necessarily mean we are paying homage to Africa. There was something very distinctly Black British about the whole event. For the most part, the attendees, panellists and the vendors were young, British millennials. They weren’t Nigerian aunties in traditional garb. They were everyday, relatable women from across the African and Caribbean diaspora…they were the type of women my girls could easily grow up to be 💛
After eating, we made our way to the marketplace at the second venue, Protein Studios, a short walk round the corner from the Town Hall. At this point, I lost my got dam mind, some kind of spirit took control of my purse and my middle name became “Support Black Business”. I was grateful that I had told the girls to bring some of their own money, because, well… *insert any West African exclamation of frustration/vexation/annoyance/exasperation/etc* 💸💸💸💸💸
I couldn’t take as many pics as I wanted to, simply because my hands were full. But, I was able to stock up on the hair and skin care essentials from Afro hair and Skin Co and Jim + Henry I squeezed in another pair of @funkynchunky earrings. I finally got my hands on a Black fairy for the top of the Christmas tree from Clarke’s Closet (there were Black elves too, but 💸💸💸 by that point), as well as the Kente and African wax print neck rest pillows + a couple of bows for the girls!
We had to leave because temptation to continue spending money that I don’t have was too high. I had made loose arrangements to meet some friends who I knew were also attending BGF at some point. I obviously missed loads of them due to later than anticipated attendance and 2 kids, but I did manage to catch up with this bunch: Birthday girl, Tokunbo @tokunboskitchen (who I had the pleasure of interviewing for my blog last year), Sharon @london_artist1 (who I have also interviewed for my blog…pattern emerging 🤔), Angela @angebdesigns (who I haven’t yet interviewed… 😒), Tinuke @circusmum_ (who I also haven’t interviewed… ok, no pattern 🤷🏾♀️) and one of the sweetest humans you could ever meet, Tin’s first-born, Princess.
I also met up with my homegirl, Sareta @heysareta, who, like me, had come with the cliché African print headwrap (#thisisus #dealwithit). She teamed up with Kid 1, Kid 1+1 and I as we continued our BGF adventure into the Town Hall marketplace.
I’m sure I’ve already told you guys that Kid 1 is a bit of an artist. She really enjoys drawing and is honing her craft daily. So, I took every opportunity to speak to the artists that we came across, asking for advice on how to best nurture the creative talents of a 10 year old. And there were so many who were so willing to tell us their stories. We chatted to Cherelle, founder of Kitsch Noir, the contemporary card and accessory brand that celebrates diversity and inclusion, and Nadia Akingbule, a Nigerian-Russian artist (and current student) who loves Supermalt and plantain as much as I do! 😊 And I was so grateful. Especially when another lovely and very talented artist, Parys Gardener, demonstrated extreme vigilance and intervened as my girls were slyly eyeing up some of her more explicit illustration work for the Kayleigh Daniels Dated series 🙏🏾 #savethebabies
Sareta and I stopped off at almost every stand, admiring the jewellery and the art and the t-shirts and the dresses and the candles and the phone cases…there was literally something for everyone. However, by this point, my purse and my bank account were screaming at me to end my assault on them. So, I listened. And we left. But not before we grabbed this photo opportunity at the Penguin Books stand.
So, haters gon’ hate. I don’t care what anyone says about division and so-called “reverse racism” (which does not and cannot exist in 2018 Britain btw #fact), Black Girl Fest is necessary. There are so few spaces where Black women can just be, without having to scan the room to see if, yet again, we are the only one in there; without having to watch what we say lest we be labelled “aggressive”/”angry”/”loud”/”argumentative”/”confrontational” or even “strong” ; without having to be confronted by, or shield our children from, the constant onslaught of unrealistic and unnatural expectations of the female aesthetic; without having to explain our reality because we just know. And I feel so fortunate that I was able to show my daughters that there are a substantial number of Black girls living among us who are creative and funny and intelligent and independent and entrepreneurial and beautiful and caring…the list goes on. And that they are not unusual. And that big dreams are allowed. And that, with hard work, big dreams can come become reality.
When we got home, I asked the girls if they had enjoyed their day out. They were both beaming as they said yes. I believed them.
So, Paula and Nicole, thank you. We’ll be back next year.