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blog • Story

Beyond suffrage with Bola Ajose

Megan Raybould

28 October 2020

In a follow up to last week's spotlight story, Bola chatted to Beyond Suffrage about her career and trusteeship.

Can you tell us a little more about yourself - where did you grow up and go to school and what was your experience like, growing up as a young Black woman?

I grew up in Lewisham, South East London, and attended school in New Cross which was local to me. I loved growing up in Lewisham, it was a great place to call home and full of so many different cultures, looking back I didn’t realise how lucky I was to go to school with other Black kids and to learn about different cultures. I wasn’t always secure in myself and didn’t always know where I fitted in, but luckily I had my group of self-proclaimed ‘nerdy’ kids and we were able to explore the awkwardness of teenage years together. At school I do think many teachers were still entrenched in their own biases and couldn’t see many of the Black students as complex young people, I was told many times that I was ‘aggressive’ or ‘intimidating’ then at the same time told I was too quiet and needed to ask more questions in class, I couldn’t understand which one I was and what I had to be but I somehow found myself and inner confidence and was able to find my own path.

Is there anything that you wish you would have been taught by educators as a child?

Recently I’ve been thinking about my love for reading, creativity and writing. I never did get a chance to explore all of my interests at school and I feel as if my creative side was suppressed. It felt as though either you liked STEM subjects, the Arts or Humanities and there was never a push for a blend of all. As I was always intrigued by STEM subjects, it felt I was never encouraged to explore my creative side. For example, I loved reading; however, I didn’t enjoy my English classes because they were not stimulating enough. I wish I could have had the opportunity to explore English classes in a different, more relevant way.

So what are you reading at the moment?

I've just finished reading Angela Davis’ book, ‘Are Prisons Obsolete?’, which effectively challenges us to consider the criminal justice system through a human rights lense.

As a society we are automatically programmed to associate crime with punishment rather than thinking about crime and rehabilitation, which in turn reduces chances of reoffending. The whole idea of not having prisons can at first seem so out of the box but it has been truly fascinating to explore. Especially with the BLM protests and the recent #ENDSARS protests in Nigeria, this book has been so important in challenging how I see our current criminal justice system and highlighting how much we need change.

On to your career, you taught yourself to code - what motivated you to do this?

When I left university, I joined Stemettes as a logistics coordinator, and part of the role included facilitating events, which exposed me to coding. I initially learnt coding from these experiences and started teaching myself. I’m someone who loves problem solving and a good challenge so I was really excited by coding. Once I also realised that coding could allow me to tap into my creative side, I realised this is what I want to pursue.

You’ve also been co-opted onto the Bi-Pride Board, through the Beyond Suffrage programme. What has your journey been like? And what was the highlight of the programme for you?

Actually, a friend of mine shared the Beyond Suffrage opportunity with me and I was immediately drawn to it. I completed the training and went on to join the Bi-Pride board. I’ve already learnt so much from Bi-Pride in such a short space of time, especially about the importance of accessibility and inclusion. The whole board and team is so dedicated to the cause and I’m in awe of them.

The highlight of the Beyond Suffrage programme would definitely be the Action Learning days. I loved meeting the other young women and seeing all that they have achieved and continue to achieve. The action learning days also gave me the opportunity to really self-reflect. During one of the sessions Precious gave us a set of 10 introspection questions, which included answering who we were, why we were in the room and why we wanted to be trustees. It was a powerful time for me because it made me pause and reflect.

Prior to applying to be a participant on the Beyond Suffrage programme, had you considered being a young trustee? What advise would you give to other young women considering applying to be trustees?

Prior to taking part in the programme, I had never considered being a young trustee, but I have always had a strong desire to make an impact and felt that becoming a trustee would allow me to achieve that. To any young woman considering applying, I would tell them to find their confidence, never doubt themselves and apply. The potential impact you can have by sitting on these boards is phenomenal and we need the voices of young Black women on all boards.

Throughout the month of October, we've been working with the Beyond Suffrage programme to profile some of their Alumni, as part our Black History Month work.

Beyond Suffrage's mission is to increase the number Black, Asian and Minority ethnic women on boards by 2030.

Find out more and support their work here.

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