Browse Category: Special Series

Love and Afrofeminism: 5 Core Self-Care Principles Every Activist Should Live By

AfrofemLoveIn March, I shared my philosophy about using self care as a tool to creating sustainable movements in a piece I wrote following an appearance: Celebrating Audre Lorde with Jamaican Feminists: Media Activism, Self Care, and Virtual Sisterhood.

The responses I received–both at the event and around the post–were overwhelming positive. But the subsequent requests for practical day-to-day advice for caring for oneself while caring for community prompted me to reflect on what it means for activists to really practice self care… not just as some fluffy theoretical concept reserved for the privileged, but as an accessible set of principles, applied consistently towards a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

Incidentally, it was around this time last year that I launched my popular Love and Afrofeminism (#afrofemlove) series, through which I explored gender, sexuality, and race issues through the lens of empathy, compassion, and self-love.

Hence, I couldn’t be happier to relaunch my #afrofemlove series with an offering of the principles that have guided me in my own journey thus far. The following principles can certainly be used by everyone, but I especially hope they resonate with my fellow activists, people whose work revolves around the practice of loving so many others that, too often, they forget to love themselves, and each others.

Here’s to no more of that.

5 Core Self-Care Principles Every Activists Should Live By

1) Self-Care Requires Planning 

Plan the pampering ahead of time. Okay, to be honest, it’s often not “pampering” I’m doing; I’m recovering, resting, slowing down. The truth is I’m a workaholic; if I don’t plan or schedule my self-care ahead of time, it’ll never happen; I’ll just keep going and going, until I crash. It’s a shame, but after years of teetering on the verge of burnout, I’ve learned to stop denying that I have a problem, and have learned to work around it. 

For instance, as a way of punctuating my non-stop work schedule with “rest stops,” my partner and I now plan at least one semi-sized vacation every 6 weeks or so, and about six months ahead of time. The rest stops could include anything from visiting family for a long weekend to traveling overseas. I apply the same planning effort to my weekly and monthly schedules as well: mid-week lunches with friends and lunchtime runs are my favorite. The best part? I usually that forget I’ve planned ahead.

Nothing beats getting a vacation calendar reminder (“France Vacation in 5 Days!”) right in the middle of a hell week, receiving a text from a friend confirming that we’re still on for cooking dinner together the following evening, or even taking a “Disney sing-a-long” break for 15 minutes on Youtube during my lunch break. Laugh all you want, it puts the biggest smile on my face and it costs me nothing, which brings me to my next point…

2) Self Care Doesn’t Have to Cost Money

Yoga retreats, spa days, and island getaways are awesome, yet, despite perceptions, they’re definitely not the only way to practice self-care, and they’re certainly not always accessible (or sustainable); such  luxurious activities require that you interrupt your regular schedule (and budget) to “recharge”, but not everyone can spend money on a last minute getaway.

As a child, I remember always being able to create fun in and out of any environment–my leftover food, bedroom walls, my mother’s lotions. Then, adulthood happened, and I went from being the child whose imagination could fill an entire afternoon to living as a young professional who only saw fun in five categories: shopping, clubbing, movies, dining out, and gyming. And whilst, I enjoyed those activities, when I left the steady paycheck for the life of a social entrepreneur, I experienced a serious decline in my mental health because I could no longer buy my way into feeling stronger or healthier.

The sudden change in income was probably the best thing that happened to me now that I think about it: after years of belonging to a gym, I learned to run outside; after years of late night takeout, I discovered the joy of cooking new recipes I found online; I got back into playing music (guitar); and most importantly, I got back into reading, writing, and in the case of no internet, singing entire segments of my iTunes library by choosing a random letter of the alphabet. (Don’t judge). The best part? All my favorite hobbies are free.

3) Self Care Doesn’t Have to Cost Time, Either

A few months ago, an important, provocative (albeit insensitive and condescending  article titled, “An End to Self-Care” sparked debate in activist circles about the elitism and individualism in self-care (vs community-care). I was pissed, yet, I must admit, the article forced me to reflect on the ways  in which I practice self-care as a lifestyle (vs. a quick fix when I’ve been “bad”); I practice integrating self-care into my everyday and approach it the way I do brushing my teeth, eating lunch, even using the bathroom–not as activities that ‘cost’ me time, but as necessary aspects of every day, healthy living.

That said, as a business owner who works *all the time* (’cause when I stop working, I stop getting paid–most startup entrepreneurs don’t get paid time off), coming up with accessible, every day self-care practices that I can seamlessly incorporate into my day has been critical. Sure, there are days on which I can afford the time,  and thus choose working out, taking leisurely walks, playing video games, watching films on Netflix etc. But I have many more “hell days” when I’m up  at 6 am and can’t stop working till 9 or 10 at night. How to sustain myself then?

Several simple ways, actually. For one, I make sure that I enjoy my workspace. As this is a room in my home, I need to make sure it’s tidy, organized, and flowing with clean, fresh energy, since this boosts my productivity. I build in a reward system into my workplan (e.g. “Once I turn in this article, I will make myself some yummy honey-ginger tea!”); this may seem silly, but it keeps my work outlook positive, and based on successes (rather than failures), which reduces the risk of stress.

4) Self-Care Doesn’t Come in a One-Size Fits All

Quite often, when I mention that I’m feeling overworked or managing stress, people will tell me to do yoga. “Yoga is awesome. You should really try it. There’s nothing better. Om Om Om. Namaste.” I love asking other people what they do to recharge, how they integrate self-care into their routines, and what new home remedies I can try out for myself, precisely for the reason that not every “revolutionary self-care practice” will work for me.

Take yoga for example: one cannot deny the benefits, but I’m not disciplined enough to practice yoga on my own and attending group sessions filled with white women dressed in fancy yoga garb (and who repeatedly give you weird, othering looks) only reminds me of my work as an activist–fighting racism and classism everywhere, even in a damn yoga class. This is not my idea of relaxing. But, when I voice this to others, I’m often told, “You haven’t tried it long enough… Find another class… Trust me, it really will do wonders for your mental health.”

But the truth is this: I tried yoga for ten years. I prefer a good, sweaty run outside to sitting still and breathing any day. On cold, rainy days, dancing in my living room to Afropop music for 30 minutes works just as well. For nurturing mindfulness, I write in my journal while listening to epic movie scores, such as my favorite from Lady in the Water, “The Healing.” And for a sense of “inner peace,” I sit on my porch next to my favorite tree, Sanchez, and daydream. Sometimes, I draw my daydreams–stick figures mostly; I trace out scenes from my life as it is and call forth the future I want using colored pencils and magazine clippings. See, what works for others, won’t always work for me, and that’s okay; caring for yourself means taking the time to learn what your self needs.

5) Self-Care and Community Care are Interconnected

There’s been quite a bit of debate between proponents of self-care and community care, but they needn’t be oppositional forces. In fact, I’ve found but personally and professionally that both are critical for sustainability and survival.

The fact is this: If group spaces practiced mindfulness more intentionally, I wouldn’t have to retreat into ‘self-care defense mode’ as often I as do. If all my bosses respected vacation days, if meeting facilitators integrated more 5 minute breaks, if activist leaders extended their principles of self-care to the management of their teams and partners, if companies — hell, I’m on a roll here — reimbursed gyms alongside all the fancy dinners and booze, we’d all be better off; we’d all feel better supported in our own efforts to take better care of ourselves. 

So that’s it folks–my work in progress: 5 self-care principles to help guide (y)our practice, and help ensure that we’re living and sharing self-care and community care tips, advice, and tools that are accessible to as many people as possible. I hope you find them useful. 

What other core principles would you add to this list? 

What Kind of African Doesn’t Speak Any African Languages? Me.

AfropolitansLast year, I attended a conference that brought together African thought leaders. In a session about African identity, we explored the question of whether one could claim to be African without being fluent in any African languages. A passionate, and near disruptive debate ensued almost instantly.

What Language Do You Speak? (aka Do You Speak “Us”?)
I’ve had this conversation about language and identity time and again with Africans I meet on my travels. My afropolitan (i.e. world citizen) accent throws them off – a mix of American, Nigerian, and what’s often mistaken for British diction, simply because I enunciate my Ts.  (Perhaps it’s the remnants of attending a British-run primary school; not likely though.). Bread-breaking usually comes to a halt until the matter of my accent (origin) is cleared up. They simply must know which language I speak so that they can place me in one of two boxes: one of us, or one of them.

When I tell the cultural gatekeepers that I’m from Nigeria, and my accent is the result of living in the states for the past 12 years, they’re still not satisfied. “Are you sure you weren’t just born there?” they ask, “You don’t sound like you grew up in Nigeria.” I usually respond by asking them what a Nigerian who grew up in Nigeria sounds like, then hear some variation of “Like the people in Nollywood movies.” And when I tell them, I’m sorry to disappoint, I’m not an actress but an activist, I’m Nigerian through and through–I just went to the states for university, they deliver the kicker, “Well, prove it. What language do you speak?” The minute I respond with English (“Oh…”), it’s all downhill from there.

To Speak or Not to Speak: Assimilation vs. Accents
African ImmigrantsFrom tensions in Spain over mandating Spanish (versus indigenous languages like Catalan) to U.S. debates over bilingual education and attempts to ban speaking Spanish at school, the issue of language is a sore spot for many communities. Such language restrictions are often seen as direct attacks on minority cultures, especially for black immigrants who struggle to affirm their cultural heritage in the absence of their native language. Yet, ironically, immigrant parents in the U.S. are less likely to teach their children their native languages, for the purpose – or rather, the sake – of easing their assimilation into English-speaking culture.

The latter scenario resonates deeply with me. I grew up with a father who wasn’t fluent in his mother tongue, Agbor (a region-specific dialect of Ika), because his father had outlawed the language being spoken in the house. My grandfather–who worked as a civil servant during Nigeria’s colonial era–had valid reasons for doing so. In those days, speaking “proper” English meant you got the “good jobs,” which meant increased access to resources, and an improved livelihood for one’s family. Sadly, even though my father openly resents never having learned his family’s language, his wife–my mother–refused to teach me her native tongue, Igbo, for a similar reason.

nigeria educationColonialism did a number on Nigeria’s education system; as I was growing up, public schools were plagued with lack of resources, frequent strikes, cult violence, sexual harassment, and prostitution. Hence, my mother’s desire to see me succeed meant equipping me with tools to ensure I could thrive outside of the country I called my home. For instance, I would attend an international British-run private school, where white teachers would single out the only other black kid in the class for not pronouncing “stomach” correctly ( “stuh-muck”, not “stoh-mack” apparently); only an American or British university would do; I would not learn my native tongue until I spoke English “perfectly” and no longer risked picking up a “bad, Nigerian accent” that would make it harder for me “over there.”

You see, both my parents studied in Los Angeles in the 70s; on top of the (incomprehensible to me) racism of the time, they also faced American imperialist views and discrimination against “foreigners.” My mother was repeatedly rejected by employers for speaking too “harshly”, eventually forcing her to give up pursuing her dream career in television. It’s no wonder that every morning in my early childhood, my parents would wake up at 5 am to tape Satellite episodes of Sesame Street…They believed (or hoped) that watching British and American English programming would teach their children to speak “properly,” so they wouldn’t have to give up on their dreams.

The Blame Game: Colonialism, Forced Migration, and “Bad African Parents”
The Warmth of Other Suns - Black MigrationFor a long time, I resented my parents for robbing me of learning both my native languages. Later, I resented Nigeria for being so poorly-run that my parents couldn’t see me thriving anywhere but outside of it. Now, as I think about the players who created the environment I was raised to escape–who concocted a system so cruel it culturally orphans children for its own purposes, it’s become much harder to keep directing anger at my own family, and my own people.

My parents shouldn’t be crucified for acting in full awareness of the unjust systems that police indigenous cultures: the colonialist rubble left behind in Nigeria by the British Empire, and the resentment of Britain’s imperialist younger brother, the US of A, towards foreigners. Their fears were rational. Even today, my Puerto Rican partner, who manages a Spanish-speaking client support team at work, comes home at least once a week to vent about some caller’s rude reaction to a supervisee’s accent, dismissing them as un-educated, or ill-equipped to perform their jobs because they perceivably don’t speak “proper English.”

Still, while many immigrants are forced to sacrifice native language fluency, it’s important to note that similar negotiations around language, identity, and yes, accents, don’t just play out within the context of the migrant Diaspora. Many Africans living on the continent don’t speak their native languages, either. And, their reasons aren’t so different from their estranged brethren.

Black Immigrants in the US | Source: AP

In Nigeria, for instance, as a Delta-Igbo person living in a state dominated by Yorubas, I experienced much discrimination at school: regular tribalist diatribes from Social Studies teachers, punctuated by stereotypical Igbo impersonations from classmates.

The ethnic tensions that permeated my school dated back to when Igbo people had attempted to gain independence from the political mess the British left in Nigeria post-independence. These attempts, the result of colonial powers leaving certain ethnic groups in power over others, led to the Biafran war and genocide. The war had a lasting legacy: many Igbo students at my school didn’t speak their language (openly) for fear of being socially ostracized. Speaking, or at least understanding even broken Yoruba was a way of appearing more socially acceptable, to assimilate and survive.

Policing Africanness: Language, Globalization, and Cultural Access
African Colonialism

As is the case with many other colonized African countries, in South Africa, for example, the 12 official languages are the result of white men sitting down at a table, drawing squiggly lines around the region they wished to claim. They didn’t care about the diversity of peoples living there: not when they declared Afrikaans the official language of schools during apartheid, and not now when discussing the “under-achievement” of black youth while ignoring the impact apartheid’s indifference to Africa’s diverse cultures and languages has had on the struggle to reform education.

By the way: Afrikaans is not an indigenous African language, its origins date back to Europe settlers who spoke Dutch. Yet, there are South Africans (coloreds and blacks) who only speak Afrikaans or English due to similar circumstance e.g. migration, globalization, interracial adoption, etc.  Are they “less African” than the Black South Africans who speak indigenous languages such as Xhosa? Or Zulu? What about white people who migrate to Africa and learn to speak local languages? Are they now “more African” than Africans who do not, yet have been living in Africa  since birth?

Chill Out: Language is Just One Aspect of Culture

Contemporary Africans and African Diaspora in Design and Culture

My purpose isn’t to debate who is more African than whom based on language fluency (or even geopolitical circumstance). On the contrary: I don’t understand how anyone can cherry pick a single aspect of our culture as the arbiter of “authentic” African identity: Language. For sure, it’s important. But so is indigenous spirituality, traditional garb, family values, the arts. Culture comprises many elements, thus it makes no sense to police cultural belonging– cling to such a divisive hierarchy, based on the single factor of language, especially considering the lasting effects of our colonial history, and the impact of globalization on contemporary African culture.

I am also not using colonialism as an excuse to lessen the importance of learning our native tongues; language offers us a very obvious, easily detectable signal that someone is either part of our community, or not. You know this if you’ve ever walked into a Dominican bodega and had to ask for something in English, then watched as the eyes computed, instantly: “not one of us.” Furthermore, in many African cultures, the parts of our history that haven’t yet been erased or revised are passed down to younger generations, orally. In political protest, Fela Kuti, father of “Afrobeat”, and one of Africa’s most celebrated music icons, wrote most of his songs in pidgin in order to connect with the lay man who didn’t speak “proper English.” His son, Femi Kuti, has carried that tradition forward, and with that, Fela Kuti’s legacyIndigenous languages safeguard our stories in their hidden meanings and subtext, so much so that the mis-translation of a single word can create a completely different interpretation of history as we know it, and we’d literally lose ourselves.

Rise of the Afropolitans: NNEKA

Perhaps that’s why we stubbornly stick to fluency in “our mother tongues” as the yardstick for measuring “Africanness,” “our-ness,” “us-ness.” Perhaps the tune about real Africans being able to speak their mother tongues is only sung in protest against the hegemony of our colonizers’ languages. But is spiting them reason enough to spite each other? By perpetuating the use of a single cultural marker to create an hierarchy of Africanness, aren’t we simply deploying the same tools colonizers used to divide and conquer? Aren’t we essentially continuing the work the British Empire started?

We can do better.

There are a myriad of other identity markers that reveal the extent of both our sameness and uniqueness and make up the diverse African cultures that span the globe. Africa is complex–Africans, even moreso. Let’s not trade in our shared heritage for the exclusivity of an unjust social hierarchy. Let’s not , as our colonizers did, draw borders around poorly constructed monoliths. Our just protest for an Africa with linguistic agency must not turn us into the same masters of imperialist dogma we’re still yet to hold accountable.


Update: Line which initially said there exist South Africans who only speak English or Afrikaans has been updated to contextualize loss of indigenous/mother tongue language fluency happening due to globalization, migration, cross-cultural adoption, and other factors so as not to perpetuate that as the norm. (Thanks MR for helping me clarify!)

Live Podcast: African Women and Girl Storytellers in the Digital Age

On March 13, as part of Women, Action, and the Media (WAM)‘s 4th annual national conference, I’ll be hosting a live podcast about African women in the Diaspora who are using media to subvert mainstream narratives about Africa, “African Women Storytellers in the Digital Age.”


About Women, Action, and the Media (WAM)

Founded in 2004 by writer, educator, and activist, Jaclyn FriedmanWomen, Action, and the Media (WAM) is an independent national nonprofit dedicated to building a robust, effective, inclusive movement for gender justice in media… “Because power and privilege is about who gets to speak and who is listened to. And, most of the time, it’s not women.”

In an effort to nurture local feminist networks and raise awareness of women’s and gender issues in the media, WAM annually coordinates an international convening of activists, journalists, academics, artists and media-makers, all taking some kind of media action at the same time, in various cities across the U.S. and Canada. This year, the conference takes place between March 13-24.

Incidentally, my live podcast is one of two virtual events in the conference lineup. Other events happening include: 

a film screening about sexual violence in the military, a webinar on how to edit Wikipedia, a social networking opportunity for women musicians, and an all-day local conference about feminist media in NYC. Learn more here.

Re-Birth of the Kitchen Table Conversations Podcast

I’ve participated in WAM events for the past six years; specifically, their annual multi-city conferences are fun, educational, and a great excuse for me to reach out to fellow media creators I admire and respect together for smart, insightful, and candid conversation. In fact, the very first podcast I ever hosted (LGBT Africans Speaking on Media, Gender, and Culture) was such a huge hit that it inspired me to create the Kitchen Table Conversations series, a podcast the offers a sneak peek into the lives of activists, artists, and thought leaders.

My travel schedule has made it impossible to maintain the podcast’s consistency, but I certainly credit participating in WAM’s festival with sparking my passion for utilizing the power of media to increase visibility for minority groups, recognizing work that’s overlooked in the mainstream, and creating virtual networks for support and empowerment. And now, I thank them for creating the opportunity for me to revive the Kitchen Table Conversations series.

Follow my SoundCloud and BlogTalkRadio channels for impromptu live and pre-recorded podcasts with my favorite changemakers, coming soon.

Tune in for a Live Podcast about Gender, Media, and the African Diaspora on March 13th

This year, I am so excited to be moderating a conversation about the media’s (mis)representation of Africa/African women and the power of stories to influence and empower. In true kitchen table conversation style, my guests and I will be pontificating on mainstream storytelling about Africa and the role of western media and social media innovations (both on the continent and in the Diaspora) in shaping these narratives. We’ll also, of course, be discussing the panelists’ amazing projects — African journalism, creative feminism, audio storytelling, afropop culture, media advocacy, and more!

Spectra Speaks African Women Storytellers

African Women Storytellers in the Digital Age
Hosted by Spectra Speaks
March 13 @ 6:30 p.m. EST

How are African women currently depicted in the media? If mainstream media were solely responsible for telling Africa’s story, what role would the African woman play? What role can individuals–westerners, Diaspora, Africans on the continent–play in influence new narratives? How are African traditions of oral storytelling honored (or compromised) by the rise of social media? What are some ground-breaking African-led media projects we should be amplifying? And what other/less popular forms of media offer potential for influencing Africa’s narrative?

Follow @spectraspeaks and use the hashtag, #africanwomenmedia to tweet responses to the questions above. Also, feel free to tweet questions you’d like the panelists to explore by using the same hashtag, #africanwomenmedia, as we’ll be dedicating a portion of the discussion to responding to your ideas/questions. You can also submit your questions anonymously, using this form.


Spectra Speaks ProfileSpectra (Host) is a writer, storyteller, and new media consultant whose work focuses on the intersection of media, identity, and social psychology as it occurs in activism and philanthropy. Last year, she successfully crowdfunded Africans for Africa, an independent project that involved travelling through Southern Africa for 6 months, training women-led social impact ventures in new media and technology for storytelling, awareness-raising, and thought leadership. She is the founder and editor of media advocacy organization, QWOC Media Wire,  and the engagement officer of Africans in the Diaspora (AiD), a startup foundation nurturing African philanthropy in the Diaspora. She writes about media, gender, and love at || Twitter: @spectraspeaks, @qwocmediawire, @AiDinnovations

yolanda-sangweni-by-lenyon-whitakerYolanda Sangweni is a South-African born writer and editor. She is the entertainment editor and founder of AfriPOP. Prior to joining Essence, Yolanda worked as a Features editor at TRACE Magazine and contributing writer for Arise Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Time Out New York, O: The Oprah Magazine (South Africa) and Glamour covering music, fashion and culture. AfriPOP! is an online magazine she started in 2008 with partner Phiona Okumu to highlight contemporary African youth culture, music, fashion and film from an Afropolitan perspective. She calls AfriPOP! a labor of love, “a celebration of our innovativeness, our funkiness, our style, our possibilities as children of Africa.” || Twitter: @afripopmag

Arao AremyArao Amenyfrom Lira, in northern Uganda, is a trained print and online journalist covering African immigrant issues in New York City. She ithe Founder and Executive Director of the Association of African Journalists and Writers (AAJW), a unified platform for African journalists to connect; collaborate; and promote better reporting and understanding of Africa and African communities. She is also the Social Media Editor at United Nations Africa Renewal magazine, a print and online publication produced by the Africa Section of the UN Department of Public Information, and Social Media consultant at the Africa-America Institute (AAI), a non-profit dedicated to promoting engagement between African immigrants and the U.S.. || Twitter: @araoameny, @AAJWnewyorkcity

Amina DohertyAmina Doherty is a young Nigerian feminist activist and artist whose work focuses on feminist philanthropy and creative arts for advocacy. Prior to her role as the Coordinator at FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, Amina worked at the women’s rights grant-making program at the Sigrid Rausing Trust in London, the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington D.C., and the London-based creative network, Arts & Business. Amina brings to her activism a passion for music, art, travel and poetry, which she chronicles via her blog, Following Her Footsteps. She’s is a self-taught painter, DJ-in-the-making, and freelance writer for several magazines across the Caribbean. || Twitter: @sheroxlox, @FRIDAFund

Selly Thiam

Selly Thiam is an oral historian whose work has appeared on NPR, PBS and in the New York Times. Raised in Chicago by her Senegalese immigrant father and American-born mother, Thiam graduated from Columbia College, Chicago, with a B.F.A. in Creative Writing, and later received an MA in International Journalism from CUNY, Graduate School of Journalism. She is the founder and Executive Director of None on Record, a digital media project documenting the stories of Africans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. She was a producer for the Storycorps Oral History Project and PBS’ Learning Matters, and a Carnegie Fellow at the ABC News Investigative Unit. || Twitter: @sellythiam, @noneonrecordGot a question you’d like a guest to respond to? Submit your question using the #africanwomenmedia hashtag on Twitter, or leave a comment below! Alternatively, you can use this form to submit your question anonymously

Celebrating Audre Lorde with Jamaican Feminists: Activism, Self Care, and Virtual Sisterhood

Caribbean Jamaican Feminists“What specific things do you do for self-care? What does your routine look like?”

I was asked this question today while participating as a virtual guest at an Audre Lorde appreciation event just outside of Kingston, Jamaica. The event was hosted by SO(UL) HQ, a collective which creates alternative community spaces for discussion and exploration of the arts, culture, spirituality, and social justice.

Each month, SO(UL) HQ invites community members to an informal social activity in physical and/or virtual spaces called HQs–e.g. for film viewings, discussions, creative workshops, etc–then the organizers facilitate a cross-movement conversation with contributions from international guests, who can participate virtually via Skype.

In celebration of Audre Lorde, black lesbian activist, writer, poet and historical icon, who wrote about writing and self-care (including one of my favorite poems, “A Litany for Survival”), I’d been invited–along with Kim Katrin Crosby (activist and co-founder of the People Project)–to speak about my work as a writer and media activist, as well as elaborate on my ideas about using Love and Afrofeminism as a framework for social justice.

From Attempted Suicide Survivor to Media Activist

For my opening remarks, I shared the story about my struggle to come to terms with my sexuality as a Nigerian woman on a very white, American campus. I spoke of the severe depression I experienced as I continually failed at locating any support systems, individuals or information to accept my wholly, as an African women who loved other women. I spoke of the hopelessness I felt when I couldn’t find a single book, or movie, with queer characters or stories that could convince me (and my family) that I wasn’t the “abomination” all the Nigerian/African online forums made me out to be. I spoke of the simple, yet deeply-rooted desire to see myself reflected as a part of society–to feel that I was, in fact, normal, and how that seeming impossibility prompted me to attempt to take my own life, for relief. 

Despite the pain of having to recount that memory often, I celebrate my survival and bold critique of the systems that still put the lives of young queer African girls in jeopardy. My attempted suicide may have been the event that sparked my journey towards becoming a media activist, but it’s done so much more; it’s the reason why mental health and self-care are prominent themes in my work, and my writing, and the reason I choose Love (for self, for others, for community) as my framework for social justice

Sustainable Activism: Self Care and Virtual Sisterhood

Your Silence Will Not Protect You During the event, this disclosure prompted more questions (and conversation) about what it means to build sustainable movements. After all, so many of us have  been spurred to action by painful and, at times, traumatic experiences: how do we continue to drawn from such turbulent beginnings without letting them weigh us down emotionally?

How do we find spaces to affirm that kind of pain–and its overcoming–as victory? How do we hold in our hearts, the stories of others, some similar, some way worse, and maintain principled temperance in our advocacy? And, since the work of an activist is social (especially for the many of us who work outside formal structures, and thus, don’t get to ‘shut down’ at the end of the day), how do we create a support network for ourselves, and for each other that we can access when we need to? 

After participating at SO(UL) HQ’s event today, I’m inspired to create more virtual social spaces for sharing and healing, for myself. I’d been fighting a winter slump for weeks–low energy, writers block, feeling moody and isolated from seasonal depression–thus I hadn’t expected that the experience of participating in a virtual event would end up feeling as rejuventing, as uplifting, and as warm as it did. But it did, and I’m much better for it.

The setup was simple enough: the event took place at a casual community space, where the group watched a short documentary about Audre Lorde, before Skype-ing in the guests. The room radiated the kind of intimacy associated with a sleepover, not a formal event; a few women sat cross-legged on the floor, while others sat in chairs (one with a really cute baby). 

African Caribbean Feminists

It’s no wonder I felt completely at ease chatting about my life and work; I could have been right there with my Caribbean sisters, sitting cross-legged on the floor, or lying stomach-down, propped up by my elbows. Thirty minutes later, I ended my session with the women at SO(UL) HQ feeling so nourished, so joyful, and so inspired that I’ve since been reflecting on the plethora of ways activists can use video conferencing and other tools to more intentionally create on-going support networks for themselves.

As a media activist, I often write about how social media can be used to amplify the voices of marginalized people, combat lack of diversity in media, and offer a means through which people with shared experiences and values can connect. For sure, regularly connecting with others with who we share affinity and can lean on for support (as part of our self-care practice) is included in this, but chances are that if even I–Ms. Self Care Evangelist–forgot, perhaps we all need more regular reminders.

Sharing is Caring: Nurturing Intentional Community–Online or Offline–is Self Care 

I’m grateful for having such a positive experience connecting virtually with Caribbean feminists today–so grateful that I’m newly inspired to rehash my goals for facilitating regular discussions about self-care in my online spaces. I don’t have all the answers, not by a stretch. Still, after today, I’m relishing the comfort of knowing that I’m connected to a number of inspiring activists–online and offline–who are just as committed to practicing self care and sustainable activism as I am. 

This blog, my Facebook Page, and Twitter @spectraspeaks, are part of my virtual self-care support network. A place where I do feel relatively safe sharing my story, my struggle, and my successes. Your readership is a part of that, so thank you for continually encouraging my efforts to foster more dialogue around mental health in our communities. 

Stay tuned for my next post, “7 Everyday Self-Care Principles All Activists Should Follow”, in which I’ll be sharing lessons I’ve learned from my own personal journey. We may not all be in physical space together, but–as my Jamaican feminist sisters at SO(UL) HQ reminded me today–we don’t need to be in order to reach out and support each other.

Do you have a strong support network? Is it offline, virtual, or both? What tips would you give others seeking supportive community online? Have you experienced virtual sisterhood? In what ways does it compare to sister-friend circles offline? 


Award-Winning African Artist Shishani Releases Video for New LGBT Equality Anthem, “Minority”

Shishani Namibia Lesbian Artist

“You’ve got rules telling me what to do
But is there anybody checkin’ up on you?”

Award-winning acoustic soul artist, Shishani, has just released the music video for her latest single titled, “Minority”, a catchy, upbeat, acoustic track that calls for freedom and equality for all people despite perceived differences.

Shishani got her big break when she performed at the 2011 Namibian Annual Music Awards in the capital city of Windhoek, where it’s still illegal to be gay. And though, she says, she’s made no real attempts to hide her sexuality, she hasn’t come out as an “out lesbian artist” till now.

“I wanted people to get to know my music,” she says, “Sexuality doesn’t matter. It’s like pasta — asking if you prefer spaghetti or macaroni. It just doesn’t matter… I’m an artist first, before being a gay artist.”

Born to a Namibian mother and a Belgian father, Shishani spent her early childhood in Windhoek, before her family relocated. Due to her mixed race ancestry, the curly-haired songstress is no stranger to discrimination, but is candid about enjoying a relatively liberal upbringing in the Netherlands, known for its liberal social policies, including legal protections of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) people.

“Being raised abroad gives you a certain freedom… It took some time before my parents were okay talking about stuff, but eventually we did. I was even able to live with my partner of four years…  But living in Namibia, it became so clear to me how much more people are discriminated against–and for a variety of different reasons, like their ethnicity and sexuality.”

Homosexuality is illegal in a number of countries in Africa, and Namibia is no exception. Even though Namibia has been independent for over 20 years, and its constitution views all people equal under the rights of the law, punitive colonial laws against sodomy (though not enforced) have remained. Thus, LGBTI people risk harassment  and violence due to a strong culture of stigma in part reignited by religious leaders and government officials.

In 2001, past President Najoma’s called for “anyone caught practicing homosexuality to be arrested, jailed, and deported”. And, just over a year ago, Namibia’s first gay pageant winner, Mr. Gay Namibia, was beaten and robbed shortly after securing his title.

But Shishani, who upon her return in 2011, found a safe haven in Windhoek’s art performance communities, is optimistic that the current climate for gays will improve. She recently became an honorary member of the board of Out Right Namibia (ORN), a human rights advocacy organization that aims to address widespread homophobia in the country, and is eager to continue evolving as an artist, while using her platform as a musician to advocate for freedom and equality.

Shishani Singer SongwriterSince her breakout two years ago, Shishani has released indie tracks such as “Raining Words”, an acoustic ballad about a new relationship, “Clean Country”, a soulful, melodious call to action to raise awareness about climate change, and–inspired by Alicia Keys’ chart-topping tribute to New York–“Windhoek”, a song that celebrates the beauty of her hometown.

As a student of cultural anthropology and self-identified activist, it’s no surprise that her music has been described as a fusion of sounds from such socio-political music icons as Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley, and Nneka. “Minority” is the first single through which seeks to address the issue of same-sex love.

Alluding to the potential controversy of her new single, Shishani says, “Two years ago, I was really just trying to get my face out there…. When I returned to Namibia, I started booking my own gigs, performing solo, writing new songs. When I was invited to perform at the Namibian Music Awards, I was afraid to perform “Minority”  because people didn’t know who I was yet. But to make a statement, you have to be strong.”

As an African musician who identifies as being a part of the LGBTI community, the lyrics of “Minority” no doubt challenge the infamous meme “Homosexuality is unAfrican.” But, Shishan insists, her song is about much more than being gay.

“In Namibia, it also makes a difference what ethnicity you are. “Minority” argues for equal rights for all people regardless of their cultural backgrounds, economic status, sexuality, religion,” she says, “There is so much systemic discrimination against people, for so many reasons.”

The release of “Minority” is timely; January is the month in which outspoken Ugandan LGBT activist, David Kato was bludgeoned to death in an anti-gay attack three years ago, sparking an outcry from fellow African human rights activists. January is also the month in which people in the U.S.–perhaps even all over the world–celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a powerful civil rights leader and icon. His call for freedom and equality of all people has been taken up by activists all over the world, including Shishani, whose lyrics echo his principles of love and unity.

“Homophobia all over the world comes from the same place; colonialism, apartheid, racial segregation. All our struggles are connected.”

When asked about being a visible lesbian African artist, especially in light of the hardships experienced by LGBTI people in countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, she says:

“My music is becoming more popular in Namibia. I’ve been working hard and trying to make my mark, so I feel stronger, now. I may lose some fans, but it’s okay. So many others have it way worse than me. So many others activists are risking much more. It is an honor to be viewed as a role model. So, if I can contribute to the movement through my music, I’m happy to, and I will.”

Check out the video of Shishani’s new single, “Minority” below. To learn more about Shishani, visit her website at


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