Be Who You Are: Pamela Ohene Nyako
Rootencial is delighted to introduce Pamela Ohene Nyako, a 26-year old academic and afrofeminist from Geneva. She conducts research on Black European history at the University of Geneva and founded and leads Afrolitt, a Black literature platform.
Pamela has always been captivated by history. She devoured books about ancient Egypt and Greece as a youngster, and learned about the Holocaust through her German grandmother. She was soon drawn to Black history, and to American civil rights movement leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Be Who You Are: Pamela Ohene Nyako
“It was actually easier for me to relate to the US than to Africa,” said Pamela. “I was born in the hip-hop generation! All the cultural references, and what being cool and Black meant, was all related to the US. The kind of relation I had to the Continent (or Africa) was more cultural. It was always about food and language, and sometimes music. I traveled a few times to Ghana, but I wasn’t really getting in touch with the place.”
It was actually easier for me to relate to the US than to Africa
Everything changed when Pamela had a nervous breakdown. She complemented her counselling with a lot of reading, and in the process discovered many great works of African literature. “The literature really helped me heal my soul”, she said. These African novels allowed Pamela to better relate to her roots than any history book she’d ever read; to get closer to the people who had lived their lives on the continent; to access their narratives and experiences through literature. From the age of 24, she started traveling independently to Ghana and connecting with the continent, its peoples, and histories in a way that she hadn’t before.
That experience was the catalyst that sparked Pamela to launch Afrolitt, a dynamic platform that uses African and Black Diaspora literature to share and discuss experiences. The group, based in French speaking Switzerland, is open not only to Black communities but to all those who are interested. “I’m really proud of Afrolitt and what it’s becoming… I’m super happy!” said Pamela.
The biggest challenge that Pamela feels she faces as a Black woman is that of overworking. “You have to do four times more than the average person just to get to the same position, or just to be recognized”, she said. Pamela recognizes that this pressure to overwork is somewhat self-imposed, but is also too often imposed upon Black women by society. She has found that reading around on this subject, and hearing the stories of other women “overworking”, helped her to realize that she was not alone.
You have to do four times more than the average person just to get to the same position, or just to be recognized
Photo Credit Ashley Moponda and Cynthia Butare
Fear of being judged, she feels, is the single main barrier that holds people back. “It’s not only in your head; it’s not just you trippin’ about something that may not happen. Sometimes it’s fear based on things you actually see happening.” She underscores that the more successful women are in their careers, the more they are frightening to men in a patriarchal society. And that fear, sadness, and anger are all legitimate feelings to have: you should acknowledge them, and share them with people.
That fear can lead people to abandon their dreams. But, as Pamela says in reflecting on advice she would offer to the next generation of leaders, “if we kill our dreams, that’s it. It’s the true liberation of People of Color to still have dreams. Try your best to still have dreams, to pursue them, and to believe in yourself.