Reflecting on 2018: The Emergence of Through the Eyes of African Women & Finding My Purpose
When my Editor in Chief asked me to write about my growth in 2018 I found myself struggling because I wanted to say Through the Eyes of African Women is not about me or my growth. It’s about other women. I was confronting the very first problem I was faced with when I began working on this project. I was so worried about my single voice overshadowing the collective that I did not want to speak at all. Who am I to share my story? Through the Eyes of African Women is here to serve, and so am I. But as I reflected on all the major moments for me this year, I found that there was a balanced narrative because none of those moments would have been what they were without other people.
To begin with, Oprah’s Time’s Up speech reminded me of what I value, at a time when I was feeling aimless and uncertain. It reminded me that there is a battle going on right in front of me and that I am part of a group of Warrior women who are fighting to change the status quo because it is just not good enough. In December of 2017 I attended a premier screening of a documentary about widows in Nigeria. Seeing their strength in the face of heartbreaking adversity, and getting to meet the women in the documentary is ultimately what triggered the idea for Through the Eyes of African Women in its early stages, as I thought “where are these stories? If it’s the year of the woman, why aren’t we hearing the stories of African women”.
2018 was also the first year I was part of protest. Marching, side-by-side, with hundreds of other Nigerians in solidarity with the girls my age who had the courage to call out those who sexually abused them in a country that offers nearly no support to survivors, gave me the strength to confront the person who had hurt me the most and begin healing. At the We Will Not Be Silent March I felt more emotion, power and pain than I had ever felt before as I shouted with everything I had in me. The safe space event I organised with Seyilogo Braithwaite was meant to be for other survivors but it turned out that their support was also everything that I needed at that time. As a result of the march, I also met Angel Nduka-Nwosu- the fabulous co-founder of As Equals- and joined a community of incredible young African feminists from all over the continent. Our compelling conversations and the fire of every individual inspired me so much and fueled my determination to build Through the Eyes of African Women so that we could serve them and more women and men like them.
Most of all, Professor Meyerhoff’s faith in my ideas and vision led to me becoming the only undergraduate fellow in Duke’s social movements lab as a freshman and that experience alone has had such a profound impact on my life. Without the social movements lab I would not have met the truly inspiring activists that changed my life and how I see the world. The lab epitomises my growth as a learner and activist. Even without knowing it, the social movements lab and the experiences and interactions it has opened me up to are everything I came to university for.
The truth is, all that I am and all that I hope to be is driven and dressed in the dreams of other people. It is not possible for me to tell the story of my 2018 without talking about the experiences and stories of other people. The greatest lesson I learned in 2018 was how to let the voices of other people help me find my own. How to let their experiences and stories guide me down the path to my purpose. And how to lean on them when I felt like I didn’t have the strength to go on. 2018 was just the beginning of new chapter for me, but I know that these are lessons I will need moving forward.
Now when I think back to the many conversations I had with my mentors, mulling over the dilemma of acknowledging my voice and perspective in the work I do, i now know that I misunderstood what things like collectivism and intersectionality are really about. It’s not about reducing yourself for the sake of others, or even thinking that you somehow matter less. It’s about understanding that other people’s stories catalyse and colour ours. I realised I don’t need to find two separate story lines for the Through the Eyes of African Women and Anwulika Ngozi Okonjo because they are interwoven and inseparable just like all of ours. Everyone matters, including me, and when we exclude some we risk not fully understanding how we came to be.
At times I get really anxious when I think about the fact that TEAW is no longer just mine. It isn’t just some project I’m working on in some quiet corner. I have a team and an ever growing network of people that are rooting for TEAW and relying on it to make a major difference in this world. It’s very daunting to think about; the stakes were a lot lower when it was just me. But it’s also incredibly exhilarating because Through the Eyes of African Women isn’t just part of my story; it’s part of Margret’s, Tari’s, Tito’s, Tife’s, Mariam’s , Charlene’s and everyone we connect with. We are part of something great and we are creating something that matters. That alone makes me extremely excited about 2019 and every year that is to come.
I can’t even explain how grateful I am for the immense support I have received from my family, friends and so many people who were once total strangers. Their belief in me and my vision, and their willingness to share their experiences with me helped me find my purpose. In 2018, I realized just how much power I hold within me. I learned that my my mind is my strength, my intensity isn’t a flaw, and my community is my greatest asset. I feel like I am becoming the person I am meant to be. My feet are planted firmly on this path and I am heading towards something that I know will transform my life and the lives of millions of people.