I was raised by the cultural pride of two Congolese parents.

I was a kid who watched documentaries on Patrice Lumumba, listened to music by Bob Marley / Lucky Dube and fell in love with the diversity of African culture. My childhood community was my second home and I saw myself reflected in everyone around me, my babysitter was from Kenya, we had a Sudanese family that lived across us and my best friend was from Rwanda. 

It wasn’t until I moved that I realized how much I needed my African diaspora community. My new neighbourhood didn’t have people who looked like me, my new school didn’t have classmates who talked like me and the history I learned didn’t include the rich African stories my cousins used to tell me. This is where I became black. This is where the skin colour that had been the beauty of my childhood became a reminder that I didn’t belong. My race was defined by its difference from the majority white environment around me and I learned to survive by blending in. I did everything to change my accent, straighten my hair and fit in with Eurocentric beauty standards.

Representation matters because black diaspora children are conditioned to internalize a lot of self hatred. We often underestimate what children can understand but the reality is that children become what they see. It took a long time for me to reconnect with the confidence that I had as a child but in the end, I bounced back twice as strong. As I grow older and navigate more majority white spaces, I make it a priority to question the status quo and use my presence to empower and validate a spot for the next black person behind me. Whether I’m working for the federal government of Canada, attending conferences in New York, being a student at Oxford or wherever my journey takes me next, I carry my Congolese history with me. They say that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why. 

A beautiful and empowering piece by Johise Namwira, opening up about the challenges faced when changing environments and the importance of representation. Growing up, how many people in the diaspora found themselves trying to fit into a society and culture different to their home? While some made temporary adjustments, others made more drastic ones. What we can learn from Johise’s piece is recognising your worth and embracing your diversity. Make your mark wherever you go and never be afraid to be different!