Let’s step into today’s world through the eyes+voice of University of Oxford graduate, Sade - a young/powerful Black woman navigating life’s trials, tribulations and triumphs.
Sade reflects on what it means to be a Black woman in our time, sharing her unique journey of resilience - about thriving when the odds are stacked against you whilst tackling racial and cultural otherness at one of Britain’s most prestigious and oldest educational institutions.
By Sade Clarke for UnApologeticallyMel.com
📸 Sade Clarke
For some people, their motivations are their future, others it’s a fear of failure and for many, it is the pressure to do better than the next person. For me, I would say that my biggest motivation is the past and learning from past experiences to improve future and current situations, however big or small.
This may be down to the fact that I’m an old soul or it may be due to my love of ancient history; but I have always been a strong believer in the notion of needing to look back before one can look forward.
When I started my degree at Oxford, it would be an understatement to say that I was thrown into the deep end ... into a world I was not prepared for, nor did I understand!
The journey of survival was a difficult one! I had to develop coping strategies for stress, delve deeper into my own interests and somehow figure out what I felt my purpose was, while spending a lot of my time (too much!), energy, and effort trying to keep afloat.
In my first year of university, I began to curate thematic Spotify playlists to play while studying. I would intertwine my love of music with my love of Greek History (somewhat cringey, I know?!). From this was birthed R for Rho, my Reggae playlist. I would blast the likes of John Holt, Beres Hammond, Tenor Saw and Barrington Levy in my attic room in the far, far corner of the residence hall. When they say music speaks to the soul, they could not be more right.
The heavy bass and beautiful drums would thrust me into a headspace that allowed me to connect with myself beyond the letters of Oxon that would soon follow my name. I felt like I’d been transported to my nan’s living room back in London, surrounded by all my family.
It was a reminder of the sacrifices made by my great grandmother (may she rest in peace) during her move from Jamaica to England and, how hard my Mum had worked her whole life to survive, to provide for her family and to give her kids a brighter future.
📸 Sade Clarke
Understanding that I truly was my ancestors' wildest dreams, was a big responsibility but it was one that filled me with pride and determination.
Fast forward almost five years - it's been nearly two years since I graduated, and my playlists are still on rotation. I’m still on the hunt for that perfect graduate job everyone was searching for while at university but I have indeed, earned the Oxon after my name.
Given the change in circumstance and surroundings, I ask myself what motivates me now? What keeps me going in times of difficulty? What fuels me to aim higher and do better in life?
My answer is simple - my biggest motivation is the beauty of the unknown and the unexpectedness of tomorrow.
When times are particularly hard, knowing that tomorrow brings a new day with new possibilities is an incredible thing.
Having looked to the past, connected with it and interacted with it, I can now engage with my future. One thing that I have come to appreciate in recent years is that I come from a long line of matriarchs and I have a legacy to fulfil and leave, one that prioritises happiness and authenticity.
Staying true to myself and standing up for what I believe in goes beyond my need for individual change and difference.
Therefore, while I am yet to bag the job of my dreams, I am grateful for the personal development that has taken place during these years.The path to greatness isn’t an easy one and so when receiving countless rejections and writing too many applications to count, the reminder that all the obstacles I face now will contribute to my bright future, comforts me.
However, when I do feel disheartened, procrastination hits and I lose sight of who I am and what I stand for, I remind myself of these words:
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.
This reminds me that when I’m feeling overwhelmed, completing even the smallest task is a massive achievement.
Valuing the small victories as well as the big wins are so necessary.
Often, I find that focussing on the bigger picture all the time is unproductive. Although it must be said that this is not an encouragement to lose sight of this bigger picture but rather an encouragement to study this picture and dissect it for its minute details. This way there is constant progress, even in the times when it feels like doing things are impossible.
Since I was sixteen, the quote above has circulated through my mind - especially when I lacked motivation. I’m a strong believer in transitions. The unexpectedness of the future is a beautiful thing but making steps to be in more control of your day-to-day can never go unrecognised.
Ms. King, my secondary school Geography teacher, would routinely share motivational quotes on a piece of paper, before then I hadn’t really engaged with motivational quotes.
Of course, I was familiar with the Caribbean proverb, ‘What don’t kill will fatten and What don’t fatten does purge' however the idea of using words as a source of personal empowerment was quite new to me.
Looking back, when my Mum would say these words to me, the symbolism stretched further than that of food! It was also a note to take on life's challenges and know that I will rise, as I immerse myself and connect to my own experiences, unveiling some of the the most important lessons in life that people learn the hard way.
📸 Sade Clarke
It has not been an easy journey learning about myself and my true motivations. The acquired wisdom is the direct result of the adversity I faced at university while trying to thrive in an environment like Oxford.
I had almost lost my identity as Sade but instead became, Sade; Black girl; State School; from Croydon.
The Sade Story, Part II: Oxford Otherness – The Legacy of Racism
During my time at Oxford, disrupting the status quo somehow became part of my day-to- day experience. The status quo is not something to be simply accepted, if it operates in a way that leaves some in great comfort while marginalising others - it is not one I wish to take part in.
When it came to the treatment of current and prospective ethnic minority students, I had to be vocal and do what I could to make a difference ...
To Be Continued The Sade Story, Part II: Oxford Otherness – The Legacy of Racism