Meet Keziah. A young pioneer and forward thinker. Founder and creator. The face behind The Black Narrative.
As I continue to embark on this journey, I am inspired daily by the ambition in so many young people. Keziah is one of them. She is someone I’ve admired from afar, as she continues to build her platform The Black Narrative. I remember stumbling across The Black Narrative sometime last year. I was really taken with the professionalism and realness of each interview.
Every individual’s story is different yet, the anecdotes given and issues discussed are so relatable. I hadn’t seen another platform doing what Keziah is doing so effectively. At the young age of 20, she’s identified a gap in the market for a narrative so crucial to British society and has taken the initiative to fill it.
While running the platform, she also studies at university and juggles other side hustles. Her humanitarianism is evident with a quick glance over her personal Instagram (@kzellexa) where she demonstrates a long-lasting commitment to young people across the world. She caught up with me for a conversation revealing how The Black Narrative came to be. We realised that we shared similar life experiences, which have helped to define who we are now as black women.
Keziah speaks on a range of topics, from confronting internal anti-blackness, to changing negative perceptions of young black British people in the media…
Who is Keziah? Help the readers learn a bit more about you!
I am a 20-year-old young woman from Wood Green, North London, with Cameroonian and Congolese heritage. I am about to enter the final year of my BA Geography degree at The University of Manchester. With that, later I am hoping to pursue a Masters. Then, I hope to begin a career in the world of International Development and Policy with the goal of becoming a diplomat.
I have similar hobbies to anybody around my age. I binge watch Netflix (recently Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Designated Survivor and The People vs. OJ Simpson). I also really enjoy music (a passion which emerged from years of singing in the choir at church). So, I try to go to as many concerts and festivals as possible, which is so easy in a place like Manchester with loads of amazing concert venues. In my spare time, I also create content for my ongoing project called The Black Narrative. This project documents the lives of young black people. It empowers them to share their own stories and subvert negative stereotypes that persist in mainstream media.
That’s awesome. You are doing incredible things! So, how has your identity, your notions of being Black and British and your ideals transformed as you’ve grown up?
When I was a young child, from the very start, my mum tried hard to instil pride and knowledge of my Cameroonian culture through speaking to me in our traditional language. Even encouraging me to wear our traditional clothing. I even lived in Douala in Cameroon, for six months and celebrated my fourth birthday there. I loved living there with my grandma and I have very fond memories of that time.
Despite this, I still internalised a lot of anti-blackness. I refused to learn my mother’s language. I’m not as knowledgeable of my Congolese heritage as I’d like to be. My father was a second generation immigrant to France and I’ve never been to Congo to really find out. That is a goal of mine in the future – to go to Congo and learn more about my heritage. When I was younger, I opted to speak French instead as an addition to English, holding those languages in higher regard. I always felt embarrassed and self-conscious when I wore my traditional clothes. When I did, I did so seeking out the styles that most closely resembled “Western” clothing.
That’s interesting, because this was a similar experience to how I grew up. It’s only with time and maturity that I realised this was a form of anti-blackness. It goes so deep, I really had to look inwards to realise that this was an issue for me.
Exactly. In fact, when I was only five years old with an exasperated sigh I said to my mum, “Mummy, I wish I was White”. I didn’t know why or how I knew it was better to be white, but somehow I just did.
Wow. That’s deep. What a perception to have at such a young age. It’s such a shame you felt as though something was wrong with you or missing. What exactly was the turning point for you?
I can’t remember what specifically the turning point was for me in the perception of my blackness and development of my ideals. However, I know it happened when I was around fifteen or sixteen. At that point I had been back to Cameroon two more times and had such positive experiences there, spending time with my family and seeing the way of life again. I was also spending a lot of time on Tumblr. I started to see people talk about things like children of immigrants and the journey of embracing one’s culture. Black people were taking pride in their appearance and embracing their non-Eurocentric features through movements like #blackgirlmagic.
With all the things I learned via Tumblr, then came the huge Facebook fight I had with white girls in my school when I called them out on cultural appropriation. At the time, this was a concept a lot of people were just beginning to learn about. The argument lasted for days and even resulted in my head of year asking me to make peace for the sake of not ruining our final weeks of school together. I think that incident cemented my status as a SJW (“Social Justice Warrior” – even though I hate that term). I became more concerned with the advancement of black people in our society, especially black working class people – like me.
In college, I learned about colonialism and its impacts today (both in school and outside of it). I learnt how black people across the diaspora have been consistently set back by white people economically, socially and professionally. All those conversations of representation and diversity became of interest to me and led me to The Black Narrative. This has encouraged my pursuit of a career in International Development.
When did The Black Narrative come about and what other reasons explain why it’s such a necessary platform?
The Black Narrative came about in summer 2016. This was a time where every day there seemed to be a new hashtag with a name attached to it. Another victim of police brutality in the USA. In the aftermath of these deaths, as people were reacting or giving their thoughts that’s when we learned more about the victim. There seemed to always be an attempt to discredit the victim. An attempt to bring up negative aspects of their past, as if to justify the violence against them. We very rarely got a chance to know and fully understand who they were as an individual.
Then I thought about the UK and similar instances of police brutality. For instance, Mark Duggan and Sarah Reid. There was also the way young people were portrayed in the media. Through the constant narrative of gangs, knife crime, poverty through news reports and even shows like Top Boy. Not to discredit the show or say they don’t depict some people’s reality, but the experiences of young black people we have been exposed to are very one-sided. It consistently reinforces negative stereotypes about black people as a whole, when in reality our experiences vary so much. We’re in a time where we are having all these conversations around representation and diversity. So, I thought who better to represent you, than you yourself? I didn’t see or know of a platform that gave young people the opportunity to set the record straight, tell their own stories and share their own experiences of being black in Britain. So, I decided that I would create that platform myself.
That’s inspiring and I think you’ve done a great job so far. What do you hope such a positive and innovative platform such as The Black Narrative will do for people’s self-esteem?
I hope The Black Narrative increases people’s self-esteem so they can say, “As I am, I am enough. My experiences are real, valid, deserve to be heard and they have the potential to shape me into the best person I can be”. Through reading and watching stories, I want people to see the value in their personal experiences and be motivated to use them to tap into their potential. I want people to hear stories of adversity that resonate with them and use it as fuel to be better people. More importantly, I want these stories of learning, growth and positivity to inspire them. It’s really important to me that I document the stories of ALL black people from different walks of life and try to balance the polarity with which black people’s experiences are documented. Either it’s some horrific, depressing story of suffering or (more rarely) it’s a story of some rare, unrealistic success story of an isolated case that we’re all supposed to aspire to. I aim to establish a middle ground. I aim to do this by reminding people there are regular black people who are making their way through life, growing, learning, enjoying life and experiencing setbacks. Yet, they are still pushing forward with aspiration and drive.
Can you name some platforms or brands which inspire you?
Humans of New York is actually one of the inspirations for The Black Narrative. I loved the documentation of people’s everyday lives, but I wanted to create something a bit more niche. I also love the Instagram account The W.O.C Diary, which publishes wonderful poems by women of colour. Gal-Dem is amazing too. I feel this was the first mainstream publication made by millennials, which properly gave opportunities to women of colour to write and document our stories. GUAP Magazine is such a creative and innovative concept. Like, how cool is a video magazine? The founders Jide Adetunji and Ibrahim Kamara, have also been super supportive of me and The Black Narrative. I’m so grateful.
What difficulties have you had to overcome while maintaining this platform and establishing your brand? What pieces of advice can you give to others from your experiences?
In terms of maintaining this platform, consistency has been so difficult to be honest. Juggling this and all the stresses that come with being at university has been a big challenge for me. It has been difficult for me to work around the busy schedule and the mental toll university takes on you as a whole. However, I think being consistent has been so difficult due to my own insecurities and self-doubt. I often doubt the value of what I’m doing, if it’s actually important to people and capable making a difference. My mental health struggles with depression and anxiety have been almost debilitating, making it difficult to get up, go for it and create content confidently. I don’t know if I’m in a position to give advice yet. It’s still a process I’m navigating, but I will say resilience and introspection is so important to becoming the best version of yourself and to creating your best content.
Thank you for going that bit deeper about inner doubts and feeling comfortable to do so openly. One thing I value about having this forum is hearing people speak of their struggles, but also helping them to realise that people are watching and listening. What you are doing is making an impact. That’s why this interview with you is so important. Not only as a reminder to you, but also as a source of encouragement to others. It’s important that we continue to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and have these conversations on a much wider scale.
So, as you get older, would you ever consider expanding The Black Narrative to touch upon the stories of middle-aged people, the elderly or families even? Or do you feel like your focus will mainly be on young people?
Expanding it to older people and families as I grow and get older isn’t actually something I’ve considered before. It sounds like a really interesting idea! For now, I think I’ll focus on young people.
That’s awesome! We are experiencing an epidemic of flourishing black female entrepreneurs, authors, journalists, academics, musicians, artists, public speakers…the list is endless really. Who in particular has stood out to you recently?
Black people are honestly making moves EVERYWHERE! It’s so hard to keep up with, but at the same time so inspiring and encouraging to see. For a while actually, I’ve loved what Ashley Akunna is doing with The Grapevine. I think it’s one of the most important platforms that exist for black people, especially for millennial’s. The show really captures how blackness is not a monolith which is super important. This is shown through the varying opinions that are given a voice on the show. It shows how thoughtful, analytic, aware and talented black people are. I really appreciate this positive representation. Furthermore, the personal sacrifices Ashley has made for the show are truly exemplary and shows just how dedicated she is to giving black people a voice which I admire so much.
Indeed! The Grapevine is a very well-needed platform. I’m so glad you picked up on it too. What do you have in store for The Black Narrative in the future? Nothing is set in stone, but if you can…name some future goals you would like your platform to achieve!
In the next few years, I want to expand beyond the internet to reach kids in schools and have a role in developing bright, conscious and ambitious minds. I want to go into schools with The Black Narrative. I would like to have conversations with young black kids (and other kids) along with people I’ve interviewed. I want to address topics raised in past interviews such as misogynoir, classism, representation and post-colonialism…etc. I also want it to be an opportunity for young people to be inspired by the stories of former interviewees I bring along. I hope to instil confidence, high self-esteem and encourage them not to see their blackness as a barrier to achieving their goals. I also want them to see how their experiences enrich them and add value which will help them achieve those goals. Finally, I hope to publish a book with all the stories and interviews I would have amassed over the years.