Group Head, Human Resources & Corporate Services, Lindland Group NIG
“…power to me is not something that is rigid and solid, but something that literally ebbs and flows. For me a Power Woman is someone who really embodies that. Embodies the understanding that she is an evolution and she will continue to be that until her last breath…”
You are doing some amazing things right now. What was the vision behind making your documentary happen? How and why was this so precious to you? What was it for you that inspired you to do it?
The documentary was about three years in the making. The first thing that inspired me to do it is because I am a black woman. I wanted to create something that not only posed the true history of black women in America, but also celebrated black women in America. Typically, through just knowing the history of black women in America, you come to realize how black women experienced America was deeply rooted in dehumanization. For me, it was really about creating something that re-humanizes us, and also tells black women, “I see you, I hear you, and you matter,”’ while also serving as a re-education to other viewers. What I know to be true is that what we were taught in school is a revision of history. It’s not the truth of American history, nor the truth of black history. I wanted to create something that contributed to the narrative of black women’s experiences in America… When you understand that this society is rooted in the notion of white supremacy, when you understand this society is rooted in the notion of individualism instead of collectivism, it starts to make sense. These systems that we live in, these social constructs that we live in, are not immutable truth. We do have the power to reimagine something completely different. The thing is, what we are fighting against is a belief system, right? We are living in the mental health of old white men. Someone imagined cell phones, and that’s how it manifested. Someone imagined the idea of slavery, and that manifested. What we are up against is a belief system, and until you can uproot the belief system of everybody in a society, change doesn’t happen. For me, it is about addressing that head on, but also empowering people. It’s not always just talking about what we want to dismantle, but also what we are building in its place. Getting people to a space where they understand they have the power to reimagine something new, something better than what already exists. That we don’t have to settle for what we have been told is true.
What in your opinion are the qualities of a power woman?
I think all nurturing virtues make a powerful woman. It’s exhibiting the virtues of compassion, courage, love, radical acceptance and understanding. For me, a powerful woman is someone who understands their innate power. It is someone who understands who she is, and understands that because life is ever evolving, she is ever evolving. A powerful woman to me is not something that is rigid and solid, but something that is literally ebbing and flowing. For me, a powerful woman is someone who really embodies those ideals. She embodies the understanding that she is an evolution, and she will continue to be that until her last breath.
Do you feel that women play a strong role in the COVID-19 pandemic in the way they have reacted to it is basically what we are saying. We can take politicians as a perfect example here, when we got female leaders, they have managed to maintain the spread. If more women were involved in top decisions, I think there would be less of a spread because they are naturally resilient and fight back. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think women would play a bigger and better role in this situation?
Absolutely, I think women should be in more leadership roles. For me, it is more of a collective perspective. We need to see our society from a collective view and understand that we are all interconnected. Combatting this virus takes all of us being active participants in order to alleviate our suffering. Do I think this current administration has failed the American people because its leadership is heavily patriarchal? Absolutely. You have so many women in government from A.O.C., to Katy Porter. There are so many incredible women who are stepping up in the place of poor leadership to guide this pandemic. It is important that when cultivating a response around something as large as a pandemic, all voices are relevant. All voices need to be heard. I do agree that women should have more seats at the table when it comes to decision-making around the pandemic.
With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance the effort and pursuit of gender equality? Do you see it as a global approach, or do you see it in a specific approach you are passionate about?
I think it is more of a global approach. Piggybacking off what I just said about this notion of “‘No one is free unless we are all free,” when I think about gender equality, I don’t think of it in binary terms of male and female, I think about it as a spectrum. Gender equality means that not only is there equality between men and women, but also for folks that identify as trans, and folks that identify as non-binary. I think it’s very important that when we are talking about gender equality, we are not excluding them. If we are, then we are falling into the realm of patriarchy. It is imperative that when we talk about gender equality, we attempt to be as inclusive as possible. The way I balance my efforts in the pursuit of anything I am a part of whether that’s me creating a project, or me writing, or me speaking, is that I make sure it’s gender inclusive. I am looking across the board like who is my team? What does the makeup of this team look like? What am I doing to ensure I speak to all voices on the gender spectrum? For me, it is a global approach. I don’t think that any action that someone takes regarding social justice is for one specific reason. You need to look at it through a global lens. Once again, I think we are all interconnected, so when we are fighting for liberation, gender equality, social and racial justice, we are looking at it and approaching it from a global scale.
What do you think is the number one action we can take toward empowering women and gender equality?
When thinking about the number one action we can take toward empowering women and gender equality, the only way that can really happen is if you’re looking at the root of what is causing these various isms. The root of it all, in my opinion, is colonialism. Colonialism is rooted in the notions of white supremacy and the patriarchy. It is also rooted in philosophies that are binary and acquisition based. Whenever there is a form of acquisition, it means I must take something. I am right, you’re wrong. There is this binary way of thinking regarding right and wrong, and so for me the number one action we can take towards empowering women as well as finding gender, social, and racial equality is to uproot these systems of colonialism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. That’s the only way to further empowerment because if you don’t do that, there will not be a lasting effect. If you look at the past century, we have tried every other thing but that. We tried reform, we tried creating new policies, but they don’t last. It is not sustainable. The way that you promote empowerment is looking at the root cause of this disempowerment.
Was there a defining moment in your life and experience that led you to where you are today?
The most recent turning point that led me to where I am today is the making of my documentary, in all honesty. In the making of Invisible Portraits, I went through nine months of research, six days a week, fourteen-hour days, just researching American history, researching black women’s history, and really diving deep in the history of this country. Doing that really changed me in ways I didn’t expect. The first three months were difficult for me. I would read six days a week, and on the seventh day I would rest or do something outside of research as a method of self-care. I realized I couldn’t get out of bed. I spent most of my days crying. It was because the things I was reading about were so heavy. I experienced a plethora of emotions like anger, rage, and sadness. It was in those moments I realized for me, it felt like a duty. It was a duty to get these stories out, to become a vessel for these women who I now consider to be my ancestors, for me to get these stories out and tell the truth around black women’s lives in America. In doing that, I realized I wasn’t living life fully. I was shrinking myself. I felt that was what I had to do. In making this documentary, it gave me permission to live fully and authentically as myself. That really changed the way I live life.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
The best advice ever given to me was from my mom. I was in college and I thought I wanted to pledge to a sorority. I remember one of the girls called me at three in the morning and was like, “Get to my house now.” I ran to this girl’s house and met four other girls that were pledging with me. They gave us a box and said, “There is a project due at nine in the morning and we need it done.” Then they closed the door on us. I remember looking at this box and thinking there is no way we can get this done. The other girls were freaking out and crying and I said, “Alright, we have a choice. We can do this, and we’ll fail miserably. Or we can say we are not doing this. This is so unfair.” We all decided not to do it and dropped the box back off at the girl’s house and told them we wouldn’t do the project. I remember driving home and one of the girls in the sorority sent me a message saying, “You just ruined your life. Just know that.” I was bawling when I got home, and I saw my mom. She asked me where I’d been. I continue to cry, saying “I don’t know what to do. I think I messed up.” Before she could answer, I went to sleep. When I woke up, my mom had handwritten a note and I still have it to this day in my room. She taped it to my mirror in my bathroom. The note said, “The only goal you can’t accomplish is the one you don’t go after.” That, by far, has been one of my life’s mantras. In that moment I realized, “is this something you want to do, Oge? If it is, fight tooth and nail for it. If it is not, you can walk away from it.” I ultimately decided to walk away, but what it taught me was that there was nothing I cannot do. The only thing that can’t be accomplished in my life is if I don’t go after it. That quote has literally been one of my guiding lights since then.
What’s your favorite book? Fiction or nonfiction, present or past?
One of my favorite books is called Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy DeGruy.
My next question is what do you most value in friends?
Vulnerability, compassion, and care.
What traits do you find most uncomfortable in yourself?
What do you consider is the most overrated virtue?
I don’t think any virtue is overrated. I think that we need to focus on all of them. I think virtues are values, and I don’t think there is any instance where a value is overrated.