We must not allow our little Black girls to become flightless birds – Lessons in Leadership by Esther Kuku

My six-year-old daughter came home from school recently, and said she wanted to be White. How could my child not adore the beautiful Black skin she is in? I composed myself and started to teach her about opposition, and how to be resilient in the face of adversity. I hadn’t planned such deep life skills training so early on, however this is where we were. So I began…with my little story about flightless birds…

New Zealand is home to more flightless birds than any other country in the world. In the absence of ground-living predators, various birds lost their ability to fly. My daughter’s eyes started to glaze. I could read her thoughts…’Let’s just read The Gruffalo! Who cares about flightless birds?’ 

What has this got to do with leadership? you may ask. Everything. The flightless birds have never needed to develop their wings, because there is nothing that threatens their existence – no snakes, no wolves…. And since there is no opposition, there’s no real need to fly. It takes the presence of a predator for a bird to need to develop the wings that have a desire to go higher.

Overlooked, ignored and sometimes ridiculed, women have always been prey. We’ve had our predators and faced significant opposition throughout history. This fact, unfortunately, is more salient for Black women. Why? Possibly because, deep down, our predators know how powerful we can be when we fulfil our roles within society and learn to fly. So the aim is to keep us grounded. And the opposition begins when we are children.

This is why it is vital we instil confidence into our little girls from an early age. I am teaching my daughter to love God and to live a life that reflects and embraces biblical principles – be kind and gracious, and see greatness in the people she comes into contact with. I have also let her know that, no matter what the world sees in her as a Black child, she is an amazing person. I have had to let her know that she is never ‘less than’. 

She is only six, and her hair has already been mocked at school, and her colour has already been a factor that excludes her in the playground. And, I’ve had to dry floods of tears many mornings, when she wakes up saying the children “don’t like her brown skin”. I won’t say that it doesn’t concern me, but I make sure she is surrounded with images that look like her and reflect her beauty. (I should say, for context, that we don’t live in London – not that it should make any difference.)

The majority of her books now feature Black heroes, and she has only ever had a selection of dolls that both reflect the society she lives in and look like her. I want her to know that, even though outer beauty is great, inner beauty is what truly counts, and self-love and self-care begin from within. Once she nails her understanding of this, no one can take her confidence away. 

I am teaching her that leadership is about understanding how to manage opposition. She must learn to see it as an opportunity, and use it to grow her wings. 

The buzz word in our home is focus. Stay focused and waste nothing when it comes to leadership experiences. Opposition is a leadership test we must all learn to pass. 

John 10:10 says “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Finally, I’m teaching my daughter that if she is facing opposition, it’s because there is something called ‘potential’ on the inside of her that’s valuable. Some people may be jealous or want the treasure called potential that lies within her. Thieves don’t break into empty houses. 

In all honesty, I wish someone had laid this out plainly to me when I was six! As older women, it’s vital we pass this knowledge onto the next generation. Our little girls must never be flightless birds.

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