The truth is, I decided not to apply.
I told myself that I had nothing of value to offer. I was a paralegal at the time and I had interpreted the delayed gratification to qualification as failure. I was also ashamed to be a black woman who had not (from what I believed) accomplished much and feared I would stand out and possibly be judged by the other Big Sisters. I didn’t want my Little Sister to think that she had been done a disservice by being paired with me. I believed that I had to accomplish all my goals and have everything “together” first, to be the best representation as possible.
I have always carried deep within me a passion for social justice, women empowerment and investing in our youth. I have always envisaged myself working to make a difference in people’s lives, even in the minutest of ways. I just didn’t think that now was that time. Little did I know, I was long before impacting people’s lives around me and that this was to be a lifelong journey and not something that could wait. The opportunity to be part of the Big Sister programme did not arrive in my inbox by chance, it was the catalyst that helped me refocus and reconnect with my purpose.
For a very long time in my life I could not identify a role model to aspire to. There were people who were undoubtedly inspirational but none who I considered role models. During my time at university I started to learn more about Maya Angelou and, long and behold, I found my role model. Her words, her life and her legacy allowed me to see the significance that we all have in this vast and unruly world. She reminds me daily that, no matter what we have done or what we have failed to do, we all have something to offer the world and it would be such a loss if we were to choose to bury our gifts instead. Bringing this to the forefront of my mind reminded me that all it takes is a seed. Maya Angelou planted a tiny seed in me and I now had an opportunity to do the same. My task was not to demand that my impact be huge and loud and evident on day one, but to simply plant a seed in this young person’s life. A seed that takes root, and though it may take a little time, grows and develops branches which then bear flowers (or fruits) which will inevitably bless others.
As the famous quote says:
“IF NOT ME, WHO?
IF NOT NOW, WHEN?”
I recognised that I had something of value to impart and I also had something of value to gain. I came to the UK with my parents as immigrants. We lived on council estates and I went to state schools. I did not graduate with A’s and A*’s but I worked extremely hard. I went to college then obtained a law degree at university and continued to law school. I have always brushed shoulders with exceptional students from more privileged backgrounds who seemed to have endless resources at their fingertips. I had none of that. All I had in my arson was ambition, determination and a lot of hard work but I did not see the value in these attributes for a very long time. The years of endless rejections and dealing with biases within the industry only made me feel worse and before I knew it, my self-confidence and my internal narrative and self-perception had darkened and deteriorated immensely. If I had stopped to look around, I would have seen that I was usually one of a few, if not the only, black person and woman in these spaces and, despite the odds, I kept going.
Now here I stand as a qualified solicitor working and earning my respect and rightful place amongst those I thought to be more exceptional than me. Here I am taking up space amongst them and holding my own and doing so defiantly and brilliantly – I guess that would make me exceptional too, right? I know so.
Representation matters. Seeing successful (used in the subjective sense here) women who look like you as Big Sisters (and other roles) is inspirational and centres you in the conversation and most importantly, in the world. You now feel that this is applicable to you too and the reach doesn’t seem so far. It is encouraging to know that others have been before you and that others will come after you. It is encouraging to know that you too can do what you set your mind to and have others as a reference point. Perhaps you too can boldly take up space and make room for more who look like you.
We all have something of value to offer and we all have space to take. Inspire the next generation of women to believe this about themselves.
Start where you are with what you have – it is more valuable than you know.
Clémence Mimbulu 🌻