Recent Black Lives Matter Protests brought to light some of the remarkable individuals and organisations who are working to create change in their communities. Shekinah Swamba is one of those individuals. Her organisation of the Cheltenham BLM Protest, alongside Lives of Colour (who we interview in an upcoming podcast), showcased how powerful protests can be in bringing together a community and creating a platform for black voices. One of the memorable features of the protest was a speech by 7-year-old Nylah based on the track 'Black' by Dave.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Shekinah to hear about the experience and to get more insight into what has lead her to activism. A huge thank you to Shekinah for chatting to us, and please enjoy reading her speech before hearing more from her through the questions that follow.
Hello everyone, firstly I would like to begin by saying a huge thank you to each and every one of you that has had the time to support this cause. I want to assure you that the support you have provided me with has been extremely heart-warming. My name is Shekinah Swamba I am a 19-year-old black female, from a Kenyan descent but I was born in the UK. The UK has been a place that I call home, however, it hasn't always felt like that. I'm here today to share my personal experiences that I have faced and to create an awareness of racial equality across the world. Racial equality has been battled by the black community years before now and I believe that everyone gathered here is aware of that fact. However recent deaths of my fellow brothers and sisters from the black community worldwide have triggered the sense of the black community needing to rise up. All of us gathered here today are part of the human race, the colour of our skin should not be the reason to why we treat people differently. The reason to why I created this event was because a few days ago, I woke up and my chest was extremely heavy. I remember scrolling on my Instagram feed and the things I saw caused me to log out of my account and just sit in bed crying. I felt so frustrated and helpless, I was truly questioning the world we live in. So here I am today speaking up in hope that it can help to make some kind of difference, as it is time for a change. As most of you know George Floyd was a 46-year-old black man who died under police custody, his death was extremely traumatising to watch. I believe that his death has been a wakeup call to the black community to rise up and battle the injustice and inequality against black people across the world. As far as I can remember my parents have always said to me, due to being black we have to be careful and always work harder than others. I would never really understand what they meant. However, during my adolescent years, it became somewhat clear to me what they had been saying. I remember starting year 7 and l can assure your life was bliss back then until my first racism encounter; I was told to go back to my own country. At the time I couldn’t understand where the person expected me to go, as I was born in the UK and it has been a place that I call home. I remember going home that day and crying to my parents and asking them so many questions. There was also another incident where I was called a Nigger. Those two events really took a toll on my self-esteem and they took me to a very dark place. I often didn’t feel as important as my peers and I felt as if the world was against me. When experiencing my first racial encounter it made me look at the world in a different light and it made me aware that, due to being black it is normal to be treated differently, and I felt as if I deserved it. As I have said before I am a 19 years old black female, within the next decade or so I may plan to settle down get married, and have children of my own. However, I would never want to be in a position where I have to sit down with my children and tell them the things that my parents said to me. I believe that it is time for a change. The black lives matter movement has never been more important than now, it is allowing everyone to voice themselves. As being a young person, I believe there’s no time like the present for a change to begin. I am tired, I am hurt but I have hope that if we use our voices and unite as one we can make a huge difference. Michelle Obama once said race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of colour to deal with it. It’s up to all of us, black, white, everyone no matter how well meaning we think we might be, to do the honest uncomfortable work of rooting it out. As I'm gathered here in Infront of all of you today, I truly did not anticipate such an immense turn-up. Initially, when I created the event, I thought I would have about 10 people listening to what I had to say, knowing that made me feel grateful. As we can all see today there's much more than 10 people gathered here, I am overwhelmed with joy. Over the last few days, I have experienced so many amazing messages from people offering to help and I want to say thank you so much for coming today, words can’t describe the gratitude I have towards everyone here. I would like to say a huge thank you to the following; Lives of Colour, Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees, Cheltenham Mutual Aid, Gloucestershire Constabulary, and Cheltenham Borough Council. The support has been spectacular and I appreciate it. I would like to reiterate that there’s no time like the present to make a change and if we unite as one, we can make a huge difference, please take care and look after yourselves.
Shekinah - thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Could we start by you telling us a little about your upbringing and how it lead you to organise this event?
I was brought up by my mum and dad, throughout my whole life they have shown me nothing but unconditional love. My parents have always encouraged me to do my best in everything I do and they have always been my biggest support system. Their love and encouragement was a factor that impacted my speech. When creating my speech the one thing I wanted everyone to hear was my voice, as a young black female I didn’t know any other way to get my point across apart from creating the event.
Can you tell us some of your thoughts and feelings about the event, and how you found it reading your speech?
The days leading up to the event I had a range of emotions, there were days where I would wake up and feel confident that what I’m doing is good and it will help to educate people or make some kind of difference. However there were a few days were I felt very low especially when reading the negative messages people were sending me and the negative comments that people had to say about me creating the event. When creating the event I had no expectations of having more than 10 people come, however on the day of the event, over 5000 people attended. The night before the event I remember checking on Facebook to see how many people had confirmed they were going and 1200 had confirmed their attendance. Seeing over 5000 on the day made made me feel so overwhelmed with joy. When reading my speech I was still trying to come to terms with the amount of people stood in front of me listening to me speak, it made me feel that my voice was important and that people care. It was beautiful to see that the event ran peacefully without any disturbance.
What changes do you hope will happen after the protests? Are there any particular changes you think are of particular importance?
I have hope that as these protests continue internationally that things will change, because I am tired but I have hope. I believe that a there needs to be a change in the national curriculum. It would be great to see the curriculum educate children about black history, because the youth are the future.
A huge thank you to Shekinah again for chatting to us. If there's someone you think we should feature in our Articles, please get in touch via social media or email. We'd love to hear from you!