I made pathways where I found none

I go by Penny  Wangari-jones but my full name is actually Peninah. I used to say it’s an English name but now I know to say it’s a Christian name. I have learnt that because I have not come across many Peninahs , having lived in the UK for the nearly two decades.

I also used to say that because anything that did not sound Kenyan was bound to be English. Some Kenyans, and specifically my ethnic community Kikuyu, have a tradition of naming their children after their parents. So I was named after my grandmother but her initial name was actually Nyamarume Wangari. It was changed to Peninah when she got baptised and converted to Christianity during British rule.

I grew up and studied in Kenya and had a fairly rounded upbringing with liberal parents who were proud of their history, including granddad being a MauMau  (freedom fighter) and how my dad and siblings were held in reserves when he was imprisoned. They were very aware of the impact colonialism had on minds, cultures and states.Underlying that were deep-rooted family values and the quest for fairness and justice. I brought these with me when I migrated to UK.

I was aware I was Kenyan and black but it was the first time that I understood and came to terms with my blackness, identifying/identified as an African and what that meant. It was during and after my social sciences degree that my confidence to handle and tackle issues of being black, isolated and on the margins grew. Driven by passion and desire for fairness, I raised awareness about injustices faced by migrants and BME communities. I made pathways where I found none. I found and made connections with others because that seemed the right way to do it. I felt empowered and I believe I did the same for others who had been just as isolated and unaware of their own powers. I also found allies who were not outwardly struggling but who wanted to lend a hand and support those who were not in privileged positions.

Many years on, having learnt a lot, been supported and supported others a lot. Sometimes questioning if we are making progress–and if not, why? — the journey led me to Migrants Organise. I cover Yorkshire and Humber region, mainly based in west Yorkshire regions of Bradford and Leeds. Over the past few months, I have met very enthusiastic groups and individuals  in other regions like Wakefield, Huddersfield, Sheffield and Halifax. I came into this believing that despite our nuances in terms of regions, we come from and issues we are facing. A more joined-up approach, communication and national movement is one way of creating a strong enough voice to challenge extreme , divisive policies and views that have somehow made their way into our everyday lives as vulnerable communities. I feel hopeful that despite recent events, things are and will be changing for the better as more and more people connect locally, regionally and nationally to take action.Recent examples: The women’s march and Bridges not Walls. This is what I continue to do with support, skills and passions in my Migrants Organise team.

Penny organises across Yorkshire and Humber. To organise with her, e-mail penny@migrantsorganise.org.

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