Talking and Sharing
Social media has allowed for a lot of the above (talking and sharing) in a digital sphere, but the work of Featured Fifteen run by Helen Holden and Maya Weier below, brings people into the room to be real and direct in an old school way.
Their request to talk in Forest Hill as part of a 5 strong panel, came to me on the Gram. I said yes almost straight away, even though I usually take my time to think about these things
People offering us a window into their world is a very powerful gift, so on a warm March evening we gathered at the Signal pub for a ticketed event that was sold out.
The theme of the night? Division and Dignity. We explored how how thinking about something differently can bring us together. I'm thankful for some truly amazing insights and of course, I wanted to share the things I am learning too.... Empowerment culture is a wonderful thing no?
Esther Kwaku from Nerve Network spoke about de bunking the myths around poverty porn and our perception of charity to developing world cultures where we centralise ourselves as benefactors of opportunities and chances. Esther's passion for collaboration with people, already sewing the seeds of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking meant that she is working with women building their own schools and making business happen for themselves.
Margaret was one example - she fought gender oppression with defiance and dignity to rebuild her life after being left in ill-health by her husband, to lead her community into enterprising activities. I fell in love with Esther's style and jumped on her site (which funds development progress by working with sewing communities to create small scale industry and independence).
I love this fabric and I've ordered my skirt from a selection designs made of high quality, traditional ‘Obapa’ cotton fabric from West Africa and Kitengi from Uganda. There is a bespoke measuring system so I know it will fit me perfectly. You can enter your measurements, select the width of waistband an number of pockets. There is also an opportunity to donate towards community supplies, presented within Esther's pages. I picked out a very reasonably priced projector to help with community events - the very thing the evening was about for us too!
Emma Cambell shared her story of a nine year battle with cancer a single mum, four kids, a toddler and newly born triplets, she wrote a book about her experience of re-occuring cancer when she thought she had reached the medical point of N.E.D (no evidence of disease). We understood the all consuming noise in her head of fear that lead to a joyless existence and not being present for her children until she decided to embrace the importance of gratitude and appreciation by making the most of small moments of peace such as dunking a biscuit in tea and saying thank you.
Now four years on from her second diagnosis - although living with several tumours, Emma encouraged us to rethink her position with her as she proclaimed her faith in the wholeness of her body: her arms, her legs, her heart, her soul and her smile that have no evidence of cancer. She discusses this in her book, All that Followed, which can be ordered on amazon using the link here
She gave us all in that room an amazing gift of living for the moment. As she said ‘I am Emma, a mum, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a writer and a survivor. I’m not cancer.’ Truly a moment for humility and awe. There are no words.
Rohan Spencer and Marie Robertson (below) are owners of Smoddysharp a unique male grooming service in Forest Hill that offers a space for boys and men to talk and share as well as receive massage, manicures, and facials.
Eight years ago Rohan lost a brother to suicide. The trauma was compounded by the guilt of not understanding why his brother hadn't talked to him about his struggles. Reflecting on the stigmas surrounding mental health and unassailable masculinity, Smoddysharp aims to become a supportive environment for boys and men to take off the armour.
The vision of Rohan and Marie - to create an environment that is a 'home from home,' to encourage trust and a safe space to explore emotions like vulnerability is what they... and surely all of us, want for boys and men. When I talk about 'equality,' and you know I do, I don't forget my gender privilege as a woman, to experience my feelings and emotions without shame. Smoddy (pronounced ’smuddy’) is a Caribbean term for the aura of a person, the way one looks and styles themselves. Oh yes and there is a made to measure suit service as Rohan is a trained tailor. For more... visit their site
Husband was genuinely miffed that we live the opposite side of London when I told him..."can they set up here too?" he wonders.
I focused on the bias and stereotypes we create for ourselves unconsciously through our engagement with mass-media imagery. Am I am biased? Yes. Are you? My talk was a 'first outing,' for SEXY: The psychology and the sickness of the objectified woman.
I challenge stereotypes in my own brain all the time. So I shared how we can all be more engaged with what we are unconsciously learning when we recognise the power of image to shape our thinking. So of course I used fashion imagery. And yes I talked about gender primarily, acknowledging that race bias plays out in different ways within gender. I did my best to deliver a fairly complicated presentation in 15 minutes and readers... I rather overran. All good. It was a generous crowd with equally charming hosts, so no one yanked me off stage.
John Yabrifa, a local photographer began with, "Today is the first day I have left the house in quite a while as I’ve recently had a mental breakdown." John charted his love of people doing everyday things through his images. He grew up on the North Peckham Estate, now pretty much demolished and he has loving photographed surrounding areas giving the people and the environment a quiet dignity. ’This is my home, " he said, "and what saddens me greatly is that I can’t afford to stay here’. John talked about what identity means to him and highlighted the way a rapidly changing landscape can impact upon communities to threaten identity. He was there to remind us all of the importance of a relationship with our origins to our mental health. More than ever we can acknowledge that we live in a complex divided society. Valuing the peace to be had from living in harmony with our surroundings is something John explores so well. For more from John see instagram @jyabrifa_photography
A huge thanks to Helen and Maya. The gifts from others and the life lessons that came with this simple instagram request to talk was solid gold. For news of future events see instagram @featuredfifteen
With thanks to Stevan Borthwick for capturing the whole thing in the images you see here. For more of his work see instagram @stean68