Growing up, I only had Oprah Winfrey to look up to. Yes, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon who found the cure to cancer but whenever I saw Oprah on TV, I totally connected to her. I was barely seven when I knew I wanted to be like her.
While there were many white women presenting and influencing lives, Oprah was the only black woman I saw and what a black woman! She was dark skinned, thick and could hold her own. She had genuine empathy for her guests and whatever situation she was talking about. It wasn’t hard for people to connect to her. And as two-way streets go, she got to leave a little of herself in all of us.
By that age, I had started acting and though my parents would have nothing to do with an actor or the profession, I took every opportunity to act. When I couldn’t, it wasn’t unusual to write elaborate stories in my head that I could star in. Those stories were my escape from reality and the happiness I felt in my stories spilled over to my reality.
As I got older, I began to see more women role models. From Late Mrs. Williams, my Primary 3 teacher, who taught me to see people’s humanity first before their tribes, religions and beliefs, to girls like me who were topping their classes.
Because I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother, it wasn’t until I got older that I realized just how much of a role model she was to me. Though she would not admit it, she was the closest definition of a feminist to me at that time. Oh, I didn’t know that word then but her stance on equal treatment of people molded my thoughts on equality.
And then, when I was in secondary school, I stopped looking at black female role models. My role models became white women; Julia Roberts, Danielle Steel, Agatha Christie, and a host of M&B and eHarlequin writers.
One day I woke up and wondered why I didn’t have black female role models. It wasn’t like I wasn’t learning a lot from these white women. I just felt I could also learn as much from women who had my skin tone and could possibly have shared my kind of experience. So… I looked! In music, in films, in education, in health, in politics, the arts, literature, construction, engineering, law, broadcast media and what not. And I found women! Everywhere! Every field! Every profession! Doing great things. Black women, white women, women of Asian heritage, Latina women, Arab women, all women! What helped me find them? Books, television, radio, the internet and my imagination!
Everywhere I looked, there was one black woman doing inspiring things for her community and humanity at large. I wondered why these women weren’t celebrated more, why their achievements always seemed to be tied to the men in their lives and why young girls like me who felt different from the crop of conformists didn’t think we had models to look up to. And the answer was in the question. We ARE DIFFERENT from the norm! We are women who understand our worth and would not kowtow to popular opinions about who or what we should be!
It was easy to connect to Oprah Winfrey, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé Knowles, Genevieve Nnaji, Kemi Adetiba, Mo Abudu, Shonda Rhimes, Ava Duvernay, Taraji P. Henson, Debra L. Lee, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Amina Mohammed and many more because we are all strong black women living our dreams and influencing our societies. I don’t agree with all their opinions but what I have taken from each of them has made me the woman I am today; Ramatu Ada Ochekliye.
We all need to choose female role models to draw our strengths from. There is absolutely nothing wrong in choosing women of different races, religions, tribes, ideologies and beliefs to be your role models. I chose black women because I can relate to them in many ways. I am still inspired by women who are not of my race; Hillary Clinton, Christiane Amanpour, Angela Merkel, Ellen DeGenegeres, Angelina Jolie, Malala Yousefzai to mention a few. Find women who resonate with your principles, your dreams and goals and emulate the better qualities they present as you strive to become the woman you are made to be.
So today, our we celebrate every woman doing her thing, carving a niche in our world, inspiring the next crop of women to do and be better and contributing that umphh to the world that is gradually making the world better than it was yesterday. You rock!