By Mrs Tryphena Fortune
One of the wonderful things about Ubele is the way it innovatedly works to develop women. Their intergenerational approaches were taken to another level when I, as an ordinary woman of the community with a deep interest in learning and developing others, was invited to join Director and CEO, Yvonne Field, and Dr Peggy Warren as a mentee on the phenomenal ELEVATE Programme.
The ELEVATE programme is a programme designed for Women of Colour working in five Higher Education Institutions. The universities represented were, Bristol, Bath, Exeter, Cardiff, and UWE. The programme was delivered over six months and I, along with my colleague Tashi Kwame-Jones were invited to attend as mentees of Dr Warren. And what a journey…
ELEVATE has been, one of, if not, the most valuable course I've experienced. Feeling a sense of belonging, sharing time, and energy with so many incredibly open women was totally mind blowing. Even more so, to look around a room (virtually) filled with women and see myself in others, in amazing women of varied shades. Without a doubt for me it’s been time well spent.
Within moments of the course beginning, it was clear that something very different was about to happen. From the first activities of the programme, there was within this group a deep and uncommon, connection. What contributed to creating this instant connection?
I believe it was a culture of openness, a space for us as women of colour to be comfortably our unguarded, whole selves without apology or explanation. A group of women all seeking to ELEVATE themselves without having to dumb down or assimilate in order to rise to a higher level.
As I witnessed this in others and experienced it myself, I found myself feeling incredibly emotional. The women were embracing their identities and understanding it within the workplace. Learning how to cultivate ourselves as liberated women reaching higher, and further accepting, we WILL still rise.
As the sessions unfolded, the connections between the women seemed to be enhanced tenfold. Each session our growth in confidence was becoming more evident. Fear and self-relegation began to decrease, and our sense of self-belief started to ELEVATE.
Halfway through the programme, one evaluation question was… “What have I most connected with in this session?" The responses had me in tears. Here are a few of the comments that just stuck in my mind.
"Reminding myself to embrace and be proud of my home culture and to see it as an asset and an integral part of myself and not something to be hidden or rejected".
"Realisation of how cultural anchoring is fundamental to all aspects of yourself and subsequently how you live your life”.
"Importance of connecting with my own culture".
“The more authentic we are able to be, the deeper the level of connection we have with the people we work with, who see us for who we are”.
We were introduced to theories from people of colour, and though they all impacted me deeply, it was the insights of a black man, Dr Eden Charles that illuminated how I see workplace cultures and informed me how I need to re-equip myself to navigate them. I, and clearly by the response of colleagues in the session, deepened our understanding of how shadow cultures overshadow our persistent attempts at ELEVATING ourselves in workplaces.
There is something powerful being in the company of women who were re-seeing themselves as valued, able, worthy, and rightfully leaders. They were all blossoming right before my eyes. I found something building up on the inside of my heart that seemed to shout louder and louder, rise WOMAN / WOMEN… it’s possible to ELEVATE!
Driving an excitement that had me eager for the next session. Self-worth and bringing value are so powerful. I believe this course helps to unfold this in a very unique and beautiful way, understanding who we are and acceptance of this has probably been my biggest lesson.
It’s been incredibly liberating. Once we understand and recognize the value, we bring, we stand taller, rejecting the dominant narratives that we are not good enough... I wish I could find the right words to give a clearer picture. What I do know is, at each session the fullness of my heart declared: glean what you can, all that you can, because I know I have been privileged to be exposed to such awesomeness. The ELEVATE programme has achieved exactly what it promised. We women who have been minoritised, are now ELEVATED!
Tryphena Fortune is a Social and Racial Justice Activist and mentee of Dr Peggy Warren