Barrier Breaker of the Month of March 2021
The Barrier Breaker of the month of March 2021 Is….
Jama Jack a feminist leader, blogger, podcaster, writer and Communications Professional. She’s also an advocate and activist for the promotion and respect of the rights of women and girls. As a Feminist Activist, she’s been working in this space for a while starting from children’s rights as a child thorough Lend-a-Hand Society and moved gradually to an area that she wanted to focus on.
As I grew older and found my voice and purpose, I became more in tune with who I was and what I wanted to do, my energy was directed towards Feminism but not just women and girls but other marginalized groups. For me it’s seeking liberation for all oppressed groups and marginalized persons in the world. I have been lucky to find an intersection between what I do professionally and what I call my heart’s work. That is, how do I use my communications expertise and experiences to support my activism and advocacy. A lot of what I do with activism is built around communicating, engaging, creating messages and running campaigns. This is where I feel most alive, happy and where I feel I’m truly living in my purpose.
10 Year Old Children’s Right Activist.
Sometimes I tell people I inherited this work. I was born to a mother who had been doing this. She has dedicated her whole life to serving humanity and serving the community and I had the honor of being raised by her. This was a natural path for me because I grew up seeing an example and because she was doing that work, it was easy for her to understand what I was doing.
I came into who I am right now. As a child I was not always like this. I was very shy and you would always find me in a corner with a book. It was my best friend Joyce Riley that tried so hard to get me into Lend-A-Hand because I really did not want to be a part of it even though we’ll pass by everyday after school and drink water. We saw a lot of kids and young people doing different things there. They were also the ones planning International Children’s Day of Broadcasting at that time in The Gambia. I always gave excuses whenever my friend talked about us being a part of it until she told my mum and my mum got me to go.
Lend-a-Hand Society created a safe place for me where I was able to communicate with people. The first time I introduced myself, I cried but they were patient with me until I was comfortable enough to do it. I was then able to get on stage and speak about our rights as children as well as doing important work such as destigmatizing HIV AIDS. At such a young age, we were on radio, TV, events, policy activities and just doing the work which we did not see as work. That is what has brought me here today being grounded in service and being grounded in the understanding that I am not here for myself, I am here to serve and fulfill a purpose and I will be doing a disservice to myself and to my community, If I do not fulfill my purpose.
It is easy to loose sight of who you are but first you need to know who you are. In Gambia it is very easy to not know who you are and to live your life based on other people’s expectations and other people’s ideas. It can be very difficult to find yourself and find who you are and live your life for you. We need people around us but there is a high tendency of loosing your individual identity simply because you want to fit in. I always say, it was important for me to have this grounding at 10 years old and to be part of an organisation that showed me that I matter and that I was valuable, that taught me I was worth so many things and that I should not limit my idea of who I am to one thing. That is the journey I have carried.
It is not something I stop and reflect on a lot because it has become natural to me and that’s because I started early. It might have been different if I came to this journey a bit later but I started early. It is also about direction. If you have something to do, something to change, something to contribute, go ahead and do that. This does not mean there weren’t any challenges, there were challenges, there are still challenge and there will always be challenges but one thing I was taught is to be confident, to know what I want, to know who I am, to know where I am going, to understand what it will take to get there and to do the work to be able to get what I want.
The journey has been a lot of learning. When I talk to people, I tell them to focus on learning, don’t give up on learning. People can call you an expert, a professional etc. but do not allow yourself to stop learning. Do not also allow yourself to get to a place where you feel like ‘I know it all’. If I were to describe my journey in one word, it would be a journey of ‘LEARNING’ but also a journey of ‘GROWTH’ because as I learn, I am also growing and in my growth I am also creating space to support other people to learn and grow.
It is important to focus on learning and growth because as you learn and grow, you’re going to make mistakes. Mistakes are part of life, they are part of the journey and when you make mistakes, get up again and talk to trusted people about your failures or where you went wrong and how they can help. On this journey people are also watching you and some who you do not even know will come and support you as well as tell you areas you can improve. When you’re told to improve on any particular area, do not be defensive but rather accept it and make that change and grow. You become better.
Our leaders are not helping and being a youth too is a challenge. Some people believe that because you’re young, you’re not bringing any value to them and even if you bring in any ideas, they dismiss anything you have to say. Being in that situation makes it hard for you to contribute to positive decision making that will lead to change in the community.
Another challenge is being a woman in The Gambia. We live in a system where men are always first, men are always right, men are the ones who make the decisions, lead, listen to etc. As much as I have found my voice and as much as I know not to allow myself to be silenced, some of these things are structural. This means there are limits to what you can do. As much as we have individuals who are progressing and or achieving a lot, if it doesn’t filter down and bring everyone along, then it’s not progress. It’s just one person breaking through the Glass Ceiling. Our voices are not being heard in places where they matter. Even in places where they are making decisions about the lives of women, women are not there to also make an input or add our ideas.
Another challenge is Money and Funding to do the work we do. I have a lot of ideas but I can’t do it without funding and so sometimes I have to use my personal funds to do my heart work.
Learning never stops – I carry this with me and I learn best by doing. I hate mistakes. I am a perfectionist in the worst way anyone can be as a perfectionist. I had to teach and tell myself “Jama you’re not God, you’re going to make mistakes and you have to be okay with making these mistakes and see them as points of learning”. I am still learning in this area, I have not arrived but the lesson in this has always been constant learning. Every opportunity you have to learn, take it but also whatever opportunities you have to teach, take those as well and pass it on because it’s a cycle. I was given opportunities, I need to also ensure I give others opportunities too.
Secondly Values – As human beings we need to have our values and stay true to them and stay true to what makes us who we are because sometimes we can easily get carried away by the noise and the praise and even the criticism. Forgetting who you are and what makes you you. Your values also help you make decisions that ensure you’re protecting your integrity. Integrity is important to me. Once you say something that affects my integrity, I will make sure to clear my name.
Learning to Celebrate myself – I have realized that It is okay to celebrate yourself because you have done this work yourself. There are times that I have celebrated myself and then gone to a corner and begin to wonder if it made anyone uncomfortable, was I showing off etc. Beating the challenges I was dealt with growing up, completely failing and learning from that, I had to learn to celebrate myself, honor myself and elevate myself before anyone does and even if it does not come from outside, I am good because internally I am happy with who I am, I am at peace with who I am, I am proud of who I am, I am proud of the work I have done and the results I am getting. It’s easier to celebrate others and extend grace to them much more than you do to yourself but It is okay to celebrate yourself too.
Jois: I am learning to celebrate myself because in my mind I don’t want to do too much as well and look like a show off. I am also learning that mistakes are part of my life because I am too afraid to fail. I make mistakes and think about what others are going to say but I am coming to the point where I do not have to worry about what people think about me. I made a mistake SO WHAT? I think the important thing about mistakes is not sitting down and having a pity party but getting up and learning from it and moving on. When you know better you do better.
Jama: The burden of what people will say is what we always carry around with us and it stops us from thriving. People will compliment me and I’ll downplay and wiggle myself out of it. I was uncomfortable with just accepting it. I had to teach myself that it was okay to be celebrated and to say ‘Thank You’ even if I do not add anything to it, ‘Thank You’ is fine. Men find it easier to speak and celebrate their successes but for women we have to be humble about it. HUMBLE FOR WHAT https://www.jamajack.com/humble-for-what/ – That false idea of humility is what I want us to do away with and free ourselves.
What Conversation did you wish you had when you were Younger
Jama: Where I am thought that I am not for everyone and not everyone is for me. As a young person I was involved in community service, thinking I have to show up for people. I had to teach myself that I was not going to be for everyone. It helped me to be focused, to determine where I could do my best work and get meaningful results and to also understand that as much as I want to build community, I will have to choose what that community looks like for me and it is okay. It may not sit well with everyone, that Jama “it is okay, you will find who you are, you will find your voice, you will do great things, you will excel, you will thrive”, etc. Some people will find something to criticize about you but it is okay to pay no attention to them
Jois: Not everyone will support you and you need to accept that. Not that they don’t love you, though there are people out there that just do not like you but there are others that we should not take it out on because maybe it’s not their area of interest etc. Also it’s not about you so don’t take it personal.
Jama: Don’t feel entitled to people’s support or judge them because they do not support you. Nobody owes you their support plus we do not know what they are going through. You have not even tried to understand why this person has not showed up for you. It’s a valuable lesson to learn and it will allow us to extend more grace and compassion to one another .
Believe in yourself. This can be hard especially when it feels like the whole world and the odds are against you. Also be able to ask for help. Sometimes we feel like superhumans and do things on our own but there is a lot of peace that comes with knowing you can’t do everything on your own and it’s okay to seek help. Find your tribe/community/people because that is where you will be rooted. So as much as you know that you are not for everyone and everyone is not for you, there are people who are there for you, where you feel safe, where you feel like you belong. It is very useful especially when you face hard times. Sometimes all you need is for people to be there for you. You’re not alone.
Jois: My sister Yolande mentioned that “in overcoming fear, you need to ask people for help. Sometimes you- not asking for help is you being full of pride”. Just humble yourself and seek the help you need. We need each other to grow so find your tribe, seek help. There are people who are out there who love you. If they can’t, just accept it and don’t be upset with them because you never know what they may be going through. Sometimes that person may not be able to help you, but they can refer you to another person.
MÉBÉT – A Mother’s Plea
We did not think it would do so well. We self funded this project and also submitting it for festivals was at a cost. For every submission you need to make a payment. It has really been a wonderful journey seeing how the film is received both within and outside The Gambia. Also creating an opportunity for the people involved in the film, the actors, crew, etc, o be recognized for their talents – that is important for us. It is not just about the surprising wins we got but how the message of the film is going beyond the borders of The Gambia.
MÉBÉT is a short film about child marriage and it’s effect on society. It is set in The Gambia, a country with a relatively high prevalence of child marriages. It is estimated that 30% of girls in The Gambia are married before turning 18 years old. UNICEF Global Databases: Child Marriage (March 2018) https://www.rebelvzn.com/mebet
Jois: I am so proud of you guys. One thing I got from what you said is that in starting anything, most times, you just have to start with what you have. You might not have the funds coming through but just start with whatever you have. Keep pushing & pressing on. You’ve got this
Thank you Jama for taking time out to do this with me. I am super grateful.
Jama: Thank you also for having me and creating the space. The more we celebrate ourselves the more we’re able to celebrate other people. Thank you also for the very kind words.
For more information on Jama – https://linktr.ee/thejamajack
You can also follow her on Instagram –
And to listen to our interview, click any of the links below