It started with Mr Martin at Dunraven Secondary school. He was my English teacher and he wore black Levi’s and ‘Jesus sandals’. He encouraged me to read books that weren’t on the curriculum. Then, in my last year, Lucy Neal, co-founder of LIFT took me to see my first professional play. It was Othello at the National Theatre.
These two people mentored me by identifying something I was interested in and using their own knowledge, resources and experience and created the opportunity for me to learn. This had a direct impact in what courses I took at college and then university. When I made the decision to study and pursue a career in the arts, I needed inspirational women and more specifically, black women, as beacons of hope to keep me going. At first I didn’t see many black women at the forefront. However, like with Judy Blume from my childhood, what I gravitated towards were strong female characters and personalities. No matter the skin colour. I was looking to be mentored and guided by women who were in the type of industries that I one day wanted to either be in or work alongside.
Mentoring has given me confidence to feel like I can hold myself in a room of people who may or may not be better educated than me; have more experience than me in a particular field; are older than me. Today I find myself working with and having conversations with the likes of Stella Kanu, the executors producer at Ovalhouse, Paulette Randall OBE, a monster of a theatre director, Diane Morgan, director of nitroBEAT who has a residency at Soho Theatre, Selma Nicholls, producer at LIFT and a business owner. This is significant because I have always wanted to have all the elements of the people who have mentored me, especially women knocking down doors and still coming home to read their kids a bedtime story. This includes my brilliant mother. And of course my father. Like Mr Martin, my father championed hard work. He was a feminist (he would never call himself that) but he was. He told me and my two sisters that we can be anyone and do anything that we wanted. Race and gender are never to be excuses.
I recently won the University Women in the Arts scheme which sees women in the UK studying at university, being mentored by the likes of Vicky Featherstone, the artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre, Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre and founder of the WOW Festivals, Lucy Kerbel, founder and Director of Tonic Theatre and Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of the English National Ballet. And eleven more incredible women.
Being mentored and being a mentor (I am also a mentor to young girls) is a privilege and a learning opportunity. I need to know for myself as I walk amongst these legends – that I have it in me to be anyone of these women.