Life

Black owned: “I was sick of being the only Black woman in the room, so I created my own”

As the only Black woman on her course at university, Cairo Aibangbee created Black Girls Brunch – an event committed to amplifying and empowering Black women in the UK. Now, two years later, she’s successfully fundraised over £3,000 to give more Black women a seat at the table. Here, she tells Stylist’s Lauren Geall about how the event has grown over the years, and what it means to her to create a space dedicated to the celebration and growth of Black women.

I first had the idea for Black Girls Brunch in 2018, when I was a theatre and performance student at the University of Plymouth. I absolutely love Plymouth, but it is predominantly white, and I was also the only Black girl on my course, so it was very difficult and isolating at times. I did have a great group of friends around me, but obviously there are some lived experiences that they just didn’t share with me.

The idea came to me when I said to one of my friends: “I really want to have a brunch event – I want to have a room full of Black girls, and we’ll just talk.” It was purely selfish, to be honest – I just wanted to be in a room where I could talk to other women about what it’s like to be Black in Plymouth, but there was nothing like that for me to go to. So, as cliché as it is to say, I just had to do it myself. 

I was working three jobs at the time but I managed to put together some flyers and advertise it to all the Black girls I knew – I would even stop random Black women on the street to tell them about it. I funded the first event with my own money and some help from friends. I had a group of about six male friends who went to the same Bible study as me and when I told them that this was what I wanted to do, they generously gave between £50 and £70 each to help me get started, and we sold tickets to the brunch for around £10. 

The table at Cairo's first Black Girls Brunch event in 2018.
The table at Cairo's first Black Girls Brunch event in 2018.

We held the event in a free space in a student accommodation nearby which happened to be at the top of the tallest building in Plymouth. Luckily my friend lived there so she was able to book it out for me. We booked out the kitchen downstairs, and I bought a load of M&S party food and some cheap hot plates from Wilkinson’s using my student discount. We even picked our own flowers from around the town centre as we couldn’t afford to buy any table decorations. It was all really ad hoc.

Since then we’ve had three more events which have all sold out and had waiting lists. The majority of the events have been self-funded by me. We’ve had a few different contributors and donations – we did a GoFundMe for the second event which raised £500 and had a small charitable donation of £200 toward the third – but otherwise, besides the ticket sales, I’ve been fronting the cost.

I’m relieved we’ve been able to raise a significant amount of money (over £3,000) through our most recent fundraiser as my savings and current account have been in tatters for so long. The fact that there’s a significant amount of money that I can actually put towards making this venture better is so great. It’s all been done on a shoestring up until now, and the fact that I’ve been given a small foundation means I can now do small things like have a website, which I couldn’t afford before.

In the future, I want to take Black Girls Brunch all over the UK because it’s important to me that we represent Black women everywhere. After the first event in Plymouth, they’ve all been held in London, purely because that’s where I’m based now. I want to have groups across the country which are led by regional leaders or managers, so they can run the events in their local vicinity. Obviously, I would oversee it and provide the hosts with everything they need, but I would love to have multiple Black Girls Brunch events across the UK to reach even more women. That’s what it’s all about.

A guest speaker leads a workshop on personal growth and reflective development.
A guest speaker leads a workshop on personal growth and reflective development.

Our goals for Black Girls Brunch have definitely evolved since the beginning. At the first event we had a guest speaker and some workshops, which has become really important to Black Girls Brunch because it offers our guests a real sense of empowerment.

I’ve always wanted Black Girls Brunch to be a place where we are able to provide the Black women with the opportunity to gain certain insights or learn new skills – for example, we had a financial workshop at our third event which taught us about building generational wealth and how to ask for a higher salary in your job – things that have real world applications. 

I have a well-rounded vision for Black Girls Brunch – it’s not just coming to talk to other Black women anymore, it’s also about growth, learning about things like affirmations and self-kindness, and also things like finance. All of that is really important to me.

What hasn’t changed since that first Black Girls Brunch, though, is the time reserved to just talk. During the sessions we set aside an hour where I chair discussions about certain questions and topics, and on people’s feedback forms the majority of people say that’s their favourite part. I love that it stays true to what I began in Plymouth, which was simply having a room where Black women could talk. We discuss things that are happening in our community, things going on at work, and what’s bothering us. It’s such a supportive space.

Cairo chairs a discussion at the June 2019 Black Girls Brunch event.
Cairo chairs a discussion at the June 2019 Black Girls Brunch event.

Overall, Black Girls Brunch is an events space committed to amplifying and empowering Black women in the UK. Due to the pandemic we’re not planning our next in-person brunch until 2021, but I’m trying to put together a virtual event to get our community together.

I think what Black women need now is a chance to celebrate our joy. There’s been a lot of heaviness in our community recently, particularly with the Black women who have died – Oluwatoyin Salau and Breonna Taylor in America, and Belly Mujinga, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry here in the UK. But what I’m trying to do is put together a virtual brunch called Black Girl Joy, which I want to be a celebration of the good things that have happened in each of the attendants’ lives, so we can sit and celebrate them together.

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Black Girls Brunch means everything to me because I am a Black woman and I love Black women. I remember our first brunch in London, when the ladies came downstairs and saw the tables that we had decorated, one of the girls pulled me aside and asked “Why have you got it all dressed like this? Why are you acting like we’re important or something?” And I said “Are you crazy? You are important. You deserve to sit down at a beautiful table, look beautiful and listen to some amazing, beautiful Black women speak to you.” That is what we want – we want the women to come and feel great for the time that they’re there, and leave feeling empowered and celebrated.

Ultimately my goal for Black Girls Brunch is simply to empower, educate and inspire as many Black women as I can. 

How to support Black Girls Brunch UK:

The GoFundMe campaign for Black Girls Brunch is still running if you would like to contribute. You can also sign up to their Patreon to become a regular contributor.

Additionally, you can find Black Girls Brunch on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook by clicking on the links.

To keep up to date on all the latest news on Black Girls Brunch events, you can sign up to their mailing-list.

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Images: Ashlee Mlambo

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