For Black History Month UK 2019, eight Girl Guides from across London select the most inspirational and empowering black woman from history, from Daisy Bates to Oprah Winfrey.
Black History Month 2019 is celebrating the power and achievements of black women throughout time, from our past to our present. We spoke to the girls of today to tell us how inspirational black women are paving the way for the women of tomorrow.
And where better to find out who the most inspirational black women that have ever graced the earth are, than from the young women in Girlguiding?
Stylist speaks to Guides all over London about who slays in their lane, and why.
Emma, 13, 17th Battersea Power Station Guides
“Beyoncé is a woman that I look up to. In a world where we are taught to be competitive, there’s a lot to be said for female role models that are universally appreciated by woman across the globe.
“I’m a big fan of Beyoncé’s music and so many of her lyrics provide me with inspiration about how to live my life. For example, ‘I know the world and I know who I am’ has made me realise the importance of being my own person. This is a world of opportunities and it is up to me to seize them.”
Fatmatta, 12, 17th Battersea Power Station Guides
“My mum is my inspirational woman! As a social worker, she supports her clients and encourages them to keep their spirits up. She influences everyone she works with to persist with their ambitions.
“Every day I see her acting on the virtues that she has brought me up to follow. She doesn’t have an abundance of everything, but she lives her life by Shakespeare’s words: ‘Value what you have in life without complaint’. She is sublime.”
Renee, 14, Wimbledon Guides
“For me, the most inspirational black woman is Oprah Winfrey. She faced unbelievably difficult challenges whilst growing up as a black girl in the USA. Society’s expectations of success for girls like me are limited. Prejudice lingers in decisions made by others that affect the opportunities we are given in life.
“Winfrey’s journey of overcoming adversity, rising to success and becoming one of the most admired figures in society inspires me. She continues to thrive and defy odds every single day. Girls like me can aspire to reach the same great heights that she has, through hard work, perseverance and dedication.”
Evelyn, 15, 13th Hackney Guides
“A black woman who inspires me is Janelle Monáe. Her songs are empowering for girls, queer girls and girls of every race and nationality. I listen to her music often and find her honesty so inspiring. I think it’s very important for people to be themselves and be a voice for the marginalised, especially those who are famous, as it shows young people that you can go through a lot, experience success and still stay true to yourself.”
Mahalia, 15, Gospel Oak Guides
“No man or woman who tries to pursue an ideal in his or her own way is without enemies”: Daisy Bates
“These wise words were spoken by one of the most inspirational black women in history: Daisy Bates. Bates was born on 11 November 1914 and grew up in southern Arkansas, in the small town of Huttig.
“When I began to research her life, what struck me the most was that despite being such a prevalent figure in our history, she was also one of the many forgotten soldiers who fought for black human rights. This shocked me, as her life is a legacy that should be remembered. Her courage and desire to set an equal foundation for future generations make me feel truly humbled.
“She is inspirational to me, not just because of her actions, but because of her strong and unwavering belief in what she stood for. Throughout the trials and tribulations of her life, throughout the pain and suffering, not once did Daisy Bates turn away and opt for an easier life. She persevered, knowing that she was contributing to the freedom of generations to come. She became the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Black (in those days they were called coloured) People (NAACP), putting her at the forefront of the struggles and the backlash.
“This is extremely prevalent for me as a young black woman in today’s society, because there have been many times in my lifetime where resilience and courage have had to be at the forefront of my beliefs. An example is being part of Girlguiding, where opinions and ideas are welcomed, and we are continually encouraged to speak up for things that we believe in. Another example is when I see injustice in my everyday life. There have been times when I have heard people saying that young black children are less likely to succeed and I’m more likely to hear about black youth violence than achievements, causing me to question the balance in how society portray today’s adolescents.
“However, at times like these, it is people such as Daisy Bates who stick in my mind, and remind me that I must stand up and speak for what I believe in. At times like these, I have been able to summon my inner strength and challenge certain societal constructs mostly through my poetry, which causes people to think about the impact of their words and actions.
“For this reason, I find Daisy inspirational, and I hope that through this piece, her story will once again be remembered. For, as this determined woman says: ‘From without, no wonderful effect is created within ourselves, unless some interior, responding wonder meets it’.
“Daisy’s internal spirit met her desires and produced such a feat that I hope will be learned throughout history.
Megan Lewis, 17, volunteer for Girlguiding
“Many people don’t realise the affect that Mahalia Jackson has had on history. Jackson was known as the ‘Queen of Gospel’ and helped bring gospel singers in church to a mass audience of gospel music in America in the 60s. She also played a huge part in the civil rights movement and can be considered as Martin Luther King’s wing woman, during a time of hardship for so many people of colour. Her singing became the voice of the civil rights movement as she frequently performed at fundraisers for the movement, starting with the Montgomery bus boycott fundraiser in 1956.
“In August of 1963, Mahalia pushed Martin Luther King to talk about his now infamous dream. On 28 August, King had decided to scrap the speech which had been carefully curated when Mahalia Jackson, who was standing possibly 50 feet away from him, shouted ‘tell them about the dream Martin! Tell them about the dream!’ She was seen by the civil rights movement founders as one of the truly influential people in Martin Luther King’s life, and she should be celebrated more.
“She inspires me to speak up about what I believe in, even if I feel like nobody is listening. I want to contribute to keep making society progressive and make everyone feel as if their voice is heard. Hearing her story has encouraged me to find out more hidden stories of black women as stories of life changing women need to be shared and celebrated.”
Elizabeth, 14, 13th Hackney Guides
“Cardi B is one of my idols. I admire her honesty – she is very truthful in her music and I feel like I know her. She is so confident, and I think it’s important for young black women to see her in the media because her music is so motivating, and I love to listen to her! Okurrrrr!”
Sophia, 12, First West Dulwich Guides
“The most inspiring woman I know is Professor Ami David, otherwise known as my grandma. She arrived in Britain on her own in 1964 from Sri Lanka at the age of 18 to start work as a nurse. She went on to university after having children and worked her way up to become a clinical director, an advisor to a government minister, a professor of nursing, and to sit on many health authority boards. She has spent over 50 years working in the NHS. She even set up her own company to advise the NHS on how to best use nurses when she was over 70 years old. In 2007, she was awarded an MBE.
She is also a Fellow of the Commonwealth and she is involved in more charities than I can count. And if that wasn’t enough, she finds time to be a full-on grandma to five kids and is known as a great friend (she can always be found on social media). I find her inspiring because she has shown that women can do anything, and you are never too busy to make lives better for others.”
Images: courtesy of author