This year alone our team of brilliant staff and associates have co-designed and hosted innovative initiatives which have centered the lived and professional experience of women.
A message from Yvonne Field, CEO and Founder of The Ubele Initiative CIC
Celebrating our Sisters / Saluting our Sisters / Matriarchs of Movements #WEMATTER
Earlier last month, I had to rush back to South Africa due to the unexpected passing of a deeply loved friend and confidant. I had only been with him two weeks prior to his death; he had organised a beautiful OBE party for me: Soweto township style.
He was quite a private person and definitely not the party hosting type, so this celebration was extra special. We met as young, fearless community and youth work students in Birmingham back in the early 80’s. He made a highly significant contribution to the ending of the apartheid regime between the mid 70’s to early 1990’s; being made stateless by the then South African government and being forced to become a refugee in the UK.
A few days after his funeral his two nephews and I opened a very small box of his papers: he has left at least 10 trunks of documentation about his life’s works. I found a letter I had written to him back in 1984 on Lambeth Girl’s Project letter heading. It took me back some 40 years to when I first threw myself into frontline work which aimed to empower young women. I was employed in my first full-time role as a youth worker alongside an older White female worker. We struggled to co-create a space within which would both have equal voice: race and age were the main areas of power imbalance: most people assumed I was the assistant worker. Even back then we knew we needed support and sort wise counsel from a Black woman consultant; she offered us great insights and strategies which helped both of us stay connected in our professional relationship. We remain friends to this day.
On leaving the project, I went on to several other roles: one that has had the most enduring impact on me was the co-creation of Obaa (Woman) an all-London Black women youth workers group: I mentioned it in an earlier blog when I celebrated some of my own community sheroes; women who mentored me as a young woman. They were the matriarchs of our early movement and left an indelible print on me: unfortunately, most have now joined our ancestors.
After Obba disbanded members remained active in communities as youth workers, advocates, educationalists, health service managers, change agents, social entrepreneurs, policy makers, senior sector leaders and academics through to retirement (or in one case until their early death). Our original group of about 15 remained committed to empowering Black communities creating deep interconnections between us woven through 40 years of sisterhood (and we know that sisters don’t always see eye to eye!). We have been there for each other through marriage, divorce, childbirth, raising teenagers, ill health, death of parents and the passing of group members. These are ‘tallawah’ women ……strong, mighty, playful and sometimes slightly absurd!
On a simple level they are my daughter’s ‘aunties’…..offering a much wider unconditional system of support. I love these women…we are sisters who have chosen each other: a lifetime of commitment that none of us could have foreseen when we first met in our early 20’s.
I have been fortunate to have collected other sister-friends along life’s path: women from university days; from in my 30’s, 40’s and some even some into my 50’s; they have steadied me when life gets slightly turbulent. I salute these women who have been my travelling partners on life’s journey with all its’ twists and turns. Those who know me well know that my life has been anything but conventional during which I have had to navigate many uneven paths.
More than three quarters of Ubele work supports and promotes women’s leadership: this was not a conscious strategy, but as my dear friend who passed away often reminded me..(in English translated from Zulu),’…women hold the blade of the knife!’.
Earlier this year I had the privilege of being surrounded by a group of younger female leaders; over a period of three weeks, I shared some of my life story and my work for our ‘Circles’ Intergenerational Leaders Programme. I celebrate all these young women activists today; they have picked up the mantle where others have left off despite the tough terrain involved both now and in the future. They are our new breed of ‘tallawah’ women.
This year alone our team of brilliant staff and associates have co-designed and hosted innovative initiatives which have centered the lived and professional experience of women. Just a few examples of this can be seen been through Elevate Women’s Leadership Programme (delivered across 5 universities in the Southwest of England); Erasmus+ Black Women’s Leadership Week (Cologne Germany) and my new Churchill Activate Canerow (Intergenerational Leadership Programme) which aims to create a model for us to consciously and proactively pass the baton. We have started to capture the stories and create stunning images of Black women activists over 60 years of age: they are often missing from our community and wider narrative (how often do we see older Black women in our media today?). These women are the ‘Matriarchs of our Movement’ and their contribution still matters.
To all those women, known and unknown…enjoy your special month: you are celebrated, saluted, and most of all deeply loved.