Ore Ogunbiyi and Chelsea Kwakye are the co-authors of "Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change," their highly celebrated first title exploring the varied and rich stories of fourteen black female university students across the UK. "Taking Up Space" is a window into the struggles of being a part of a system rigged against you while taking special attention to emphasise the unique and individual voice of each woman's story. With Ore telling the Guardian: "Our experiences have for so long been homogenised[...]there is no one black experience."
The book is the second to come from Merky Books, a collaborative publication house between Stormzy and Penguin that strives to provide a platform for aspiring black voices of the new generation.
The 22-year-olds are both recent graduates of Cambridge University, having been presidents of the institution's African-Caribbean Society. They are the mastermind's behind the viral campaign "#BlackMenofCambridge", in which they tackled the institutionalised racism that proliferates the disparity of black students being accepted into higher education.
However, Ore first found stardom when writing an article titled: "A letter to my fresher self: Surviving Cambridge as a black girl" for the university press that cemented her as the poignant voice for change that she is now. Ore detailed the microaggressions and passive racism that are commonplace in these institutions, recounting her white classmates asking if they could touch and smell her hair - the article even featured a reimagined photograph in which Ore was visibly uncomfortable. The piece attracted an impressive following, with Labour MP David Lammy donning it as one of the most beautiful, powerful and defiant pieces of writing he's read.
We caught up with Ore and Chelsea to find out more about their experience as black women in the industry.
Although you're both quite recent graduates, you've already achieved so much! What do you attribute to your successes, and what's next for your future?
Our families have played a huge part in not only our success but also motivating us! For Chelsea, it’s focusing on her legal career whilst also supporting Taking Up Space and for Ore, continuing to enjoy her job in Nigeria.
'Taking up Space' opens up several narratives that are often ignored, it breaks the silence on the long-institutionalised racism of institutions such as Cambridge. What was your experience of taking a stand, in a predominantly white, male space, as black women?
Cambridge was a real rollercoaster ride. There were extreme highs and a few major lows but overall, we wouldn’t change the experience. It’s helped shape us as black women and we’ve left surer of who we are and what we stand for. Throughout our whole experience, we think our biggest experience has been this book.
Your book focuses on multiple female narratives, what was your experience working with so many inspiring women, and did hearing the multifaceted experiences they'd had ever surprise you?
We wanted to colour the book with a vast number of experiences and that’s where our interviewees step in. We also wanted to show that black students aren’t one homogenous group. Instead, we all had different stories to tell and that should be understood for their uniqueness. For us, it was also recognising that there are certain experiences that we can’t speak on and so, it was the perfect opportunity to give black women and non-binary students a platform to speak about their own experiences.
If you could give any advice for aspiring young women approaching higher education, what advice would you give them?
GO FOR IT.
Do you have any influential female forces in your life, or women that you’re inspired by?
Ore: My sister-in-law
Photography: Ayshe Zaifoglu