We place a lot of value on our degree. I mean, how valuable can a piece of paper be? £27,000 debt clearly shows it’s extremely valuable – but, the 2 seconds of fame you have on stage collecting your degree certificate proves otherwise…or at least to me.
Having completed second year with a 2:2, I was determined to focus on my studies and smash my final year at university. This wasn’t because education was the beginning of the end for me; it’s more so because I was doing this for my family. Yet, somehow I found myself applying to the Teach First Innovation Series and spending most of my weekends commuting and working on Alt Ed.
You would think I would’ve learnt from my second year and not overextend myself.
The Innovation Series, which took me through the process of developing a business plan, refining my ideas, brainstorming and prototyping, was amazing. Though taxing, I don’t regret taking part at all – without the workshops, it would have taken me a longer period of time to shape my vision for Alt Ed, so thank you Carol and Vili!
The summer of 2016, before I returned to university to complete my final year, while working at Citigroup as well as applying for funding and to the Innovation Series, I reached out to several universities. Though many presidents of societies were interested, the exec at Manchester university African-Caribbean Society were the most committed. Throughout my final year we had several conversations about how to organise a mental health week focusing on the African-Caribbean community. Assessing what went well at Warwick University, they devised a plan of action.
The week commencing March 16th 2017 (my birthday!), I went to Manchester’s African-Caribbean Society’s first mental health week and was extremely happy to see how successful it was. The subsequent events, touching on important topics in creative ways were all amazing too!
From the survey sent following the events close to 90% of students found themselves talking about mental health and the issues surrounding it.
The majority of students stated they found the events useful and informative and would like to see the same take place next year.
To assess what works best, a week of events or events spread across a term, I changed the structure at Warwick university quite a bit. I adopted the latter format, considering I had done the former the year before. Using the money provided by O2, I organised our most successful event, ‘A Night of Talents and Testimonies’, where over 100 students attended.
Throughout February and March 2017, I also organised events with the Warwick Hip Hop Society and the Warwick Anti-Sexism Society, with the former touching on mental health in hip hop, and the latter touching on gender, mental health and navigating the workplace.
I guess you must be wondering how our focus on the workplace comes into this. Well, considering I haven’t had a work-free summer since 2010, I came to realise how taxing the world of work is and how much it affects employees. Yet, none of the places I worked at – especially the companies known to have a high-pressurised environment – seemed to focus on mental health. The elephant in the room indeed.
I also realised that when completing internship applications, i always left the disabilities section blank, mainly because I thought I would be rejected and looked at as weak, and also because I wasn’t sure if I should consider my depression and anxiety as a disability.
But in all honesty, it has crippled me mentally so many times that I should not have thought twice about not mentioning it.
From there on, and after speaking to many employees and employers I decided to do something about it. I had the opportunity to give a presentation to Citi’s Disability Network and present my future plans with what was the skeleton of Alt Ed, and to my amazement they were supportive of it. It was then I knew I should implement a focus on the workplace and also education.
We place a lot of pressure on ourselves, in education and in the workplace. We now have the chance to control the narrative, control our lives! Alt Ed is here for you, I am here for you. Let’s make a change. Let’s alter perceptions. Let’s control our mental health.