On 29th October 2017, the country held its first ever Black Girl Festival at Kachette in East London. The festival is the brainchild of curator Nicole Crentsil and Paula Akpan, co-founder of the ‘I’m Tired’ project. Its aim was to “celebrate and explore what it means to be a Black woman in the UK”.
The ongoing (mis)treatment of black women in this country remains a huge problem. We are undervalued and too often treated as if we’re invisible. The racism and sexism (or misogynoir, a term coined by queer black feminist Moya Bailey) directed at us impacts our everyday lives. This year alone, numerous black British women have been vilified by the media and the masses for simply being vocal. Black Girl Festival seems to have come at a perfect time.
Featuring panel discussions, workshops, entertainment and a bustling marketplace full of black-owned businesses, the sold-out, crowdfunded event felt like hugely a self-affirming, joyous safe space for black women and girls. Black women showed up in droves to this historical event; the queue must have stretched hundreds of yards down the street. Black British women’s experiences and achievements aren’t highlighted enough. Therefore it’s no surprise that Black Girl Festival attracted overwhelming support from the moment it was announced. To me, this proves that there is a clear need for spaces like Black Girl Festival.
The atmosphere at Black Girl Festival was incredible. I was thrilled to see so many black women I admire in one place, including Siana Bangura, Kelechi Okafor, The Slumflower, Danielle Dash, Jay and Tri of Curlture. The energy that filled the venue was on another level. You could hear it in the laughter and hums that rippled through the audience during the panel discussions and in the many voices that loudly sang along to Lauryn Hill and SZA in the crowded marketplace. It felt like everyone was basking in pride and joy the entire day, because we knew that Black Girl Festival was created for us, by us.
We were able to comfortably share our experiences and opinions without fear of being judged or silenced. We also talked candidly about everything from natural hair and black women in the media to education, mental health and starting a business. The marketplace was one of my favourite parts of the day. The festival was a perfect opportunity to meet and celebrate black women as well as support black-owned businesses. The businesses in attendance sold makeup, books, zines, artworks, stationery, clothing, accessories and more.
I think I’ve been waiting for something like Black Girl Festival for a while. In the last couple of years, I’ve realised that I’ve felt happiest and most comfortable when surrounded by black women. That’s why I love spaces like Black Girl Festival. They show that black women don’t have to see each other as competition. It reminded me that as black women, we are each other’s biggest supporters and that our voices matter. Black Girl Festival is a brilliant example of what we can achieve through collaboration. I’m so happy to have left the festival with some new friends. Thank you to Paula and Nicole for organising a festival for black women and girls of all ages and genders. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
It’s been a week and I’m still mentally reliving all the magic of the UK’s first Black Girl Festival. At last month’s Women of Colour Europe conference, someone said that all you need to do is have a group of black women in a room and it’s going to be amazing. I can’t think of a better way to describe Black Girl Festival.
(Because I was having so much fun and getting my life on the day, I didn’t take many pictures. If you want to see what went down, search #blackgirlfestival on Twitter/ Instagram and follow @BlackGirlFest for updates on future events.)