WORLD AFRO DAY HAS BEEN BLESSED WITH VOLUNTEERS FROM ALL BACKGROUNDS AND COUNTRIES, WHO HAVE GIVEN UP THEIR TIME TO SUPPORT OUR CAUSE. PROFESSORS, DOCTORS, TEACHERS, TRICHOLOGISTS, HAIRDRESSERS, GRAPHIC DESIGNERS, CEO, PHOTOGRAPHER, CATWALK MODELS, AND STUDENTS.
Kate and Gemma in conversation
Let’s meet two volunteers past and present to see why they do it. We hope after reading this, you might like to get involved too…
Kate is a teacher and mother to Ruby Williams. She is white and 44 years old.
Gemma is a writer from Birmingham, based in London. She is mixed race and 29 years old.
K – Thank you again for giving up some of your time to volunteer for WAD. You have the passion and you are bringing the skills! How do you feel it’s been going since you started volunteering with WAD?
G – It’s been really good so far. I’ve worked as a writer in some capacity for the last 9 years, but you so rarely get the chance to work on something that you’re really passionate about from the start. But that’s what this has been for me. The mission to end Afro hair discrimination in schools is something that’s so close to my personal experience – and as we know from WAD’s own research, it’s the case for so many young people, when they go through school. So it’s been a real privilege to be involved with an organisation working to drive such important changes.
Funnily enough, I got involved as a result of reading about Ruby. I wrote an article about Ruby’s case and about how much space hair is supposed to occupy. Then off the back of that, you (Kate) got in touch to let me know that you’d read it (which I should say was surreal and terrifying in equal measure – you don’t expect the people who the article is about to ever actually read it!). You told me about volunteering for WAD and I got involved from there.
So Kate, now it’s your turn. How did you first get involved with WAD? Of course it came after your family’s campaign following Ruby’s case, but it would be great to hear the story of how you came to be a volunteer?
K – We had to be so patient, whilst the legal case was still happening and keep things very confidential for risk of jeopardising it. We knew that Ruby’s story was going to add power to the campaign and we wanted to contribute to the work already being done, rather than creating our own lane so to speak. We chose WAD because of the positive message they are bringing. Yes there are sad stories of course, but it is more about celebrating and building confidence! It is so great to be part of something bigger than just our story, Ruby, and the fight we faced. It has helped me to start healing as I am carrying a lot of hurt about what happened to Ruby but being part of such a positive movement for change has helped me put some of that in its right place. As a teacher and mother, I want to stay focused on preventing this from happening to another pupil.
Tell me, what has been your favourite task so far?
G – I started in December 2020 to help out with some of the writing. But funnily enough, my favourite thing hasn’t been a writing project but working on creating a video to illustrate founder Michelle’s poem, There’s a War. I’ve never made a video before so that was a really cool thing to try. And the words were so fabulous that illustrating it was all the more exciting.
Outside the day-to-day projects, I’ve also really enjoyed just being part of something so positive. I love the way WAD operates and focuses on driving change with events to empower young people. It’s inspiring really.
What about you? You’ve been a volunteer for much longer than me so you must have been involved in a real selection of things.
K – I have 2 favourites! I loved being the contact person for the entrants of our ‘Top Ten Model’ competition. Although it wasn’t easy having to ring the semi-finalists, who didn’t go through! I loved watching the winners flourish and enjoy the celebration. Ruby being their make-up artist for the photoshoot was the icing on the cake as I felt so proud of everyone involved, especially Ruby’s first professional gig as a qualified make-up artist!
One of my first tasks with WAD was interviewing other parents who have experienced this with their children. These chats sometimes lasted hours! It seemed like a natural progression to start a support group for parents so I have enjoyed doing that and creating a safe space for parents to share, and help each other. Doing that in association with WAD gives it that positive focus of celebrating Afro hair.
G – It must have been rewarding and kind of cathartic to meet others who had experienced similar things to you and your family.
On that note, what do you think has been your biggest learning since you started volunteering for WAD?
K – I have grown into my ‘ally skin’ since volunteering! I have learnt that I can play my part by listening, learning and being in the back seat. It was scary at first as I am a bit worried about that whole ‘white saviour’ thing and not being wanted. The team has made me feel so welcome and we can joke about their surprise delivery of a middle aged white woman! I have found my voice, by being quiet.
What about you?
G – I guess I’ve been most surprised that discrimination against Afro hair in schools is such an acute issue. When I was at school, there was a lot of ignorance about what made hair ‘normal’ or ‘scruffy’ – but when I read about Ruby’s case, I was shocked to learn that the discrimination was so tightly and unapologetically woven into the school’s uniform policy. And that this wasn’t a one off! Even as someone with Afro hair, I’ve learned loads in only three months.
If someone was thinking about volunteering, what advice would you give them?
K – I would say, if you’re passionate enough about it, you should do it! It isn’t an easy task though: as soon as progress is made, the goal is shifting. We need to be constantly thinking about next steps and planning. Think about what specific skills you can bring to this important challenge. Commitment is important too though so you need to think about it carefully to make sure it is what you want.
What would you say?
G – I would probably say that as someone that works full-time, make sure that you have time to give this your proper effort. It’s so worth it being involved and a really important cause. You can be in control of the hours that you help out so it’s not like you’re working all hours! But it definitely needs organisation on your part. I found it really useful to make a calendar of what needed doing and when so that I could fit it around work effectively. And I’m so glad that I did. It’s been a really rewarding thing to be part of.
K– Yes I’d agree with that too! Speaking of time… we better get back to our evenings ourselves as self-care is also important! Have a great evening and lovely chatting with you!
G – You too Kate and speak soon.
Want to get involved?
Get in touch here or use the content form on our site. We’re always looking for more hands on deck so we’d love to hear from you!