Black Women in Europe Do It Again:
Notes on The first ever Women of the African Diaspora Conference
27 July 2008
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
by Lesley-Ann Brown
Nestled amidst the colorful goings-on of the internationally well-kept secret of the Kwakoe Festival, a gathering of Black women and supporters convened. Between Surinamese restaurants that served Lamb roti and Nigerian tents that celebrated clubs in honor of ancestors, we gathered and exchanged ideas.
Amidst tables of hair care products and home-made books visions were shared.
???Welcome France,??? Vanessa Limon, one of the organizers of this First Women of the African Diaspora Conference in Amsterdam, began, ???welcome Germany, Suriname, Camaroon,??? and then she paused for a moment to collect her composure. Upon doing so, she continued, as she wiped away tears, ???Welcome Curicauo,??? and by the time she had mentioned just a portion of the nations represented there, we too in the audience were wiping away tears. How many of us, including myself, ever thought that we could ever participate with other Black women, throughout Europe, who were committed to creating opportunities and support, where before, there was none?
The room was charged to say the least. The presence of a roomful of powerful, conscious women of color, from the world over, who are committed to economic and social transformation, could only be described as cosmic.
We were all besides ourselves with joy because we were there to witness it.
Moderated by Joan Ferrier, the General Director of E-Quality, the conference was off to an auspicious start: The sun shone powerfully where the day before, the heavens flooded the very muddy paths we had to trek to get to the conference.
Mayor Elvira Sweet opened with the declaration that, ???I know that today, we are making history.???
Lorraine Rickets continued with a beautiful poem about the diversity and connection of Suriname and by extension, Amsterdam and the world. We all felt the power of unity, of connectivity as her words trickled into our ears, affirming the power of difference.
Rosemary Ekosso opened the first workshop on Being a Black Woman in Europe. She challenged the audience, ???What is Blackness? Who says you???re Black? Who says Barak Obama is Black? Blackness is a construct. It???s a way that people had to decide to interpret you and it???s also a way that you have to make a choice (on how) to interpret yourself.???
She spoke about the seemingly infinite possibility of what one???s life could encompass as a Black woman, from tennis star, super model fame, to being ???a selfless wife and mother (who) sacrifice yourself for your family.??? She continued, ???You could be a starving woman in Ethiopia because of the drought, you could be a victim of sexual violence in the DRC, or you could be a child prostitute somewhere for unscrupulous tourists to exploit.???
???Or you could be one of those women in West Africa, they call them Nana Benz who run the markets in that part of the world. You can be any of those things. But whatever you are, you are viewed as a microcosm, as a summary of your race, because you are Black. And you represent all that is Black. And a lot of the time if you do something as a Black person then you are judged in terms of your Blackness. This is not something that necessarily extends to all races.???
She reminded us that, ???There is a saying in English: That the wheel that squeaks gets the grease.???
She continued that we must create a recognizable forum so that when events that affect us occur, we can respond to them as a recognizable group and so have a voice. For this, she said, we need to develop a shared vision of how the world should be and what role we should play in it. We need to define concrete means of advancing our world view, we need to stand together. But standing together requires that we should identify the issues in each community of Black people. ???Because yes,??? she continued, ???we are all Black, but we come from different places. So our world view is varied. We need to define something that takes into account the diversity of the subgroups within the Black community globally. We need to find out how these communities talk to each other, we have to find out our common points, and then we develop a view that includes all of the Black community groups. This is the way forward.
Rosemary Ekosso???s words were followed by an introduction to the Black European Women Council by a Tiye International representative. She spoke about this historic gathering in 2007 where the Black European Women council set up an initiative in which representatives of 16 European Union member states were present.
Sandrine Joseph offered Workshop # 2 in Black Business Women. Sandrine Joseph has an extensive background of Business in France, throughout Europe and Africa and in 2007 co-founded RiskAngel, a business network dedicated to the promotion of investment capital culture.
Sandrine Joseph professed that she was proud to be a poto mitan: a woman who embraces her femininity in her professional environment which tends to be male-dominated, technical and elitist. She testified that there are some advances being made in the French society. She admitted that ???my roots are important in the way I do business.???
???The good news???, she declared, sizing up the audience is, ???we are not alone.??? There were two things needed, she said, ???Examples in business and ambition.???
???Can you name one successful Black woman in Europe in a big company???? She challenged. The usually spirited room fell silent. ??? We need to be leaders,??? she continued, ???we need to be women with a vision, we need to share this vision and find the resources.???
The international panel included Maritza Russel (Suriname/Netherlands) one of the foremost women of color in business in the Netherlands; Sandrine Joseph (France); Lesley-Ann Brown (Denmark)???writer, poet and founder of Bandit Queen Press; Adrianne George (Sweden) ???founder of Black Women in Europe Social Network, and Jurne Azubiah (UK), founder of Organik B.L.U., the fastest growing Social Network for Black Lesbians.
Jurne implored the audience ???Real Black women can we stand up? Just look around us. Take a look at how beautiful, how diverse. The sizes, the color. We are in celebration of us. We have gone through struggles. Give yourselves a round of applause for coming here and being here.??? She continued on the importance on being ourselves. ???To be conscious is to be aware of your surroundings, of who you are and the purpose you serve not just as a woman, but as a Black conscious woman. There is no one outside of yourselves who can help you. This is an amazing day. It???s a true honor. For me, the message is being black, being a woman, being a lesbian, being conscious. It???s about coming together.???
Lesley-Ann Brown, author of ???The Organist???s Daughter??? and Blackgirl on Mars Blog reiterated the importance of the old adage that ???the personal is the political,??? and to strive to be one???s own hero in a world where positive images are buried beneath the bling of modern media, while Maritza continued, ???What do we do with this consciousness once we have reached this level? Do we take control of our own lives? I think (we must) ???take our own consciousness and go out and try to realize our own ambition. I strongly believe in networking. It is one of the tools to help us get to our goals.??? She reminded us that the Dutch society was not ready for a Black women???s network when it was initiated, but now, going into their 4th year, and over 850 members strong, ???We are sitting at the political tables here in the Netherlands???.
Lesley-Ann Brown concluded the program with her poem The Blackgirl???s Survival Guide to Living in Copenhagen from her upcoming collection of the same name.
July 27th was an auspicious day???it was the coming together of women who were striving to improve their own and others existence here in Europe, it was a coming together of women who were prepared to initiate transformation. It was a gathering of women who shared with each other, who supported each other so that in years to come, our sons and daughters will inherit a Europe who knows them for the deep sense of historical, social, political, and economic contributions we have and will continue to make in this world today. And as Joan M. Ferrier said so eloquently during the conference, ???It is very important that our children and our youth know the importance of awareness, about our roots, because when we are not telling the story to our youth, they lose who they are and the beautiful people who they are.???