Last week, I had the great fortune to meet with Busayo Obisakin , a Voice of our future correspondent from Nigeria and winner of a full scholarship to the US and The Empowerment Institute in New York. As a fellow correspondent who lived nearby, I was invited to a special lunch celebrating Busayo’s award.
I arrived arm in arm with my empowerment mentor, Lynn, a wonderful woman who had volunteered her time and experience to accompany my journey through the VOF program and counsel me through my personal obstacles to empowerment, to leadership. We had met in person for the first time only a few hours beforehand, and had continued to hug each other, and giggle, for the rest of the morning. We had made a strong connection through our sessions online, but meeting in person was like meeting a long lost family member. There had been plenty of tears and lots of laughter. As we walked into the room in this intimate bistro in downtown Manhattan, we were warmed by an open fire and remained filled with emotion.
I noticed Busayo right away. She was sitting at the end of the table wearing an “I Love New York” t-shirt. Busayo and I were two women from entirely different backgrounds and continents who had been brought together by this unique Voice of Our Future training program. We had connected through our training and had followed each other’s posts. Then there we were, only inches away from each other. I went over to her and introduced myself. “Hi Busayo, I’m Tina.” She stood to greet me and then looked to the others arriving at the table for confirmation, “Tina? This is Tina? “Yes,” they nodded, “Yes,” I said. “Oh my goodness,” and she held my face in her hands as we looked at each other and hugged and embraced and I started to cry.
The remaining guests began to arrive, each of us warmly greeted by our host, Gail Straub founder of the Empowerment Institute. Jensine was there, Busayo’s mentor Amy, world Pulse board members, friends of Gails and four, no less of the Empowerment Training Mentors who had guided us correspondents through this sometimes intense and most definitely life changing program.
Our meal began with a beautiful grace sung by one of the ladies present. Then Busayo began to speak her moving story. She told of her remarkable journey over the last year and her dreams for a center for women in her community. I would love to surmise all that she’d said, but her story is not mine to tell. It was clear however, that I was in the company of a powerhouse. This was not a woman who needed empowering. Indeed Gail had commented herself, that Busayo had enough Empowerment for all of us.
As Busayo finished talking, she fell silent awhile, seeming to take in all that she had accomplished in such a short time. All of us present confirmed our commitment to providing all that we could to support her in her vision, and as she looked up towards my end of the table, I blew her a kiss.
We were then introduced to the twinkle, a kind of silent gentle applause that brought smiles and love to all our faces. “Twinkle Twinkle,” our fingers moved through the air towards Busayo. A wonderful smile crept across her face and she embraced it all. She loves her twinkles, we were told, and that was clear.
As each of the women around the table finished their little bit about their large selves, we twinkled them too. Next it was my turn.
I spoke about how I couldn’t believe I was there among all these amazing women and that I kept feeling I needed to keep pinching myself. “You are amazing too,” Jensine said. I think I must have blushed. I continued to talk, about how much my life had been changed by this program and of how much larger my dreams and visions had since grown. I finished by echoing one of Busayo’s comments, “I am just beginning.” The women reached out their hands to let their fingers twinkle the air around me. Instead of embracing it as Busayo had done so graciously and sweetly, I felt embarrassed. I turned to Lynn, my mentor for support. Her hands were up in front of her face, her fingers twinkling at me gently too. “Accept the Twinkle,” she told me. And so I tried. It felt like a gentle and refreshing rain on my heart.
The empowerment that went alongside the Voice of Our Future citizen Journalism training was integral for me. Without my mentors help to overcome my self doubts and my lack of self confidence, I would not have been able to continue the program, to find my voice or to keep on publishing my writings. My fears and self-loathing had been my greatest obstacle to my own empowerment, and my greatest shame. Lynn who spoke after me during that luncheon that day, told of the great connection we had made with each other and how her work as my mentor helped show how I had not been honoring my true essence. I was overcome. I looked up to this table of extraordinary women, half expecting their disappointment at me being exposed as this woman who had not been all that I could or should be… and was met instead with nothing but love. As my eyes met Busayo’s, she blew me a kiss.
Busayo is on her way back to Nigeria now. Jensine and the rest of the World Pulse crew back to Portland and to their everyday lives. My mentor and I have promised to see each other again in person soon and I promised Busayo that when she returns for the next stage of her training in June, that I would do what I can to meet with her again.
Since that wonderful and remarkable day, my heart has been full with the community of women lending themselves in love and support to Busayo, to each other and to myself. Today, I feel proud of all that I have accomplished and vow to set aside my fears as I continue to embrace my part in this growing global women’s movement. My own empowerment is by no means complete, but I am learning to accept the twinkle.
Tina and Busayo participated in Voices of Our Future, a World Pulse program that provides rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.