Imani Tafari-Ama | Spotlight on women of substance
In this article I highlight three women, Vivien Morris (Jamaica), Francia Elena Márquez Mina (Colombia) and Aminata Touré (Germany), who have leveraged their activism and advocacy resourcefulness to effect transformation at individual, community and national levels, gaining recognition for their efforts.
JAMAICA AND DRAMA
In Jamaica and several parts of the world, Vivien Morris is known as an award-winning cultural icon. Best known for her storytelling proclivities, Morris is also the quintessential educator, author and community development specialist. For decades, she has deployed her expertise as a griot and performing arts facilitator to coach young talents to shine in the arenas provided by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission. Holder of the Specialist in Speech and Drama portfolio at the recently established Christel House Jamaica School, located at Twickenham Park, right next to the Jose Marti High School, Christel House has been established as a Behaviour Change Communication centre of excellence as part of the 8-nation legacy of the founder, the late Christel de Haan, a native of Germany, who ultimately settled in the United States of America.
The model of this institution is one that sees investment in education for transformation from a holistic perspective. Children who attend the school were targeted because they come from the most underserved communities surrounding Spanish Town as an intentional strategy of social re-engineering. Although the entire Junior School had been constructed, Learners in the Kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2 levels were admitted when the school opened in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The intention is to bring in a new cohort every year until the pioneers, and those that follow them, complete grade 13. While the students are provided with all the material resources needed to enable them to concentrate on the business of learning, the problem is that many of them must live with everyday threats to citizen security when they return home.
As the drama specialist, Morris’ job over the past two years has been to improve communication skills overall, build cultural awareness and to develop a cadre of confident performers. A special focus has been to hone the skill of storytelling, to organise and host a celebratory event every term.
When the JCDC opened the doors for the Speech Competition for 2022, Morris produced several speech items. The school reaped a variety of awards ranging right up to the coveted gold. Kumar Wolfe, a second-grade student, performed ‘Anancy and Hog’ and walked away with the top National Awards for Best Storytelling, Best Speech Item overall and Most Outstanding Costume worn by a Male. This has served to galvanise the entire school population. With intentionality also, Morris incorporates behaviour modification strategies and storytelling techniques, which she has honed over the years, into the curriculum. She skilfully weaves these skills into even the simplest conversations she has with her learners.
The author of The Jamaica Handbook of Proverbs, Vivien is currently preparing a new edition of the book with many exciting additions and a storytelling section, which is being produced in celebration of Jamaica’s 60th anniversary of Independence.
COLOMBIA’S NEW VICE-PRESIDENT
Francia Elena Márquez Mina, 41, is Colombia’s first Black and second female vice-president. She ran on the ticket with the first left-wing presidential candidate, Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogota. Considering the converging factors of social exclusion that provide the context of Márquez ’s journey of advocacy and political representation, her ascendancy is nothing short of remarkable.
She was born in Yolombó in the Colombia Pacific region, in a small community identified as “indigenous” and “black”. In Colombia, these terms are codes for being prime targets of discriminatory treatment at political, social and economic levels. The La Toma community where Márquez is from was targeted by mining companies whose exploitation of the resource-rich environment entailed polluting the river. At 13 years old, when she witnessed the activities of the mega-buck mining companies, which were damming the river in search of minerals, her fate as a political advocate and human rights lawyer were sealed. She started to agitate for environmental justice, a cause she would lead for years.
When Márquez became a teenage mother at 16, she had no choice but to capitulate to the pull of the almighty dollar. She went to work for the mining company and experienced first-hand the very conditions against which she was advocating. Coming from the Colombia Pacific, which has experienced intergenerational warfare, Márquez determined that she would take on a leadership role to actively participate in the process of transformational politics. She became community councillor, to represent the interests of the exploited mining areas. In 2018, she led 80 women on a 350-mile trek from La Toma village to the capital Bogota, to demand the end of illegal gold mining. For this she won the Goldman Environmental prize and was named among the BBC’s 2019 pick of 100 Most Influential Women.
GERMANY’S AMINATA TOURÉ
Twenty-nine-year-old Aminata Touré confesses that President Barack Obama is the role model who inspired her to run for office. She was recently appointed social affairs minister in Germany’s coalition government, led by Christian Democrat David Gunther. Touré is being cheered as the first Black person to hold high office in any the German Federal government’s 16 states. She has reversed gravity and parachuted up channels previously thought of as inaccessible to minority groups.
Touré’s early years were gruelling, as she grew up in a refugee camp, the daughter of parents who had fled the enduring conflict in Mali. She transcended these limitations and demonstrated her intellectual prowess in high school and college. Her activism has been palpable as she has been forthright in her politics in the Schleswig-Holstein Northern Germany region. At the age of 24, Touré, secured her own place in history. In 2017, she ticked off the major achievement of becoming a state lawmaker and in 2019, she was elected deputy speaker, the first “minority” person to hold this office. In her short stint but stellar rise in politics, Aminata Touré has armed herself with equality and social justice agendas and is already a shining star.
- Dr Imani Tafari-Ama is a research fellow at The Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Regional Coordinating Office (IGDS-RCO), at The University of the West Indies. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.