Unlearning Strongwoman Podcast

2.There Is no Strength Without Vulnerability - Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers

December 01, 2022 Tolu Agbelusi Season 1 Episode 2
Unlearning Strongwoman Podcast
2.There Is no Strength Without Vulnerability - Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers
Show Notes Transcript

In today's episode, Tolu Agbelusi speaks to Dee-Ann Kentish Rogers about what it means to practice vulnerability especially in a lpublic facing eadership role that demands a façade of strength & how does a young woman in the public eye find and choose her own path when the expectations are louder and seemingly stronger than her intuition? This is a foregrounding of the fact that weakness is not synonumous with vulnerability. Sometimes you will need to bend to survive.

The episode transcript is available here.

Dee-Ann is currently the Minister of Education and Social Development in the Anguilla House of Assembly. She is also a barrister, an athlete and the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in a Miss Universe pageant.

Connect with Dee-Ann on:

Instagram: @deeannkentishrogers

I am always keen to hear your thoughts, so do leave comments or feedback:

The music for Unlearning Strongwoman is created by Shade Joseph
Locating Strongwoman, a poetry collection by Tolu Agbelusi can be purchased here.

Dee-Ann:

My understanding of strength, it's not that you don't feel things deeply, it's that you allow yourself the permission to feel things deeply while not allowing it to define you as a person.

Tolu:

Hello, good people and welcome to another episode of Unlearning Strongwoman. I am your host, Tolu Agbelusi and my guest today is a modern day Renaissance woman, a student of reinvention, she has been a heptathlete at the Commonwealth Games, a pentathlete at the CARIFTA games. She is a lawyer called to the Bar of England and Wales. In 2018, she was crowned Miss Universe, great Britain, and became the first black woman to represent Great Britain at a Miss Universe pageant. And then, in 2020. Yeah, I'm not done yet. It is all very impressive, especially for someone who is not even 30 yet. But back to the intro, in 2020, she was elected to the Anguilla House of Assembly and appointed as Minister of Education and Social Development. I am of course, speaking about Dee-Ann Kentish- Rogers. Now lie to me and tell me you're not impressed, and we haven't even started the conversation yet. My first question is, what is a strong woman to you?

Dee-Ann:

I've always thought that a strong woman would embody this principle that I learned in meditation quite some time ago, which is called like equanimity. Okay. Which is this, uh, muscle as they call it, that allows you to be unmoved even though there's so many things happening around you. That you can withstand the chaos, the triumph, the ups and the downs without it affecting your self perception. And that really came from my grandmother because she always used to recite, um, Rudyard Kipling's poem IF and you know, that poem symbolizes dealing and treating each experience, doubting, yourself, people's hatred, people's praise, triumph and disaster with the same levelheadedness.

Tolu:

Yeah,

Dee-Ann:

and that's been my understanding of, of strength. It's not that you don't feel things deeply.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

It's that you allow yourself the permission to feel things deeply while not allowing it to define you as a person.

Tolu:

That's a really good conceptualization. Cuz you said, your grandmother and the if poem, but also meditation. Can you recall how you conceptualized if you did at all, um, what a strong woman was before those things kind of solidified for you.

Dee-Ann:

I always thought strength came from vulnerability because from a very early age, I perceived persons who, would be, you know, almost like this abrasive show of strength. Um, this no chinks in the armor attitude, and I always thought that it came across a little bit callous, um, as though it was just forging. It was just like forcing its way through rather than, um, being able, it's almost like water, being able to mold and move with the circumstances. And because that concept of vulnerability from a very young age I carried with me, I always was very open with everyone. That's something that, you know, I, I wanted to embody at a young age, so I wanted to be open. I wanted to be able to connect freely and thats, I think what drew me to that particular meditation practice, to equanimity, because it was almost, it's like confirmation bias, like making me feel like I was doing the right thing by being open, by being, allowing myself to, to connect to these things.

Tolu:

And that's, it's refreshing to hear that, that even from a young age, that idea of vulnerability was always connected with strength because I feel like that's something a lot of people struggle to connect strength with, or at least that even as they grow older, it's something that you're having to remind yourself that strength is vulnerability and something I always go back to.

Dee-Ann:

Mm-hmm.

Tolu:

when I think about that, sometimes it's, well, it's like when you're doing. Many of the martial arts, if you stand still like a rock and someone tries to hit you, you get down. You need to know how to move. Mm-hmm. sometimes you move in the direction you know back so that you can then escape from the thing, which in many ways is vulnerability. Like you need to allow yourself to bend a little sometimes.

Dee-Ann:

Mm-hmm. Yes. Yes. And that's, it's not easy. Vulnerability is definitely not the easiest thing to, to practice. And I say practice because it does take some time because when you first brush into it, when you first brush into these concepts or how you want to show up in the world there are people who will reject it outright. Yeah. Um, and who will tell you that it is not strength. And that has been an experience of mine. Um, people telling me that I am weak for my vulnerability, for my willingness to, to accept the risk of being hurt.

Tolu:

Mm.

Dee-Ann:

Um, I, I, I've heard that quite a lot.

Tolu:

I am gonna come back to that cuz I think it's important the way you hold something up as yourself and what happens when other people come against it. But before we go into that, You're surrounded by some pretty powerful, accomplished women in your family.

Dee-Ann:

Mm-hmm.

Tolu:

who are the women that immediately come to mind for you when you're thinking about strength and your definition of strength and why? If you name two, for example.

Dee-Ann:

Well, one would have to be my grandmother. She was the matriarch of the family and the other would be my mom. And it sounds as though, you know, everyone says their their mother and their grandmothers and their aunts, but the reality growing up in a Caribbean family is that women do form the, the nexus, they are the, the core.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

of these family units. And in this large extended family, everyone convened at my grandmother's bedside. And it was from there that she had the power to pull us together. And it was, it was almost like magnetic. People just used her bedside as a stopping point on a day to day basis, but when she, when you got there, the stories that she told you, um, of her life, you know, that there's something, there was a little bit of, I don't think my grandmother actually characterized it as vulnerability. She characterized her life journey through the lens of someone who endured. She came to the UK after Windrush and she worked in an ammunitions factory and she was also pregnant when she came to the UK and she lost her baby. The baby died when the baby was two years old. These are things and discoveries that we made her children as well only at her bedside decades later. My grandmother did not discuss the things that caused her deep pain. She did not offer up information. She looked at it as enduring, but I could see, and I could sense in her, because I spent a lot of time taking care of her. I could sense the relief she felt when she was able to talk about it, when she was able to say, this is what happened to me. And I think I've kind of pulled it out at a more granular level saying she's been through these things. These are experiences of hers that have made her stronger, as she would say. Um, she didn't go to high school. She had to go to work immediately at 10 years old to provide for her brothers and sisters. and she looks at that as enduring, but she kept telling me, you know, you have to be open. And I, I never, to be honest, I never understood, uh, until I was about 16 or so, 16 or 17 years old when I kept trying to answer, what does she mean about being open and. She almost said she was tired of being strong throughout her life. She said she was tired of being strong, of having to carry the burden of being the eldest sister, um, of being the breadwinner, and she. Told me one day we were sitting down at, at her bedside and she said, I don't want that for you. I want you to be able to, to, to relax, to take a deep breath and feel, and that was one of my, that's a formative memory for me because although I don't, I wouldn't say that I have. A lot of experience. Um, oh, well, that varies because I, I'm still under 30 and still growing in experiences.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

But that was a, a really important memory for me. And then one thing that I've learned from all of the strong women in my life and my mom and my aunt, and I have to pair them together because they're really inseparable. Although it's my grandmother, my mom is also my grandma, my mom, and my aunt, because my mom and my aunt are conjoined twins. They're joined at the hip, and I've seen them throughout my life. Mm-hmm Even when there are people or persons who come into their life who have hurt them deeply and severely, that they still make space for them. And I've never understood it. I used to, as a child, I used to be so confused. I was like, what? How is this possible? And I began to understand that it wasn't just about the thing that had transpired, whatever it was. It was about being very, very human, very, very human. And that's something that is, those two things stuck with me and that's how I kind of show up in, in the world. I mean there, there's so much that we have to do in terms of picking up and taking up what we want from that part of our past and bringing it into the now. Because right now, you know, we are learning about putting in forced boundaries and knowing when we want to say this is a line that cannot be crossed, and, and then looking at the tolerance with which they have carried themselves throughout their lives.

Tolu:

Yeah,

Dee-Ann:

that's, it's been an interesting balance for me.

Tolu:

Yeah. So that although it was never your experience or you didn't have to be in a position where you were looking at strength as a, I have to endure and be the rock kind of thing, you could see what it had done and you could see that the people who had gone through that as an experience, we're telling you there's another way to look at strength and, and, and to envision it.

Dee-Ann:

Mm-hmm.

Tolu:

Yeah. Yeah. That's such a, a blessing to have because all of us, I mean, regardless of where we come from or how it is, we can't escape certain conditionings.

Dee-Ann:

Yeah.

Tolu:

Which are in society with regards to who you're supposed to be and what... the expectations, especially when you're a woman. And some of those, I guess, are the things you mentioned because you said something really important that even without saying it, you could tell that your grandma felt some kind of release when she spoke about it and that whole thing of silence. I mean, we, we sometimes we stay silent to protect ourselves as well, because when you open it, the whole thing comes out and, and you don't know what you might do with that. But silence is also a big thing in terms of how we hold ourselves.

Dee-Ann:

You know, that... it is true because in my family there is a, the one quality that I would say that defines a lot of my family interactions, the unit is the sense of duty. And along with the sense of duty, often comes silence because you are, the need to be dutiful sometimes requires you to not bring up something, you have to do something out. Sense of obligation, which was very difficult for me to grasp as a child, but I understood it as a method of them protecting themselves as well.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

Because they had been through a lot of trauma and they found safety in themselves. They found safety in that duty that tied them together. So irrespective of what was happening, they knew that they were duty bound to one another. The silence that went along with it in some spaces was something that I really couldn't. I really was, I spent a lot of my formative years trying to undress and understand. Because I hadn't gone through the traumatic experiences that they had, which would've been part of the reason why I couldn't understand the silence. I'm like, why aren't we talking about this? Why is it that we're being, we're avoiding certain topics.

Tolu:

Hmm.

Dee-Ann:

And, and, and that came down to why are we avoiding being vulnerable? And I think that they imported that need to protect themselves sometimes into the family. Unit, um, sometimes. So it, it, it, it can be quite difficult when you are using certain techniques for them not to permeate across all aspects of your life.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

Because it becomes a practice and a habit.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

So I've had to, I think I've had to do some unlearning where it comes to, when it comes to that silence

Tolu:

mm-hmm

Dee-Ann:

and understanding that duty can still exist. Um, with, with being vocal about things you can, you can still have that loyalty to your family while being able to say, I don't, I don't agree and I don't like this

Tolu:

which I guess is not easy, but it makes it easier in the end if you're able to be who you want to be without having to cloak things.

Dee-Ann:

Yes.

Tolu:

I'm gonna ask the same-ish question, but it's not the same question because it might have different answers. If you could mention three women who you would say have widened the sphere of possibility for who you get to be in the world and how you model yourself in the world, who, who would those be?

Dee-Ann:

So, my mom has always said this, she's always said this. There's always, this is a quote that she drilled into me. There's always room at the top. And I think what she was trying to explain to me is that if I work hard, irrespective of what I want to do, I can make it mm-hmm. irrespective. So I never had the, the, the only thing. Made me feel like I can do anything was the, the thought that I just had to be consistent and put the work in to accomplish that expansive notion of self. But I do have two friends. Um, a friend of Makala and also my friend Quincia from years ago. They always held like a great deal of space for me to, to just hold me with understanding. And to allow me to discover and explore myself, and that, that helped me show up in the world the way I'm showing up now, because that kind of permissiveness

Tolu:

mm-hmm

Dee-Ann:

without judgment, without restriction, it engenders courage.

Tolu:

Hmm.

Dee-Ann:

You know, they, they held me with so much tenderness that I was unafraid about the things in myself that I was still grappling, dealing with. So they've, they've really been foundational in my understanding and how I show up in an expansive way in the world.

Tolu:

Which is a good segue into the next question actually. I like to find out how people, how we step into ourselves. Because one day you are, in one moment, I shouldn't say one day, one, one season, you're an adolescent, and then you're grown, you're woman, and we all have different understandings, of when we step into our womanhood, into our grownness, into our power and why? And when I say why, I mean the things that were happening in that season. And I realize that isn't a static thing, or at least I hope it isn't a static thing cuz we all hope we're growing as we get older. But I feel like there still is some kind of definitive, definitive moment where we are like, oh, Oh, it's happened and I'm wondering what that was for you and what was going on at the time.

Dee-Ann:

it's funny because, um, I feel like that happened, uh, about two and a half weeks ago now.

Tolu:

Okay.

Dee-Ann:

Maybe three, three weeks, a month, a month ago actually. Um, being in politics is very challenging.

Tolu:

Can imagine,

Dee-Ann:

Especially now given the global circumstances.

Tolu:

Yeah, yeah.

Dee-Ann:

But there are so many layers on top of, you know, the role of being a representative, um, and the challenges that come along with it. What. What issues are my constituents feeling? What issues am I feeling? How do I best represent them, and how do I lead them to things that are very difficult?

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

And about three weeks ago, I think there was a, a quite a pivotal moment in my life, not just in public life, but it seemed to converge. So at the same time where there was a, a real fundamental vote going on in the, in the par. Um, I had been under some pressure that, that week to resign from my position and my constituents were at my doorstep telling me to resign, et cetera, et cetera. And eventually after consultation, after talking to them for a bit, they were split. And I did resign. I did resign, and then I returned four days later. The, um,

Tolu:

I'm gonna let you finish answering the question and then we'll come back to that.

Dee-Ann:

Yes. And of course there was the attendant confusion.

Tolu:

Mm. Um,

Dee-Ann:

and questioning that came along with my decision. But the reason why I, I used that as the, a pivotal moment for me, not just in within the public landscape, but in the private landscape, was because I had... There is room, and there's a reason why you have intuition.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

your gut feeling.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

and I have not, I have been, you know, because the, the, the little risk that comes along with this, the vulnerability of, of connecting and, and being severely open to everything is that you can sometimes, Forget to, to put in place those boundaries that are actually very necessary and they can override that instinctive intuition at some points in time. And I think on that occasion, I think there was a little bit of over overriding of my intuition.

Tolu:

With the decision to resign,

Dee-Ann:

uh, with the decision, yes, to resign. And I said, you know what? That's not the best. I didn't make the best decision there. But of course, pride and ego would have dictated that I would've just said, you know what, I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna put myself back in there. I'm not gonna go back. I'm not going to put myself in a position where I will be criticized for leaving and then returning.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

But that feeling, that gut feeling that I should have remained, you know, I, I should remain and stay was so strong that when I took the decision to return, that was the moment I knew, that's the moment I knew I had stepped into womanhood. I knew without a shadow of doubt. There was, that was like a watershed moment where it was like, okay, you are now completely stepping into your own, listening to your intuition, taking it under advisement, of course. Um, but it came with pain, but, but it came with pain. So the decision wasn't an easy one, but it came. I think stepping into womanhood was about channeling pain. And understanding that even in those circumstances where people would have been upset or there would've people who would've been upset and there would've been people who would've been celebrating irrespective of where they fell along the divide. The most critical thing for me to understand and for me to be able to prioritize. Was what my intuition told me to do, what I felt was right, and to not shy away from the consequences of doing what was right, irrespective of how people on different sides of the spectrum felt. And that was the moment when I was like, okay, well here we are. We're definitely here. We are definitely here

Tolu:

it's interesting because it's kind of like a it's kinda like a, a personal reckoning where you are able to. This is all of me, um, in the sense that this is all of me, good and bad, and I accept all of it, and I'm making a decision, being aware of all of it as opposed to from the pretention that, Hey, I'm all good. The problem is everybody else. Correct,

Dee-Ann:

correct.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

Yeah. It, it's, it's interesting having these feelings, especially within the public sphere. I think that's what makes this a little bit more like a sharp incline rather than a, an ease into womanhood because you are in an environment in which you are not exactly immune to criticism.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

Um, in, in addition to your inner critic, you also have the external critics and it, it, it's a, a massive shift in my reality because I came from a background where I was, uh, star athlete. I was Miss Anguilla, Miss Universe, first Black, Miss Universe, Great Britain, a lawyer. So from a distance, everyone saw all of my achievements and they were like, role model, pedestal and I lived quite a lot of my life in the public eye in that way. So when these kind of decisions came up, the messiness of reality, what was kind of what was on display? It was, it was that you constructing this version of yourself and starting to believe the versions of yourself that other people are creating space for you. So they're creating space for you in specific destinations because of your achievements. And you then realizing, I don't have to go to that destination. I don't have to take the space you've offered me, the most important space for me to take is a space I'm offering myself.

Tolu:

Mm.

Dee-Ann:

And that was a critical moment for me.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

You know, being admired doesn't really require you to dig deep and, and find that sense of self. It's always the, you know, everyone talks about, um, being victorious or, or success doesn't actually teach you anything. It does teach you some things, but not as much as failure can teach you.

Tolu:

true.

Dee-Ann:

And not as much as mistakes can teach you.

Tolu:

true.

Dee-Ann:

It's something that I'm finding comfort in, you know, finding it's, I, I've always been leaning towards it, being able to accept my mistakes. Yeah. But of course, in public life it's a little bit different.

Tolu:

Yep.

Dee-Ann:

Um, and being able to balance. Okay, this is what public life expects, but here is what I expect as well. And public demands can take a toll on you. And if you'd shape yourself solely around public demands, then you just become, uh, you can, you can un-become yourself.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm

Dee-Ann:

you can become somebody else. And I always wanted to remain connected with who I was and that allowed me to make a decision like this because it was okay for me to make a mistake. It was okay for me to also own up to that mistake.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

it was also okay for me to say, I know I have some work to do in regaining trust and rebuilding trust because even though I know my internal process, I know you are not privy to the process I went through, and I know that sometimes you won't accept it. So through all of those myriad of experiences, I've still had to say, but I am still Dee-Ann, I'm gonna treat this disaster and this success exactly the same. I have to be able to dig through, find my own niche and then and, and move from there, and move from a place of compassion and empathy as well, because that's my leadership. That's the moment that I realize, hey, you made it girl

Tolu:

You mentioned because of your achievements, people opening up spaces for you to do stuff and having to decide whether or not that's where you stand.

Dee-Ann:

Mm-hmm.

Tolu:

I mean, you are 29, you've been a hepthathlete for Anguilla, you competed internationally. Like you said, first Black woman to, to be, uh, miss Great Britain, for Miss Universe, um, barrister called here in the UK. You're called in Anguilla now too.

Dee-Ann:

No, I, I went straight into office

Tolu:

Oh, you see, bigger things. Yes, bigger things and overthrew Victor, who had been in his seat for what, 40 years at that point?

Dee-Ann:

Yeah.

Tolu:

Some long, long amount of time.

Dee-Ann:

Yes.

Tolu:

Yeah. So, and all of that under the age of 30. I mean, that's ridiculous. In terms of pivots, in terms of achievement, um, explain that trajectory where those things you saw for yourself or how exactly did that all come into? Because I remember seeing. The stuff to say, ah, Dee-Ann's, uh, running. And I, and I think I saw something from your aunt. Um,

Dee-Ann:

yes.

Tolu:

I was like, how, how? I'm not surprised cuz you're family, but I'm still surprised. you know, like, how did all of that happen for you?

Dee-Ann:

I don't think I saw a lot of that stuff for myself.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

I would have described myself as quite an apathetic voter. Um, I was disinterested in politics and after I had completed the bar, my trajectory was actually to just come back home and practice, get, be called to the bar here in Anguilla, come back home and practice and keep my head down and keep it moving. And I was approached in 2019, actually, 2018. Yeah. 20, 2018, right before I went off to Miss Universe.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

by someone. And then, um, they just kind of planted the seed. I told them I wasn't interested, but then it just became, I think maybe I was on their timeline. It just became very, um, consistent presence saying to me that they would like to see me in this space. And I, I pay them no mind for the most of 20, um, 19.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

Until I had this one conversation. with a, a lady, and you know, she was, she was saying to me, you are apathetic. she kind of touched at the, the real heart of what I was feeling in terms of politics. Politics in general. She said, you are apathetic. Why you apathetic?

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

And I explained why, and she said, okay, how do you think you can address those things? What would you do if you are in a position of, of power to address those apathies? Address that feeling of disconnect. Of, of not being in touch with what was happening. And then I gave her this long spiel, and she said to me, so why, why wouldn't you do that? And I said, you know, there are people out there who would do it. You know, I don't, I don't have to do it, me, myself. And she said, okay, well I'm, I'm gonna challenge you to find somebody to do it. And I went out and I started like asking my, my classmates and everyone was like, no, no, not doing it. Good luck though. Good luck in finding someone. And she came back to me and she was like, what did you find? And I said, you know, nobody's willing. And she was like, but if you have the opportunity to do so, would you not? And I paused. And I paused for long enough for her to understand that was me actually considering it. And she was like, all right, so here's time's what we can do. Um, and it kind of went from there for the first time. Yeah. So we, we spoke about it and, and she actually played on something that I said during my Miss Universe Great Britain journey, which is, it's never too late to reinvent yourself. Mm-hmm. that was a massive part and still a massive part of my structural belief of life that you can always reinvent yourself. So she said, why don't you reinvent politics? And I like a challenge. That's one thing about me. I do like a challenge. So, It led me to seriously considering how I would show up here and, and kind of even in my campaign process, feeling really empowered by the fact that I wasn't going around just offering people promises for votes, but actually saying, look, I can't promise you anything, but I can promise you that I'll, I'll be here to represent you and I'll be here to listen and that I will take your concern seriously. And that resonated with people. It did. And even, even in these very difficult times and these very difficult moments where I'm dealing with people and their emotions and feelings and uncertainties.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

I think that ability to kind of listen and, and still be able to say, even though this is difficult, even though you know you might be upset, I'm still here. Even though we have a misunderstanding, or even if we do understand each other, we are still here. And that process of cons, constantly reinventing myself, constantly allowing myself the latitude to expand or to do things outside of what I traditionally thought was possible.

Tolu:

Yeah,

Dee-Ann:

it just made me, I, I've just been very grateful for all of the experiences that I've been able to have and the opportunities that I've been able to step into, because I was willing. I was willing to expand.

Tolu:

Yeah. There was something you said during your Miss Universe journey that I think it was something like between your grandma, aunts, mom, from young, they had drilled it into you to always be confident and not to shrink yourself for anyone.

Dee-Ann:

Mm-hmm.

Tolu:

the question comes to mind, were they responding to seeing you shrink yourself or were they just indoctrinating you because they knew they had to do that so that you could grow up in a world that would tell you different. And if that was what they were doing, were you were aware.

Dee-Ann:

Um, I definitely think they were trying to, um, uh, indoctrinate me because they knew what the world did to little Black girls. Um, and they were so adamant that that would not be my experience of life. That they kept telling me, you know, you don't have to, you don't have to accept less, you don't have to shrink, you don't have to shy away from things, and you don't have to make yourself small to make someone else comfortable. Yeah. And I, I wasn't quite aware at that point in time why they were doing it, but I came, I started to understand, I understood during my Miss Universe Great Britain experience for sure, I can tell you. Um, there were enough.

Tolu:

In what way?

Dee-Ann:

There was enough encouragement, um, from the general public, the general British public, um, Basically saying at some points in time, I used to get these tweets and emails saying that, this pageant is for, you know, traditional British girls. And I was like, what does that even mean? What does that mean? Yeah, I would love to British to, to undress traditional British girls. And I was like, that is a very good attempt at masking something. But you, you know, And you have to have audacity, to move in these spaces. It's, it's, it's a foregone conclusion that if you're going to be doing these things, you have to do it with audacity because the world almost... to be the first and something in the 21st century is a little ridiculous. Yep. Um, To be the first black woman in 2018. It's a very interesting statistic to rattle off, especially given the cultural diversity of the UK.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

So,

Tolu:

yeah. And then to still have people sending that to your inbox about traditional British, geez.

Dee-Ann:

Yeah. So I mean, I was like, I'm just gonna put my British passport down right there and let it sit on the table. I don't know because it's there, there are all of these notions of how you should show up for certain roles. Mm-hmm. And I think because I've constantly defined, uh, uh, defied how I show up in all of these roles, people sometimes just don't know how to treat me. They're like, why are you doing all of these things that you should not be doing? Or why are you in these spaces that we just didn't expect you to be in? It is partially because my family was just like, but you deserve to be there. In fact, one of my, one of my close family friends sat down with me and he said something to me. He was like, reparations, What? Um, I was like, you, you, you should be here. And he is like, who else? But this little Black girl from a British overseas territory. Who else?

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

Um, and you know, my, my mind has never quite wrapped around the enormity of these things because it, I'm, I try to make it seem so normal. I really do. I keep trying to, I try to make these things as normal as possible. Like I should, there should be no pomp and ceremony because I should, I should be here. I should be getting this, I should be doing that. There should be no surprise.

Tolu:

Um

Dee-Ann:

and that's how I feel about other people achieving things. I, I look at it the same way. You should be a, you should go ahead. I, I do think that my family have had a real pivotal role in, allowing me to feel comfortable in taking up space.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

In unorthodox spaces

Tolu:

and even still with that, because of how we are as people. With all that, don't shrink yourself. Be confident and, you knowing from a young age that, yeah, I can do anything. I have no ceiling, because that's what I've always been told. You still, even from our conversation so far, had to fight with yourself, uh, whether it's to listen to your own intuition or you mentioned earlier people say you're weak because you're showing up in a particular kind of way. And so my next question is twofold. On the one hand, what are those things, those expectations, those habits that the world has given you or conditioned into you or the air around you, which you have, as you've grown up, decided This is not for me and I'm gonna learn this.

Dee-Ann:

It's really complex because in the, in local context, women show up in this brave, unafraid, um, they sometimes take on what they, what people term traditionally masculine attributes.

Tolu:

Okay.

Dee-Ann:

And I've never, I've never been a traditionally anything And I say that because I grew up, um, just me and all my cousins climbing trees, picking corn, running around barefoot, um, with no real conceptual understanding of the difference between them and me and myself. And I moved like to people as though I was the same, but as I got through school when I started to go to school and you started to be taught, okay, this is what you should do as a, a young woman or a young lady. Um, and then other children's, their, their families have an impact on the way they show up and the way they share information with you. And they're also telling you, this is what you should be doing.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

So that little, that amount of peer pressure to conform and behave in a particular way and...this is how you behave if you want to be successful. There's a lot of these like tropes that we kind of don't necessarily consume, but they become part of our subconsciousness. Yeah. I, I don't, I wouldn't say I actively accepted that I had to, dress in a particular manner or, or be soft spoken. Or be loud because I was being told directly, this is what you need to do.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

I was just looking at the way people were behaving and that's you, you

Tolu:

that filtered in somehow

Dee-Ann:

of what you see. That felts correct. It just filtered in. And I had to do some unlearning of that. A lot of unlearning because as I said, you know, you're in these very different spaces, whether it's your familial environment and then you are the public environment and the environment around your friends, and I would've come into my friends a little bit later, but the work that you have to do in navigating all three spaces, all of these spaces and all of the, the subconscious messages that they're sending you about yourself and what you need to do.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

It's enormous because you, because you can't like put your finger on it, you don't know where you necessarily got this idea from. That was the, that was the most difficult part for me, I think because I, yes, I grew up in a house full of strong women. I can't, I don't know why I can't put my finger on why sometimes I did shy away. Why sometimes I did shrink in certain circumstances and people correct you all the time, whether overtly or in a more subtle form.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

And you do adjust your be, some people maybe just don't ever adjust their behavior was don't adjust their behavior. But I, I think sometimes I did and I've had to gradually get to the point of listening to my intuition, it wasn't a automatic thing, and it took me quite some time. It took me some time to trust my intuition because I was being told and fed other messages from society being gaslit, essentially on a constant basis. But I, I think I've now gotten to the point, uh, being able to recognize and name, and that's, that's the most important part, being able to recognize and name the things that are trying to tell me what I should do and how I should show up, and being able to, to actively respond and say no, because I, I do believe that if we're not actively saying no to certain things,

Tolu:

yeah.

Dee-Ann:

Um, they do show up somehow in our behavior down the line. So I, I, that's what I've had to cultivate an active practice of saying no and naming, like they have this, this system in the, the underground in Korea where they, you know, they call, they call and they name before they get on the train to make sure they've done all the security and safety checks. I'm having to do those things for myself. I usually try to stop call and name. This is what's happening, this is what's happening. Okay. All right. Now I'm, I'm settled.

Tolu:

So that part of that has basically been realizing what your process is and then articulating it so that, you know, this is how. This is how I'm making sure that I, I remain accountable to myself.

Dee-Ann:

Yes. Yes.

Tolu:

And you, you mentioned, Earlier that, that you've had several instances of people telling you you are weak because you are showing some vulnerability or, or for some other reason. Talk me through that. The whys, the, how you respond, how it makes you feel.

Dee-Ann:

Um, it makes me sad actually. It makes me sad for the world in a way because we, I think, have mass consumed the concept of strength looking a certain way. Yeah. And it is so much harder to convince individuals or groups that vulnerability actually is a key component of strength.

Tolu:

Hmm.

Dee-Ann:

And because, um, it's still a, a dominant ideology. I think we, I really do think that because we are running away from vulnerability, we're not really able to, to address some of the major challenges we feel in the we we are experiencing globally because we just, we're just afraid to accept that maybe there are places where we aren't as strong as we, we anticipated maybe, you know, we didn't listen as much as we should have. Maybe we didn't, um, accept correction in certain instances. And I think it blocks us from being able to truly experience something on a deeper level. That's what it makes me feel. And, and that's partially because I've learned so much from Brene Brown. I don't know if you ever heard of her. Um,

Tolu:

oh yeah.

Dee-Ann:

And she has a lot of, of discussions on, on vulnerability and courage and, from, from my personal experience when these things have happened to me, particularly in my leadership journey right now. When I, you know, if I'm going through something or I'm trying to assess a situation, um, there's almost this driver within the political landscape of being like, I know everything and I'm coming to this space with perfect knowledge,

Tolu:

which is not true ever,

Dee-Ann:

which is never true. Um, and therefore there is nothing for me to learn here. There's only something for me to tell you. And when I show up in these spaces and I'm asking questions, and it's not a matter of me like commanding a room and being like, this is what we're doing next and X, y, and Z.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

but it's a matter of me pulling information, assessing that information and being like, okay, well based on this information, these are the underlying currents that I'm seeing, which is not necessarily connected to the overall issue, but if we're able to, to maybe address those underlying currents, then dealing with the underlying issue would be much easier than we ever anticipated. And that's typically how I show up. That's typically how I show up. I don't think everybody responds to it well. Mm Um, some people are utterly confused. Um, and some people come with their own expectations. Their expectations of leadership is that you come and you tell me what to do. Yeah. That's their expectation of leadership. That's how they think leadership should show up. So, When I show up, they're like, she's, she's weak. Like, come with the solutions that don't come at all You know?

Tolu:

Whereas you're trying to make them part of the solution.

Dee-Ann:

Correct, correct. And even understanding that sometimes before the solution, there's a resolution stage that they want, they, they don't say it. And that's why I usually show up with questions first, because I'm trying to understand the, the vast majority of the time, the response I get is mixed. So some people are just like, this is new. I've never experienced this before. Like, I appreciate you taking the time to ask us, because most of the time people come in here and tell us what to do and then they always give us the wrong solutions. And then there are those who would look at the, so look at the process that I'm actually going through, cuz I actually call my leadership style like a process. It's, I'm trying to listen and understand first before I can even try to, to, to pen a solution for you or, or reach out to you to help me with the solution.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

And sometimes people don't wanna do the work to get to the solution. So it's, it's, it's, it's tedious. Um, vulnerability is not, vulnerability as a leadership style is not easy. And I think that's, Why everybody's always, so they kind of sometimes go back to the default leadership styles because it is a lot of work. And, um, so that's why I would find in my experience, people have, you know, said she's weak or, you know, if I'm, if I'm being vulnerable and I do say something and it is not completely accurate

Tolu:

mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

I would then go back and address it.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

but I find in these position, The standard response is to double down, and because I don't double down, people say it is a symptom of weakness. So, you know, that's, that's been my experience. That's my, that's been my experience. When I say people look at my, my leadership style and, and my ability to, to move and I keep, I say vulnerability, but it's also, it's really courage because even within myself, it takes, it takes courage within the leader themselves. Mm-hmm. to accept that they're going into situations and to act that they're not, that are not perfect. And to accept that I need. Courageous in this particular instance. Yeah. And accept that people may have some feelings about this particular process. That takes a lot of courage, and sometimes people aren't really willing within themselves to go there. So that's been my experience.

Tolu:

Yeah. I mean, and it's courage also because the level of critique when you're on the public eye is different. So if you're coming out and you're saying, oh, I got that wrong and this is where we are now, then somebody makes it easier for somebody to come and say, okay, so how should we believe you this time? And some, and sometimes those people are right, but sometimes,

Dee-Ann:

yeah,

Tolu:

it's about listening to what the situation is and people don't always, Others, the grace that they expect themselves, which is why those type of things become difficult, I guess.

Dee-Ann:

Yeah. Yeah. I think it's, a lot of it is that people are harsh when it comes to themselves. They are pretty, they critique themselves pretty harshly. Yeah. And so they don't actually have the capacity. To extend any grace to me in those instances, so I don't necessarily take it personally.

Tolu:

Okay.

Dee-Ann:

When I experience someone who looks at my decisions or, or hears me saying, okay, this was not the right thing, this is, this is what we should be doing, or this is what we knew, then this is what we knew now, here's how we are adjusting our approach, um, for the persons who look at those decisions and like, what, what, why don't you just stick with one? You know, I, I've learned to accept that my style is also not for everyone.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

and it's not something everyone can accept. So I accept the criticism within reason, reason, you know, I'm, I, some of it I'm just like, okay, I, I don't, what I have learned also to do is just hear and, and, and not let it actually affect me.

Tolu:

Yes.

Dee-Ann:

It's almost like everything that I'm listening to is directed towards the issue.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

or something else. It's not necessarily about me. I don't centre myself.

Tolu:

Okay

Dee-Ann:

within those issues or within those critiques. So even though they're talking, they say they speak in language like she's weak. They're talking about the issue itself. They're looking at the process, but they're talking, they're saying, and using the language as though it's about me. So I, I, I've been able to separate myself from a lot of those criticisms in that way.

Tolu:

And that's a, that's a great thing for your mental health.

Dee-Ann:

Yeah.

Tolu:

Um, now, What would you say is the armor, the armor that you wear to go out into the world every day? And people have a very, very wide range of ways of answering that question, so take it where your mind goes.

Dee-Ann:

That's a good question. The armor I put on every morning, I think it. It's centred around the fact that I truly believe I add value to every space I'm in. So it's that and my, my smile. I, I, it sounds really cliché, but,

Tolu:

well, well, no, somebody once said joy, so

Dee-Ann:

yeah, it's, it's my smile because smiling is my favorite thing to do. Laughing is my absolute favorite thing to do, and wherever I go, I take it and irrespective of what is happening, I'm taking it with me. You there could be mad people on the other side. My smile is still with me and it might infuriate some, but I believe in the power of my smile and my laughter. I really believe in them and they have a disarming quality.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

and I love that about 'em. I love that.

Tolu:

I take that, um, what scares you?

Dee-Ann:

What scares me? I'm scared of being unable to truly connect with something that I love that scares me.

Tolu:

Okay.

Dee-Ann:

I'm scared of, well, what I would say is it's almost like I'm scared of what the ego can do to connection, um, what pride can do to a connection. It's, I think that connection is the source of joy in life. I really, I think that that's what gives us the hope to keep living and the drive. Um, and I, I feel our insecurities and our pride can disconnect us from, from that connection.

Tolu:

Yeah. Huh.

Dee-Ann:

Cause I've seen it happen. I've seen it happen and I, and it, and it scares me.

Tolu:

Okay. You alluded a little earlier when you were talking about Quincia and your other friend a little bit to sisterhood, although you didn't mention it as such. And since this is a conversation about womanhood, it always feels incomplete if I don't also ask about sisterhood and what it means to you?

Dee-Ann:

Sisterhood just feels like this unspoken bond of, an unspoken thread of understanding and love that flows between myself and my sisters, among us, between us and through us. It's, it's being understood. Without having to say anything, without having to have your armour on.

Tolu:

Yes,

Dee-Ann:

it's being treated with the respect and understanding, that seems endless. I, there's some, there's a quality about sisterhood that seems endless and I don't know, I've been trying to describe it and I can't seem to describe. There is just endless quality to sisterhood where even, even when you are addressing the things that make you sweat, make you deeply uncomfortable.

Tolu:

Mm-hmm.

Dee-Ann:

it, it has a way of protecting and encasing that space with so much love that even when you're breaking down, it's just safe. It's, it's a vacuum from the world. That's, that's how it feels. It feels like it's a vacuum from the world, and I love that. I, I, it means a lot to me to have women who I can trust. And who, who love me without reservation, love me without expectation. That is uncommon in this world at the moment.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

And it, it, it grounds me in a way that not many things can ground me.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

It feels like my home base.

Tolu:

Beautiful. Do you ever think of legacy? And if you do, what do you want yours to be?

Dee-Ann:

Whew. I have thought about legacy before. I've always thought that legacy really lives on through the lives you touch. It's not so much something I can curate without showing up as my most authentic self. So for me, my legacy and what I want, uh, what I would like my legacy to look like, I feel would live out in people's experiences of me and I. And I also want my legacy to be a little bit of an unlearning for everyone. I want my legacy to be that you show up exactly as who you are, even in the spaces that are most adamant that you conform.

Tolu:

Mm.

Dee-Ann:

Um, so that everyone else who comes into contact with my legacy is freed from the shackles that expectations will place on them.

Tolu:

Yeah. That's such a beautiful way to, such a beautiful way to, to, to think about it and to think about what impact you wanna have on the world. Last question. What brings you joy?

Dee-Ann:

Ooh, a lot of things but one of the things that brings me the most joy at the moment, this is, this, is, this is like pure unadulterated joy a joy is salsa dancing

Tolu:

Oh.

Dee-Ann:

Whenever I am salsa dancing, I feel, I feel the most alive. I feel the most alive. I feel the most joy. I feel it. It's unfiltered, it's pure. It is. It touches me to my core. When I, when I leave from, from dancing salsa, I feel, I feel exhausted. I feel spent, I, I don't feel exhausted. I feel spent. I feel like I've spent my life's energy well. That's how I feel that gives me so much joy. And it's, it's through that connection with people, like being able to just follow and to lead. It's beautiful. It is absolutely beautiful. And it brings me so, so, so much joy.

Tolu:

How long have you been doing that?

Dee-Ann:

I've been doing it for about, I would say six years now.

Tolu:

Oh, cool. That's a long time.

Dee-Ann:

Six years. In fact, the last time I came out to London, which was about two weeks ago for the um, Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

Tolu:

Yeah.

Dee-Ann:

Um, I had to find myself some salsa bars to go to. That was just icing on the cake.

Tolu:

There are classes in Anguilla though, right?

Dee-Ann:

There are none. So it's just my, just my friend and I, whenever he's down, he, his wife, myself, and, and a couple cousins and friends. We just dance. We just dance.

Tolu:

Okay. I like it. That brings me to the end of my, um, official questions. Thank you.

Dee-Ann:

It was great. Thank you for having me.

Tolu:

Good people. Thank you for rocking with us in another episode of Unlearning Strong Women. Much to ponder over here, but if you could take just two things I'd say should be this, vulnerability is a practice that is integral to any complete understanding of strength and the possibilities for who you can be in this world is endless. Don't let anyone including yourself convince you different. We will be back at the end of next month with a new episode. In the meantime, it would be great to know your thoughts. Hit me up on Instagram or Twitter. The handle is at Tolu Agbelusi. Details and spellings will be in the show notes. Until next time, this is Unlearning Strongwoman.