Who is the woman who attends a community practitioner conference in South Africa where she is the only person of colour amongst the delegates and pledges there, that she is going to find a way to create opportunities for people of colour to attend overseas conferences?
Who is the woman who invests a significant proportion of her life looking into her community with a heart that desires to see men and women, young and old have opportunities to create and sustain the creation of their own wealth?
Who is the woman who from an early age believed she could be an entrepreneur and that she could support others to become entrepreneurs?
Who is the woman who sees a need in her community for great leaders, identifies potential and makes an intentional attempt to invest in and connect people with expertise and experience? Who leads and contributes to the development of awesome, influential, transformational, community leaders who go on to make significant impact for racial and social justice in their communities and places of employment?
Who is the woman who has the skills and ability to select and connect talent from all parts of Africa, the Caribbean, bringing those hearts, minds, passions, and compassion to infuse, inform, create, and fulfil her vision of building community wealth and strong leadership?
Which ordinary black woman can gather the old, the aging, the mid lifers, the youth, and children in one context with one vision to make the world and especially the lives of people of colour in our world a better place?
You may say such a woman does not exist. You may say she only exists in dreams. You might even call her a dreamer, and that is exactly what she has always been. If there are no dreams, then, there are no dreams to transition to reality.
On August 14, 2021, I boarded a plane from Manchester UK to Heraklion, in Crete. By Monday August 16th, I was part of a team who converged under the umbrella of UBELE ready in minds, bodies, and spirits to immerse themselves in a strategic development planning week.
Amongst those in the room were: historians, strategists, academics, project leaders, project developers, financiers, educators, entrepreneurs, consultants, play writers, directors, actors, authors, mental health experts, artists, researchers, community activists, cultural horticulturalists, breathing experts, bid writers, strategic planners, and visionaries. Who knows the number of languages that were represented in the room and the centuries of collective professional experience and expertise represented there?
Each day the 20+ members convened to undertake a range of activities under the guidance of the Greek facilitator Markos Perrakis, supported by the UK lead, Michael Hamilton. Each day the rooms were be filled with passion and wisdom and for the most part, there was an absence of explicit ego and hierarchy. The days were filled with exploration of ideas, sharing, challenging, phrasing, and rephrasing. Of exploring and experimenting, of disagreeing without disappearing.
No, don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t like to mislead you. Of course, there are differences in opinions and different suggestions for approaches. This group was not perfect, they were human and humane. They were passionate, and they were committed. What was refreshing was that within the spaces all the differences were as welcomed as the areas of commonality and where appropriate, timely compassionate challenges were offered to support rethinking, deeper thinking, and reflection. The group worked hard with dedication and commitment as a community of practice who wanted to be, the best they could be, in supporting local black and people of colour communities to thrive. Whilst at the same time, themselves been strategically positioned to challenge and disrupt the systems practices and structures within institutions that were socially and racially inequitable.
In 2020 following the global lens on Black Lives through ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Asian Lives Matter’ and with the current issues in Afghanistan and Haiti and so many other countries all over our world this group of organisers did not lose sight of the importance of catering for the whole person, of providing for participants’ health and well-being.
Within this busy and impactful programme were scheduled two days for exploration and relaxation. A brief commentary of a day trip follows:
Our coach was quiet, no commentary, just hushed private conversations. The very high mountains are welcome challenges for eagles who could be seen skilfully gliding in, then disappearing.
1st stop for 30mins for refreshments and a comfort break with the promise that we would be able to view a small island on the most southern side of Crete, beyond which is Africa (Egypt).
Arriving at Frangokastello beach we gathered our packed lunches and headed off, amongst the larger group were the shade seekers, the sun loungers, the swimmers, and the foot dippers, all arranged in small groups to enjoy the glassy cool sea and the toasty hot sand underfoot.
After a couple of hours in the beautiful clear blue water allowing vitamin D to permeate the largest organ of our bodies we reassembled and were back on the coach for a somewhat bumpy drive through roads surrounded by stony mountains to Imbros gorge. There, 3 spirits (Greek alcoholic beverages) were introduced to the Ubele group, some welcomed them, then all posed for photos at the heights of the gorge.
Then onboard our bus and off again. Arriving at a most beautiful lake, enthusiastic bodies journeyed down the hill to take in the amazingly beautiful sight of the sleepy lake. The road to which was littered with souvenir shops with colourful potteries, olive products and a range of artistic crafts. Wearied bodies ascended the hill on the return, some stopping to purchase small items which were presented in colourful bags. Finally, we headed back to the hotel. Where wearied but grateful bodies dispersed to revive themselves for another day of planning tomorrow.
COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and a range of identified health, structural, systemic, and behavioural inequalities, and discrimination has once again raised the importance of the differentiated support required for black and minoritised community groups.
Finally, in the eyes of UK’s national and regional funders and influencers, Ubele’s decade of groundwork, connections, impact, influences and impressive track record of engaging with communities with great results had been given the national recognition that it so deserved but had previously eluded it.
Ubele’s courage to take a team of highly qualified, experienced professionals to Crete at any time would have been a huge undertaking but during a time where COVID-19 is ravaging so many parts of our world it was truly a bold undertaking. For this assignment, recognition goes to Mo Gedi, the Project Manager, who painstakingly familiarised herself with the multiple requirements of both the United Kingdom and Greece with a view to keeping the UK participants and the Crete citizens safe. That was no small undertaking as countries require participants to have tests which vary according to Covid-19 vaccine status as well as to complete inbound and outward passenger locator forms and undertake Covid-19 tests ready for entering and exiting countries. Add to those, the complexity and variety of dietary needs and the range of variable human needs that must be considered for inclusive experiences. Mo Gedi managed to undertake this mammoth task with grace, an unwavering supportive spirit and near saintly patience. In fact, Mo’s approach made the formidable task seem effortless.
So, let’s revisit the questions at the beginning of this piece:
A stubbornly, committed, visionary one, born in South London to a fiercely activist mother. The woman who has since made multiple international educational trips a reality for intergenerational groups from the UK and beyond for the past years.
A formidable female, liberatory, activist and educator who refused and still refuses to be kept back or held down by systems, structures or behaviours that are racist, discriminatory, or oppressive.
A woman who refused and still refuses to make dreams die. Not only her own, but those of her ancestors and the youth that are coming behind her, including those she will not see but in her ancestral role she ‘feels’ their dreams. An extraordinarily, ordinary woman who has made personal sacrifices to keep not only her dreams but the vision she has for her ‘people’ alive.
A woman with a gift that you could easily miss if you don’t stop to stare. A woman who possesses no airs and graces, who lives within the human binaries of haves, and have nots, aged and young, gentle, and forceful, relaxed and intense, serious and fun, transforming what inequitable systems normalised, being disruptive in contexts less travelled by people and especially by women of colour.
That woman exists! I’ve met her.
I have both worked with her and seen her at work.
I stand in awe, though I know she wouldn’t want me to.
I’m done with waiting, procrastinating, and hesitating.
Stand with me please and salute:
Madam, Yvonne Field - the dreamer whose dreams have and are coming through much less for her personally and much more, (if you belong to the black community or are an advocate for social and racial justice) for you, for me and the generations yet to be.
Thank you, Yvonne. We love, value, and appreciate you and we commit to aligning with you as part of the Ubele community.
by Peggy P. Warren
Peggy P. Warren is an educator, consultant and researcher, Peggy has more than 25 years of combined training, senior strategic leadership and organisation development experiences in the National Health Service and community settings. She has experience setting up and supporting the continual development of health promotion and education initiatives in the UK, NGOs in Haiti, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Peggy has a keen interest in women’s studies, undertaking research in women’s lived experiences in education and workplace contexts. Her research has been presented as an ethnodrama, in podcasts as well as performed on stage to access groups who would not usually engage with research.
Peggy’s commitment to social and racial justice has led her to undertake investigations into racial inequity in employment contexts. She has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of how to create change within organisations. She has designed and delivered culturally informed leadership programmes for Higher Education Institutions. Peggy is involved in education projects nationally and internationally. Her pedagogy is a transformational one that seeks to challenge the complexities of systemic inequities as well as motivating and inspiring participants on their bespoke trajectories to self-development. Peggy is also an author. Her PhD thesis was adapted for publication, which is entitled: Black Women’s Narratives of NHS Work-based Learning.