Recently, things were looking rather uncertain for No Fly on the WALL. Our HQ, our home, and the place which has allowed us to ‘Take Up Space’ – Common House – was on the verge of closure due to gentrification and rising rent costs. However, we ran a successful crowdfund campaign and have been able to keep the place open a little longer whilst we work out a more long-term strategy for sustainability. The reality of losing our space was a stark reminder of its importance. In the four years No Fly on the WALL has existed, we’ve brought people together, given people platforms, amplified voices of some of the most marginalised in our communities and created space in which everlasting friendships, partnerships, and networks have blossomed and thrived. Our platform has been a solid example of the transformative power of bringing people together in the same room and allowing them to network and collaborate. In our first post summer-break piece, a No Fly on the WALL favourite, Tenelle Ottley-Matthew tells us why having spaces in which to meet and mingle with other Black women has been invaluable to her personal development.
The power and beauty in building relationships with black women must have dawned on me the day I attended my first black women’s brunch. Around two years ago, my spirits were lifted as myself and other black women sat in a room openly discussing all things health and body image amidst tears and laughter and just about every emotion in between. Since then, I’ve experienced those similar feelings of fullness when meeting other black women in such spaces and I often wonder how I existed without that fullness for so long.
There are several collectives, platforms and organisations that beautifully show the transformative powers of networking and collaboration among black women and women of colour. For instance, gal-dem, an award-winning magazine and creative collective consisting of around 70 women of colour, is an excellent example of the power of collaboration and what can become of it. Founded in 2015, gal-dem have taken over the V&A museum, gone on to win awards, hosted a string of impressive events and established a loyal, engaged readership.
Similarly, networking and collaboration clearly lie at the heart of platforms like Women in the City Afro-Caribbean Network (WCAN). Set up for black women and by black women, WCAN offers guidance and mentorship to ambitious black women who want to develop corporate careers in the City.
Black Ballad, TRiBE, For Women of Colour (FWOC) and of course, No Fly on the WALL put black British women at the centre of everything they do and provide spaces enabling black women to gather and express themselves through carefully curated events. Having these physical spaces that actively encourage and empower black women to connect, share our experiences and support one another is beyond powerful. The success and popularity of recent events like NFotW & TRiBE’s Black Women’s Mingle, Black Ballad’s Cocktails and Conversation and FWOC’s ‘Black Women In…’ series are a testament to how essential these safe spaces are for black women.
Black women in the UK are marginalized in society and severely underrepresented in most professional industries. I believe that this further strengthens the need for networking and collaboration among us. The 2011 Census revealed that more than half of black women in England and Wales worked in low-skilled jobs and that black women workers were “highly concentrated within the ‘Human health and social work’ sector”.
On top of the discrimination that black women often face throughout the recruitment process, the racial and gender inequalities that are prevalent in British workforces can and often does lead to further problems such as harassment and bullying. This is a frustrating and isolating experience, particularly when you’re working twice as hard as your white counterparts to get to where you want to be.
Furthermore, because black women are so invisible in the UK, when we do move up the career ladder, we’re made to feel like there can only be one or a limited number of us at the top. Holding down a full-time or part-time job and/or having a family and home to take care of means that many simply don’t have enough time to meet other black women.
Black women are virtually invisible in the UK. When we don’t have enough time to mix with each other, we may not see each other in the spaces we find ourselves in and we may not be as inclined or as enthusiastic to offer help and support to fellow black women. Perhaps the more we meet and network with each other, the more we’ll view fellow black women as partners and collaborators rather than competitors.
An obvious benefit to mixing with other black female professional is the support system it can help to create. Having a group of black women to turn to who understand your struggles and experiences is extremely beneficial for us as black women. Connecting with other black women and creating genuine bonds (professional or otherwise) could encourage more black women to continuously support and celebrate one another. In a world that routinely disrespects and undervalues us, we should seek to do this as much as we can.
Congregating in these spaces enables us to do more than simply connect with each other. We can share our frustrations, our fears, our goals and celebrate our wins too. The varied conversations we have with each other often include, but aren’t limited to, our personal experiences of racism and sexism, the politics of black hair, colourism, dating, sex and relationships, the alienation and frustration that comes with existing in white spaces and of course, the politics of black hair.
There is something about gathering with other black women that really drives home the importance of taking up as much space as we can in a world that would prefer us to remain small and silent. There are many ways for black women to take up space, we can do this by creating our own platforms, refusing to shrink or silence ourselves to make others comfortable, having important conversations online and offline and being unapologetically ourselves.
I believe that networking and collaboration not only helps to create a sense of community, sisterhood and solidarity among black women, but is a vital aspect of our success and growth. As a result of the affirmation and conversation that often comes with connecting with other black women, I feel much more comfortable and confident in myself as a black woman, and more accepting of myself as a whole. I want the best for myself, and other black women. I find that I increasingly seek to develop more meaningful relationships with other black women of different ages and backgrounds, and that doesn’t always feel like ‘networking’.
Many of the talented, intelligent black women I’ve encountered at various events like panel discussions, brunches, workshops organised by the likes of No Fly on the WALL and TRiBE. It was in these spaces, in the presence of other brilliant black women, that I felt at my most comfortable, empowered and understood.
Black women are amazing. We’ve seen time and time again that when we connect and collaborate, phenomenal things can happen. Let’s keep asking each other for help, celebrating our wins, and having each other’s backs. Black sisterhood is truly magical and we need it more than ever.
You can support the work of Common House and in turn the work of No Fly on the WALL by becoming a Friend of Common House and donating regularly. You can contribute as little as £1 a month right through to £20 or more. Little drops of water make a mighty ocean. To find out more about the scheme visit: www.commonhouse.org.uk/friends