It was around 1pm in Holborn when I went to meet Bolanle (Bee) Tajudeen for this inspiring and insightful conversation. For those who don’t know of Bee, she is the founder of Black Blossoms – a platform which aims to “highlight the voices of Black Women by hosting regular topical events in which Black Women are the centre of the conversation.” The most recent, for example, was held in April and the topic was ‘Radical Self care and Conversation on Mental Wellbeing in the Black Community’. Black Blossoms creates safe and open spaces for black women to express themselves, to learn, to grow and to develop themselves in many ways.
Bee also initiated the #UALsowhite hashtag that challenged the apparent lack of diversity amongst the University’s staff. She was UAL’s Education Officer from 2015 to 2016; a time she dedicated to focusing on “attainment and retainment issues for BAME students and international students.”
When we met I was greeted with a warm embrace, the kind of hug that oozes genuine love. This was right before Bee began to tell me about where the idea to create Black Blossoms came from… “I was on the way back from my friend’s house, it was really late and I was freezing cold. It was a horrible winter and yet there was a tree in front of me that had blossoms on it. It was weird… but I didn’t think too much of it at the time, although I had always said that I wanted to have a female empowerment group and it was going to be called Blossoms.”
So what did you do with the idea?
When I came to uni I had to park the idea, I was still learning about the feminisms and all that. I think if I had an empowerment group at the time it would probably have been very surface level, it would’ve just been lookbooks or something like that. You know what I mean? It wasn’t the time for me to launch that, I still had a lot to learn and experience.
I went to Uni but I never forgot the name Blossoms. It was always there but to be honest I never thought that I would bring it to fruition. Until last year for Black History month, NUS had a week called ‘Her Stories’ to remember black women because a lot of people argued that Black History Month is quite male dominated. So, when it came to thinking about what I was going to do for black women, I decided to host a conference. I had 15 women on the panel and just over 100 people attended, and that is how Black Blossoms started.
What were your greatest moments and achievements during your time as the Education Officer for SUarts?
My greatest moments… do you know what? You can’t have great moments without sad moments. I think the sad moments probably make the achievements so much better. When I first started the role [as education officer] I wanted to leave every single day for the first four or five months.
It was just really hard navigating whiteness, feeling undermined, feeling like I always had to be the one to talk about race. I graduated with a degree in PR. I never came to university thinking “okay, I want to become an education officer and I want to talk about race” – that’s not why I came to UAL. I came to get my degree and then work in the industry. All of a sudden, I’m in the limelight and I’m talking about race and diversity. It’s a lot of pressure and I have to talk about it publicly; on my personal Facebook and on my personal Twitter in order to engage as many people as possible. Learning how to do that was quite hard because sometimes I was really putting myself out there with issues that could ruin my career in the future.
If you google my name and “Bee” comes up with “#UALsowhite”, how many PR companies are going to want me? So now in context, looking at that as a low point, my highs were found in the fact that I did push through and continue to talk about race, and I created something as beautiful as Black Blossoms.
Every time there is an event, just being around all of my sisters and seeing us shine, being so happy and talking about these things are my greatest moments. Black blossoms is my greatest achievement. And of course #UALsowhite but I wouldn’t even say that was my achievement, that was the achievement of all the students who came together to say no to racism at UAL.
What would you say to a young woman who aspires to make a positive change in her society/environment?
Don’t be afraid. Fear stops greatness. When you want to make positive change, and you want to change society you’ve got to remember that you’re fixing an imbalance. You’re fixing an imbalance that is oppressive, but some people are comfortable in that oppression.
So [for example], whilst I’m being oppressed as a woman, a man is comfortable. Whilst I’m being oppressed as a black person, a person that is not black is comfortable. So when you’re trying to address these issues to make positive changes, you’re taking away someone else’s comfort and that alone causes friction. You’ve got to remember, that they will make noise simply because you’re making them uncomfortable. Even if you’re trying to be comfortable beside them, it becomes a power struggle. But as Jessie Williams said, “the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.”
Don’t be afraid to let your light shine, just do it. It is scary but there are scarier things in life, failure to me is really scary. I don’t fail at anything, even if it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. Failure happens more because I didn’t try.
One thing I want to say is that as women of colour, as black people. Anytime we do speak out or we do let our light shine, there will always be trolls trying to tell us that we are “not good enough”, we are “ugly”, asking us “why we’re doing that” or claiming that we are “racist”. Just keep on going, keep on doing it and know why you’re doing it.
When things get most difficult, what or who motivates you to keep on pushing for the cause?
I dedicated my upcoming exhibition to my daughter Star, she helps. I don’t want her to grow up in this society. She’s 7 now so, I don’t know if in 10 years society will have fully changed, become accepting or be anything like the vision that I have. She may still have to fight but thinking of her everyday, I guess that’s what keeps me going. Just looking at the young people around us and trying to create a world for them.
It’s our duty to kick open the doors so that the next generation can come in and throw bombs in the room. So like literally, open the door, throw one in! Open the next door! Throw one in! We’re trying to dismantle structural racism here; we’re trying to dismantle sexism – all of these things that are based on a structure.
Who are your greatest influences and inspirations, and why?
My mum, my daughter, Aisha Richards and Oprah.
My mum taught me the value of hard work, from a very young age I saw her work very hard in order to provide for me and make a positive future for herself. Like, there was a time I was working three jobs and everyone was like “Bee you’re crazy!” but I saw my mum do the same thing and she’s still here.
Seeing my mum do that has given me a strong work ethic.
Beyoncé’s work ethic, her dedication, and just her hard graft… when I was at her tour on Saturday just seeing how humble and grateful she was to be playing to a stadium as well. She said thank you to all of us for making her dreams come true, yeah we helped her by turning up but if she didn’t show us her greatness, we wouldn’t have been there.
I want to be just like Oprah when I’m older. I want to give everybody keys and cars, ha!
How did working as Content Developer for Shades of Noir inspire you and what were the greatest things that you learned during that time?
Working as a content developer helped me so much, it developed my writing skills and it really opened up my network. Your network is your net worth. It gave me confidence. It taught me what we’re doing is actual work, it’s not just a cause, it is actually work too. It is emotional labour, talking about race is emotional labour.
It taught me how important it is as a black woman, to have another black woman on your side as a mentor. Someone who wants the best for you and wants the best for her community. (Thank you, Aisha Richards).
Was there a pivotal moment in your life that made you decide, or realise that Black Blossoms is something black female creatives needed?
Honestly, #UALsowhite and Black Blossoms were [initially] made because people frustrated me.
Some of the best and most progressive things are born from frustration…
Yes, frustration and anger. It’s all about using the energy and turning it around into something positive.
Where are you striving to take Black Blossoms in the future?
The end goal is to see a society in which black women can fully strive and thrive, where we can wear our natural hair or wear weave and it’s not a thing, where we can be fully represented and where our stories are as true to us as possible.
Black Blossoms will be bigger than Apple. I’ve got big plans for Black Blossoms. I want a book store and I want a make-up line that will factor in the global south when it comes to production, and will make profits that can be invested into building and rebuilding schools. Education is the key; Michelle Obama always says it. I want the Black Blossoms statement to become a mantra.
What has the platform done for you as the founder, and as a black female creative?
I’m still on the journey. We have to look at life as a marathon you know… a very slow and long marathon.
The Black Blossoms Statement
Black Women are speaking up.
Black Women are no longer invisible.
Black Women are not afraid to shine.
Black Women are unapologetically loving themselves.
Black Women are championing their sisters.
Black Women are tearing down the oppressive racist and patriarchal system which enforced upon them.