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I remember walking into a radio station in Abuja for an interview. When I got to the green – or waiting – room, I was pleasantly surprised by the surrounding wall that had pictures of many icons on it; Martin Luther King, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Fela and a host of others. As I basked in memories of the work each person had contributed to humanity, I began to notice something that gradually dropped the smile from my face; there was hardly any woman on that wall.
I wondered if the owner didn’t think there were women worthy of being on his wall; women whose contribution to humanity helped shaped the world as it is today; women who deserved to be seen. I wanted to be mad, but I reined it in. It was his wall after all and he could do whatever he wanted with it. Before I left the station however, I promised myself that when I set up my office, I was going to have a wall dedicated to women who had inspired me to contribute to humanity. I would call it my ‘inspiration wall’.
A little over a year after I made that promise to myself, I created my ‘office’ space in my home. I dedicated a wall for my icons and then carefully curated the women I wanted to go up on it. By the time I was done, I had about twenty-four women I wanted to put up. With the space in my home, I could only put up fifteen without making the wall look…too much. Again, I started trimming down my list of inspiring women. When I finally got my 15, I sought pictures of them that captured the essence I felt connected me to them in the first place.
So…I present you my inspiration wall. They are categorized into the following:
1. My Biggest Inspiration: This is the topmost row of the pictures on the wall. It has me, Enigbe Ochekliye, Sadiya Ochekliye, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé Knowles.
I need to put this out there. My mother – Hajiya Hauwa Umar – should be the first person on this row…or even at the very top of it. She taught me resilience and was the first person who showed me what it meant to be a feminist; even though at that point, I didn’t know the word and today, my mother wouldn’t accept the title. One of the biggest lessons I remember from my mother was when she called me and told me to never ask a man for money to get him a birthday present. I was about 8 years old then. What she was saying was, don’t be dependent on a man for the things you need. Make your own money so you can take care of yourself and your family. When people say I work hard, best believe that it is because I have such an innate sense of pride and a burning need to never be dependent on anyone, and especially not on any man. But my mother is also a conservative Muslim who doesn’t believe that pictures should be hung on the wall. So I am respecting her wishes but, you can imagine her hanging somewhere at the top of the pictures.
My sisters – Enigbe and Sadiya – are constantly inspiring me with their dedication to acquiring more knowledge, understanding and innovation. Enigbe is one of the most intelligent women I know. If we grew up in a ‘sensible’ country, she would probably be working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) now. Sadiya is such an empath. She is so loving and caring that it is infectious. The way she relates to those of us that are her family members, her friends, her acquaintances and strangers is worth emulating. They inspire me to be better, to always leave room for more because there is always more I can do with myself and for my interaction with people.
Oprah was the first black woman I saw that showed me we could be anything we wanted to be. She was such powerful and influential trailblazer. She rose in the ranks because she gave 100% of herself…and then some. It was because of Oprah that I knew I wanted to do media. I didn’t know what area I wanted to go into because I was still so sure I was going to be a neurosurgeon but somehow, I felt… ‘if Oprah can do it all, I can do it all’.
And then I met Beyoncé. Singer with Destiny’s Child, energetic spirit and oh so so dedicated to her craft. When I say met, I don’t mean in person…even though it is on my bucket list. Being introduced to how much work went into putting out her music or the up-tempo videos or even the magnificent live performances, caused me to fall in love with her. Who was this woman? Why didn’t she seem to stop? How could she keep going with so much energy and fire? I felt like she was my soul sister. And I don’t need to say it…but I will. Beyoncé is one of my all-time favorite artists in the world.
And then, there is me.
I am one of my biggest inspirations. I work hard, I give my best to whatever it is that I do, I open myself to learning and contributing to my society and I am a good person; even if I say so myself. In the past, I never would have said this. In fact, up until recently, I used to think it was conceited to say good things about one’s self. But I have come to the realization that I am a work-in-progress. I make mistakes, I do bad things sometimes, I am downright horrible at other times…but all these, all of these things, do not negate the fact that I am a good person. If anything, it emphasizes it. I have grown in the last couple of years and I will continue to grow because I believe in myself, my abilities, my intentions and the contributions I can make to humanity. So yeah! I inspire myself!
2. My Media Inspiration: This comprises of the second row and a bit of the third. The women on these rows include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Shonda Rhimes, Ava Duvernay, Mo Abudu, Uche Pedro and Tolu ‘Toolz’ Oniru.
Chimamanda was the one who told me that all the work I was doing towards equality of the sexes was called feminism. When I listened to her Ted Talk – We Should All be Feminists – I wanted to go into the television (or was it my laptop?) to kiss her feet. She encapsulated everything I believed in in that talk and girl was I glad. Unlike most people, I knew about the talk before I knew she was a writer. So, discovering she was a writer was such a huge plus. And when I read her books…mind blown! I wanted to write fiction and center African characters as good – and maybe even better – than her. Listening to that talk had me sprung.
Shonda Rhymes, Ava Duvernay and Mo Abudu are amazing filmmakers. They have told stories that centered women or black people – two areas that mean a lot to me – in such powerful light. Even though Mo Abudu didn’t start out as a filmmaker, her first foray into movies was with Fifty, a story of four women who had to deal with getting older and some of the stereotypes they were expected to begin to take on. Shonda created Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal; three of the biggest series that showed women could be multidimensional without compromising their wholeness. Ava Duvernay caught my eye with Selma, a story about Martin Luther King. Beyond that however, was her insistence on bringing more women into filming crews. She didn’t just talk the talk; she walked it. In fact, all three women brought a diversification to female characters that was out of the norm. Knowing I was going to be making movies, they showed me filmmaking was not relegated to acting for women. Women can and should be part of the crew and other aspects of filmmaking. Don’t be surprised when you see ‘Created, Written, Directed and Produced by Ramatu Ada Ochekliye’ on some films soon.
Uche Pedro is the founder of Bellanaija, an online lifestyle magazine. While I may not really care about the entire theme of the website – beauty, weddings, lifestyle – I loved how she was constantly evolving and growing the page. The content on the website was premium and she had bought into a need that would ensure the blog never failed. It is interesting to note that I was interviewed by her for a job role sometime in 2016. Though she turned me down, she gave me advise that really set me going. She told me I was doing great work with my blog and that I should keep at it as it would open doors for me that I could not even imagine. When I told people what she said, they said she was just being nice in turning me down. I took her advice and guess who got the unimaginable opportunities just because I focused on my blog? Yeah!
When I had just started out on radio, I was told to understudy Toolz. The anchor who brought me on wanted me to sound like her. I was intrigued, and I started listening to her show in Lagos all the way from Yola, Adamawa State. I would listen to her every single day until I learned that I didn’t need to sound like her. I was me, my own person, and I had my own style. Women were not monoliths and we didn’t need to sound alike. It was at this point that I started listening to her as a fan. Without the pressure of sounding like her, I realized how effortlessly fantastic she really was. I got to enjoy her quick wit and grasp of pop culture. She inspires me to be on top of my game when I talk, when that mic is in front of me, when I have that audience…or listener.
3. My Power Advocates: This makes up the rest of the last row. Made up of Amina Mohammed, Hillary Clinton, Juliet K’ego and Malala Yousefzai, these women are better known for their activism and advocacy. They call for an inclusion of women and girls in the full aspects of society, the respect of their rights and an end to all the practices that continue to endanger the lives women and girls.
Hillary Clinton reminded us why we must break the glass ceilings of power so that more women can run for office and take up political positions. Amina Mohammed is using her role as the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations to advocate for equality for all sexes and peoples of the world. Malala Yousefzai got shot in the face because she demanded that girls needed to go to school. Her voice remains one of the loudest voices advocating for universal basic education and equal treatment of all human beings. Juliet K’ego is known for her activism against the Nigerian government, with special focus on the governments that run the South Eastern States of the country. She demands accountability, transparency and proactive governance.
As my office spaces become bigger, more women will go up on my inspiration wall. I am shooting for a-one-thousand-pictures inspiration wall, so you know I have my work cut out for me…and I need a huge office.
Why is this important? Quite simple. All through history, the work and contributions of women have been constantly erased by the extremely patriarchal (and mostly misogynistic) society that we live in. Imagine all the work being done by Funmilayo Ransome Kuti 9for example) being summarized into the banal ‘first woman to drive a car in Nigeria’ trope. There are more women whose names or work weren’t even mentioned.
I am grateful to be in this era where women are refusing gender stereotypes and choosing to be seen, heard, and respected. I am proud to raise my voice with millions of women as we stamp our existence in the annals of history. We are the generation that will continue to insist that treating people equally is the only way society must exist. We will make being a woman in the next generation easier until society reaches equilibrium. And we will make sure people remember us while we are at it.
So, I am raising my inspiration wall of one thousand women, starting with my fifteen. I want someone to walk into my office and ask, ‘who are these women?’ ‘why are they up on your wall?’ ‘how have they contributed to humanity?’. And I want to watch them learn about these amazing women and know that we hold up half the sky…and we are doing a darn good job at it.
Our representation matters.