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A Letter From Lynette – The Year That Defined My Decade

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December 2018 – Senegal

A year ago today I was leaving a village in Senegal, having listened to a lady reflect on the loss of her two daughters to Female Genital Mutilation. Young girls are mutilated so that they can be given in marriage to men, at the risk of their pleasure and even their lives. This wasn’t new to her community, but instead of denouncing FGM, the men would be told that the young girls had passed away from an illness. Where death couldn’t make a change, community empowerment did, through an organisation called Tostan.
Rather than playing the saviour, Tostan trains and supports people who want to make a difference in their own communities. They empowered an elderly man who opened his ears and his heart to the sufferings of young girls, before visiting  multiple villages on foot, to share what he had learned about the dangers of FGM.

Tostan brought me out to Senegal, where I bonded with 5 women who became my sisters. One is a survivor of FGM and one had to run away from her village to escape FGM.  All 5 are empowering communities in different ways, to ensure that everyone understands that their value and purpose need not be dictated by cultural practices (or men).

I also visited the slave houses on Goree Island. Standing in the rooms where so many African women, men, children and babies were enslaved, caged, raped, starved and savagely beaten felt surreal. Then standing at the Door of No Return and looking out at the Atlantic Ocean, where thousands of African skeletons lie, made me feel sad but empowered to optimise my time on this Earth, by cultivating the mental, physical and spiritual strength that I know our ancestors must have had and passed on to each of us.
Fun fact: Blaise Diagne was born on Goree Island and became the first African elected to French government – they can bun our flesh but they can’t touch our spirit!

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Janaury 2019 – New Orleans

I started this year in New Orleans, where everyone I spoke to referenced significant moments in their lives as “before Katrina” and “after Katrina”. Despite the risk of another tragedy because the city STILL doesn’t have sufficient drainage systems, I could see why everyone returned to NOLA after being displaced. You get lost in the artwork, the Jazz and the Bounce which fills the city. You taste it in the Soul Food, which is ALL the food. You feel it at the Second Line and Saints games, which bring the whole city together.

New Orleans was rebuilt on a foundation of love, pride and community, which you feel on a spiritual level. We hear of the Africans who were sold in New Orleans and how their practices live on through Voodoo. But the city makes no room for their legacy to be disintegrated by the propaganda about our “dark” traditions and history. I realised this in the lead up to Mardi Gras and as I sailed across the Mississippi River, which represented freedom for so many. I appreciated how tight New Orleans holds onto its history and its  community – and I long to live in a community which does the same. 

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April 2019 – Uganda

I spent Easter in Uganda, where I got to meet entrepreneurs who are working tirelessly to invest in young people. Uganda has one of the worlds youngest populations for many reasons. In some cases, our fathers and grandfathers stay busy! Then there are cases like the 15 year-old girl who hosted me in her village in Gulu. As she cradled a baby, her aunt explained to me that she is a mother of two at her tender age. That girl is my vision of strength, as I can’t fathom the endurance it must take to live her life. While I am in awe of her strength, I pray often that this narrative will change for young girls in rural areas during my lifetime.

Back to our large youth population – Uganda is at a partiularly high risk of youth unemployment. Aside from government “efforts”, it is people like CK and Aaron who are using their resources to harness the talents of our youth. Through organisations like @innovationvillage and @enjuba1, which they each Founded respectively, these entrepreneurs are providing opportunities for young people to develop their learning and entrepreneurial capabilities.

I remember visiting Innovation Village, which was filled with budding entrepreneurs. Through his business model, CK aims to provide incubation for disadvantaged startup entrepreneurs, sponsored by the memberships of more advanced companies. As impressed as I was, he didn’t display the same excitement. Instead, he expressed exhaustion. CK told me about a meeting he had had with a Ugandan MP, who told him he would cause issues by sharing opportunities. Her logic was that the less young people knew about funding and careers opportunities, the less demand there would be, so the government would be able to maintain a balance between supply and demand. Suffice to say, Uganda’s growing youth population needs community leaders like CK and Aaron – and I’m personally grateful for them

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June 2019 – Lisbon

I learned on my visit to Goree Island in Senegal, that the Portuguese instigated the Atlantic Slave Trade. So when I was invited to speak at a conference in Lisbon, I took the opportunity to learn more about their history on a walking tour of the city. I learned about the Black Knights and Clergymen who co-existed with the Portuguese during the slave trade. I learned about Africans being baptised when they were enslaved and the role of the Church in upholding their oppression. I learned about Capoeira, a martial art which was created by Africans for self defence after they were taken to Brazil by the Portuguese. Those who escaped in Brazil formed small villages called Quilombos, which embodied community empowerment. That community empowerment reappeared in the Carnation Revolution, a military coup in Lisbon, which overthrew Portugals colonisation of African countries. Portuguese soldiers became allies with African revolutionaries because they disagreed with the forced labour that took place on the continent after slave trade “ended”.
I also learned about the powerhouse that is Graca Machel (pictured above). Her first husband, Samora Machel, became the first president of Mozambique, after leading the country to independence from Portugal. Her second husband, Nelson Mandela, needs no introduction. They do say that behind every great man… (you know the rest).

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October 2019 – Detroit

I spent my birthday in Detroit, the one city that I’ve been desperate to visit for the last 4 years. I met Corey, a Detroit native, in 2015 at the 50th anniversary Million Man March on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. We had both travelled solo to hear Minister Louis Farrakhan deliver a speech about the continued need for Black people to organise – not in exclusion, but with the support of our allies. That day on Capitol Hill, there was no such thing as a celebrity. We were all marching, dancing, listening, and chanting Kendrick Lamars “we gon’ be alright” as one people (though I still got gassed by J.Cole being there). After the March, Corey and I talked, and talked, and talked, until we had walked the streets of what felt like the whole of Washington and all the trains back to New York were no longer running. So I stayed in Washington and we talked, and talked, and talked some more. He told me about having a mother who was an addict and being one of 12 siblings who had 12 different fathers. He told me about losing his scholarship to go to uni and play basketball after getting shot in the leg. He told me about his sister who was burned in a car trunk by her partner and warned me never to visit Detroit alone. Ever the stubborn Scorpio, I eagerly waited for an opportunity to visit Detroit alone.

When I went to the Million Man March in 2015 Detroit was still known as the Motor City that had lost its industry and become bankrupt. But when I visited in October, I was blown away by the community spirit through which Detroit is rebuilding itself. I visited the Charles H. Wright museum, which is the worlds largest African American history museum. I heard Dr Nicole Farmer talk about her experience of having a baby at 15 then becoming a millionaire because a Jewish couple saw something in her (again, allies). I watched a social entrepreneur present his business model to his community, explaining that $4 per month could put hundreds of youth through education by providing scholarships . I saw the pride of Detroit as everyone I spoke to told me about Dan Gilbert, an entrepreneur who stayed in Detroit and reinvested millions to rebuild the city when it went bankrupt. I watched a poet perform a piece where she reflected on her city being left behind, only for the masses to now flock to Detroit to become a part of the rejuvenated tech and automobile hub. I watched the Detroit Youth Choir come back to perform for their community after putting the city on the map with a gold buzzer win on America’s Got Talent. I heard entrepreneurs and celebrities relentlessly emphasise the importance of ownership at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. From equity, to property, to community savings, they emphasised the importance of Black people taking up more space in the realm of ownership. I visited the Nation of Islam Temple No.1 where Malcolm X taught. I visited Aretha Franklin’s fathers Church. I visited the underground railroad where Fredrick Douglass historically gave a speech. I visited MoTown, which was home to many legendary black musicians and I visited the Ford Factory, where Henry Ford went against the grain and employed black men when it was frowned upon. Detroit reminded me of NOLA in that it had a history that was so rich that even a financial crisis couldn’t keep its residents away. These two cities showed me how powerful we can be when we know our true history. Detroit specifically showed me how reliant we must be on community, ownership and allies if we are to be truly resilient.

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December 2019 – London

In September, I became a Senior Lecturer, I was selected to talk at the TedxEuston ideas search, I was invited to do my first panel talk and I found out I’d be studying for my Doctorate in Business Administration come January. Historically, my health has always deteriorated at pivotal moments and this time was no different. I visited a Gynaecologist with fibroids the size of a 14-week pregnancy and he told me very bluntly that he was booking me in to have a myomectomy and I’d need to try and have kids soon. I felt like the past year had taken me through a journey of discovering and defining my purpose – only for me to feel more lost than ever. I cried every day for weeks but I was not alone. I cried on the shoulders of my support system, until I was all cried out and ready to get back to business.

Up until this point, I’ve been writing about community, allies and ownership in the sense of countries, cultures, revolutions etc. but we need community, ownership and allies on a personal level,  just to get through daily life.
I became part of two support groups filled with Black women, as we are most susceptible to fibroids. My friends and family continue to make it their personal mission to share testimonies, prayers and research findings to get me through the daily struggles of living with a hidden chronic illness.
TedxEuston didn’t just invite me to speak at their Salon, they made me a part of their community thereafter, inviting me to celebrate their legacy and connect with my peers.
Forbes went out of their way to ensure that the Under 30 community stay connected through social events and a LinkedIn style app which allows us to keep communicating with one another. When I spoke on the Alt Urban panel they literally escorted us off the premises because everyone was engrossed in connecting and continuing conversations around community investment as a means of ownership. I’ve also made allies through OneTech, YSYS and CapitalEnterprise, who have literally created communities of entrepreneurs.

Then there’s Elimu.

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This Fellowship has been an idea for years. I always knew that ‘formal’ education may underserve us, but that education is critical for economic empowerment. My undergrad dissertation looked at unemployment for young black men in the UK, which was at a staggering 50% at the time. I interviewed young black men and found that they were intellectual in many different ways, yet the education system was providing a one size fits all curriculum, which was undervaluing their talents. The interview with my younger brother stuck with me the most. It was clear that he wasn’t incapable (he was top 5 in Lewisham for SATs) he was just uninspired. I could relate because my A-Levels and undergrad were a similar experience. I felt unqualified because I didn’t understand much, yet imposter syndrome prevented me from asking questions. So I became more concerned with making money than I was with my mundane experiences in the classroom. However, I  learned later in life after excelling in my Masters, that I was qualified to learn – everyone is. I just had a number of cultural, mental, physical and financial barriers which had prevented me from learning effectively. This realisation planted the seeds for the Elimu Fellowship.
Tostan, Africa Consulting and Trading and the uni where I lecture were all instrumental in creating the Elimu Fellowship model.  I was then blessed to develop a Board with 6 other people whose desire for change aligned with my own. Each Board meeting we’ve had has left me feeling inspired and excited for our January rollout and this feeling was only topped last week when we held our first meet and greet. Our guest speakers started out as allies, but now we are building a community. The EF model will be our intellectual property – ownership. Our Fellows will remain a part of our network after the programme – community. They will have opportunities to learn from our guest speakers and mentors – allies. They will also create business plans for which 3 teams will receive financial and in-kind support to develop the initiatives – ownership.

I’ve always felt like my journey had to be complete before I shared it, but the ups and downs of this year have taught me a lot about resilience – and that no journey ends (until it all ends). I’ve been blessed to experience the resilience of our ancestors, the resilience of cities that were destroyed through natural or financial disasters, the resilience of entrepreneurs who have to pick up the slack of governments, the resilience of people and communities who have had the odds stacked against them and the resilience of the amazing people I’ve met who have created products, services, experiences and movements. Through my travels, my personal experiences and the connections I’ve made, I’ve deeped that I need community, I need allies and I need ownership to be resilient. I’m blessed to be able to identify all three in my life and I’m making it my personal mission to ensure that all 30 of our Elimu Fellows will be able to say the same this time next year. So note this in your calendar and hold me accountable!  Until next time…

– Lynette Nabbosa

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1 review
  • Samalie Sessanga
    11:47 pm - December 13, 2019. Reply

    Having tagged along on parts of Lynette’s journey, I find her letter thought provoking. The realisation of how our past is still visible in the present day. Heart renching seeing Africans in tourist areas peddling (doing business) on tourist beaches, historical areas in Lisbon filled with desolate Africans some still offering ritual/voodoo for luck and yet all ready to run from police patrolling the areas. In Marrakech same African peddlers with mundane goods. I have heard about experiences of African workers in the Arab world and question myself will our strife ever end? This is a better life than back home, will Africa ever get leaders that value it’s people and work towards making Africa attractive to its people.
    Lynette your endeavours are putting light to our plight and I hope we learn to walk away from the past which is still defining our future.

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