Why Beyond Bars Akademia?

Stephanie-Simbo

I grew up in the hood…

I will be honest for a long time when younger, I tried to cover it up. Being a black woman from the hood was not something to be proud of.

I was like many, a statistic for the French Government.

Even though I loved my neighbourhood, it was also the scene of robberies, burned cars, battles between gangs, rapes in caves which led the police and everyone to basically abandon us.

My brother went to jail, some of his friends got killed, some just disappear.

When he got out, the light in his eyes vanished. He was smiling but his smile reminded me of how a clown smile to make people laugh but who is deeply sad inside.

His future? My future? Our future? Being dead or ending up behind bars.

What about women? Becoming a mother, a cashier lady, a prostitute, drug dealer or unemployed.

Is that really what we can hope for a person of colour?

I believed education was my way out.

Since I am a child, reading was and still is my favourite hobby. When I was opening a book, I was out of my ghetto, my house. I was meeting Hemingway in Cuba, being rebellious with Elizabeth Bennet in the 19th, eating oranges with Zeze…

I was happy, alone in the library often deserted by kids.

Which led to my decision of leaving the house as soon as my SAT test came back.

Boom! perfect score, I have been accepted in one of the best law schools.

The best one is in Paris… Mmm no.

Too close to where I live.

The other one is in Bordeaux. Bingo.

At 17 years old, I put 680km between my home and me.

I was free…or so I thought.

Went to school and realized that it was not what I wanted to study. Changed and studied languages, not the right choice either.

After all my diplomas, I struggled to find a job. Although being overqualified, the struggle was real and I did not understand why.

I started to feel depressed, lonely, angry.

What did I do wrong? Is it something in me? Is it the society? Being a woman is difficult when looking for employment but being black as well… double discrimination.

Much of my experience as a black woman has been learning to survive in white spaces.

I was doing everything in my power to transcend my race, to be more relatable to my peers.

There were thousands of subtle ways that I changed myself to make sure I was the right kind of black girl for the white people who suddenly surrounded me. Funny. Sweet. Not too bossy. Not too loud.

I had to make sure that I didn’t stand out more than I already did. I felt like everyone was looking at me, waiting for the moment that I dropped the ball so that I could confirm their preconceived notions about black people.

The code-switching was exhausting.

I realised that I believed in a society where equality was a fundamental pillar and being practised and I was wrong.

I was lost, with no landmark, nothing to give me a lead on what was supposed to be that amazing life I was imagining.

This is when it hit me.

For most of my life, I have lived somewhere between who I really am and how I am perceived.

I don’t fit in.

I used to think that was terrible while in fact, it is amazing!

When you don’t fit, you’re forced to see the world from many different angles and points of view. You find knowledge from various people and places. And their lessons, for better or worse, have shaped me today.

I discovered that I also have allies and one safe zone that always let me unapologetically me.

I realized how much I loved living in the hood and how I should not try to change who I am to fit in.

Why? Because my neighbourhood was not just that. It was a neighbourhood where Francesca and her family from Cape Verde invited me to eat delicious plantains, or Jennyfer from Martinique helped me to dance Zouk love.

The hood was full of people who despite society throwing them apart, were still fighting for their happiness. And trust me, they were happy. Happier than many people I met along my crazy adventures.

In the hood, you have a deep sense of community. When someone is struggling. Everyone helps.

Kids grow up together, you do not have racism because we are all the same, poor but happy.

When looking at my photos albums, I see blacks, whites, people from so many different countries all together, smiling.

And every time, I am going back, this is the same.

I might have been raised in the gutter, but I could choose to stay in and do not mind other’s business or take an active part to make a difference. Ending my life better than it started, and be ambitious and hungry to achieve something bigger than myself.

I am not looking to be the spoke person of any cause, I just believe in this:

If you foster an honest ambition, something that you truly believe can help to change the life of others, just do it.

Failure is never one if you try.

This is how BBA came up!

As a woman, I struggled to find a job and be accepted as equal in various places, although I was on paper and on field 2 times better than the rest of my male counterparts.

The scope of gender equality is broad and raises so many issues, so what about narrowing it to a specific category who like me suffer from multiple discriminations?

I do not want to racialized my future company which is why excluding one skin colour was absurd so I had to come up with something that embraces all races, women but enough reduced to not have to deal with thousands of them.

One day, my brother told me that second chances are not given to make things right but instead are given to prove that we could be better even after we fall.

And then it hit me again…

Prisoners…

Nowadays, we are often defined by where we from or what we have done, so what can be done for these women to change the rules of the game and allow them to have a second chance?

How does a woman who just got out of jail feels/needs when back to society?

How can we give them an equal opportunity on the employment market?

Which processes need to be thought and revise to break that double discrimination that ex-female inmates face while looking for a job position?

Your history should not dictate your destiny.

BBA was born.

 

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