Intro: Being a Changemaker means being someone who’s able to inspire others but who or what inspires a Changemaker? We put the question to Dr Mena Fombo.
Your track record is admirable, to say the least, you have headed endless projects and organisations for your cause. How do you stay inspired creatively? What is your main source of inspiration?
Thank you – sometimes I do question why I run four businesses? But then I remember how I felt as a young girl growing up in Bristol: not having access to black spaces, black teachers and rarely seeing black British women on TV. Growing up I was obsessed with wanting to be African American because that was really the main representation I saw on TV. I think about young Mena and what it would’ve been like if things were different for her? What if she didn’t have to navigate a world filled with the distraction that is racism, and sexism, and classism?
I also think about my six-year-old niece who hasn’t realised how cruel the world can be for black women. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it because right now she’s so innocent, but in a very short time it will begin for her – I’m motivated by the idea that through my work I can have an impact on making us visible within creative industries, more and better represented in mainstream media. I’m motivated by the idea that by the time she is older there will be more black-owned spaces for her to engage with, and that racism will not be such a distraction for her generation as it is and has been for all of us who have come before her. I’m just one person so I can only affect so much – and when I talk it sounds like I’m trying to change the world – but as a black woman it can often feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and it’s hard not to do everything in your power to keep going.
Back to the question – what am I motivated by? I’m motivated by change, real change. I’m motivated by finding solutions and implementing them. I am motivated by young, who are yet to experience life full motion. I’m motivated by older people who have been through so much and passed on the benefits to us. I see my role as a baton carrier – I pass the baton from the elders who have taught me to the young people I work with. I’m motivated when I see or meet real allies, who actually understand and commit to the movement, without expecting something in return. I’m motivated by supporting and championing black people, especially black women. I’m motivated by elevating queer voices and advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
My creativity comes from the same places as my inspiration! I’m inspired by black people and right now I’m focused on telling stories through films about black women and the queer community – I also love sport, so I’m also exploring how this can be part of my storytelling.
As an activist who is an inspiration to so many, who is another powerful woman who inspires you? Why?
Oprah Winfrey has been one of my main inspirations since I was about 8 years old! She has an amazing story and has blazed a trail through so many spaces, consistently using her power to lift others, and she did it all against the odds, as a black woman born into a segregated America. “Seek to be whole, not perfect” and “live your best life” are two of my favourite Oprah quotes!