Sydenham High is spellbound by Dr Shola

As part of our Lecture Series, and to kick off Black History Month, Sydenham High was treated to an exhilarating afternoon with Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, lawyer and women’s rights activist, as she fired up staff and students to believe in themselves and to be themselves, to be excited about their ethnicity, culture, background, as there is nothing to be ashamed of. She began by talking about finding a cause to fight for and how important it is to be passionate about things – whatever they may be. She reminded us all that there is no one definition to you and others cannot define you. It is so important to open your mind and embrace the opportunities as there is no full stop after your name, only commas: lawyer, mother, activist.

Dr Shola had an insightful message about comparing yourself to others, as when you see a successful person you only see the end package and not the journey to that point – everyone has moments of self doubt but they pick themselves up and it’s the journey that makes you stronger. Being vocal doesn’t always mean being loud, but making a stand for what you believe in. She also touched on the women’s rights movement, noting that is not just about yesterday but today, to create the way for future generations and how important it is to be cheerleaders for your friends and colleagues.

She had the audience chanting back positive statements, such as “I am worth fighting for”, “I am a girl with a dream! I am fire!” and inspired the girls to think about the dream in them as the world is waiting for them as the next generation of agents for change. The atmosphere was electric and it was clear that the girls are ready to show the world who they are and initiate the change that they want to see. The session was expertly opened and closed by our Head Girls, Saffron and Sophika and were joined by a Sixth Form Panel in the second half of the session, who asked some excellent questions, submitted by pupils over the past week:

What made you become a women’s rights activist?

I experienced inequality and was angry, but in truth, I have always been an activist. When something needs to change you need to do something, not just complain but bring a solution. Not everything will get your blood boiling but once you realise what does, then get up and do something about it.

Should 16 year olds have the right to vote if there is a second referendum on Brexit?

The youth should have more input as they are the ones who will be affected. There is so much that 16 year olds are able to do so why not vote? You definitely should campaign to get your voices heard even if you can’t vote.

What are the qualities I need to be leader?

Be you. Be able to identify issues you care about and why. It is important as a leader to listen and get different perspectives so that you have a balanced view. You may still end up with the same opinion but other perspectives help shape your thinking. When you make a decision, actively participate and learn from any mistakes. Lead from heart and the head and as a woman, embrace the power your gender brings. Be proud of what you bring and don’t conform – sometimes what stands out about you is your strength. Finally – you are always growing and learning as a leader.

What has been your biggest challenge in the world of work?

You have to prepare yourself with the skill set required for your profession – it is hard work and it is competitive. Stepping into a space where statistics are seemingly limiting you can be daunting so attitude is important. Even if it doesn’t go your way at first, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Be vocal about what you’re worth, build resilience and decision making and be authentic. Take every opportunity to learn and grow and bring others with you. To overcome challenges, you must support the next person – male or female. Together we can bring about change.

What was the largest battle you faced when giving a public talk?

On the March for Women, whilst trying to rally people around global legislation for violence against women, the teleprompter stopped working! Luckily I had read brief so I reverted to just being myself, got them up and engaged and then told them how to sign up to the petition. I also experienced heckling at the anti-Brexit protest from some vocal Boris fans…

Do you feel women are still perceived as less than men?

Yes, sadly, in some circles, but women’s voices are now amplified through so many platforms that we are changing the narrative and the conversation. It’s all about positively disrupting the status quo and being change makers. We cannot allow the voices from the dark ages to drown out our voices – you are all going to be agents of, and for, change.

Dr Shola spoke with real passion, authenticity and very much from the heart, connecting fully with her audience and inspiring us all. We were all very much spellbound by her presentation in the Longton Hall and I hope that her calls for the girls to believe in themselves and to be themselves will stick.

– Mrs Woodcock, Headmistress