OnBeat for International Women’s Day

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The Gryphon’s Fashion Editor Elicka Ghahramani spoke with OnBeat, LUU’s newest BME focused society, to learn how their passion drove the creation of the fastest growing society of the academic year. 

Three women who have become as much sisters as they are workmates are OnBeat’s founders, Tanya, Ayesha and Alisha. The trio have used the vibrancy of their friendship to fuel the zest behind the zine, generating a buzz on campus within just a few months of its creation. In 2018, OnBeat was still a skeleton of an idea for something that had the potential to become a strong new platform for BME creatives, but what it needed was the right people to manage the project.

“I had the idea for OnBeat around Christmas 2017” says Ayesha, currently in her second year studying International Relations. “When I joined the University last year, I realised that I wanted to create a new space for women of colour in Leeds, because I didn’t think a sufficient space already existed.” Initially, Ayesha found it hard to find others who were as dedicated to turning OnBeat from a passing thought to a solid platform until, by chance, she found Tanya and Alisha. “I spent some time posting on different Facebook groups, trying to find anyone who would want to start this with me, and eventually I found Tanya,” a fellow second year and a Politics and Sociology student. “The team has changed loads; there were a few people who got involved at the start who we don’t even really know anymore,” Tanya says, amused. “Yeah you quickly figure out who’s really about it,” Ayesha adds.

A few months later, at a poetry reading organised by a mutual friend, Tanya met Alisha, who is in her final year of studying English and Theology. The two clicked from the onset and Tanya immediately knew that they had met their third co-founder. “We went for a drink and ended up just chatting for hours, and afterwards I called Ayesha all excited saying that I’d found someone who I thought would be the perfect addition to OnBeat.” The three quickly became a close-knit team, matching each other equally on commitment, motivation and vision.

The next main step was defining the type of platform they wanted OnBeat to be. “I didn’t want to create a space where we exclusively ask women of colour to write about their racial struggles, or what they’ve been through,” Ayesha tells us. “We want our writers to understand that they can write about whatever they want: if you want to write about music then write about music, or fashion, or politics. It’s just the fact that it’s by a woman of colour and it’s a whole space just for us.”

We then move onto discussing the significant moments each founder had experienced while growing up, which made them realise that OnBeat was an essential addition to the University. “I’ve always loved writing, from having my own blog to being the editor of my secondary school paper, but a lot of my articles were BME focussed and I couldn’t find the right space to put them in. I grew up in an extremely white area, and I felt like I was the only BME person I knew, so writing spaces always felt like they were dominated by white people, and that’s where the necessity for OnBeat came from, for me.” 

Ayesha nodded her head in agreement, stating, “I never really had the chance to explore my culture while growing up. My parents, through no fault of their own, wanted us to assimilate as much as we could, and no one wanted to be the ‘brown girl who smells like curry’ in a white, middle-class area. Later, when I came to university, I saw that my situation was much the same, and I remember feeling really isolated by it. I would cook my food in first year and my flatmates would kind of make fun of it, asking me why it smells strange and why I do things a certain way, and I started to feel really uncomfortable. I quickly realised that these were not the people I wanted to surround myself with.” As with all topics so far, signifying the unity of their bond, Alisha’s feelings are much the same. “For me too, I also felt like my parents wanted us to assimilate, and when I’d tell them about creative projects such as this they’d say something like ‘yeah that’s a great hobby, but you should probably invest your time into something more stable’, and it was this whole idea that if you were a creative woman of colour, who placed your focus on celebrating women of colour, it was going to be hard for you to have your work recognised because women of colour’s space was an unstable platform.” 

Drive and motivation was one thing needed to make OnBeat the success it has become, and these three clearly have it in bucket loads. But another key factor to creating a successful new society was the willingness to sacrifice. They each had to give up huge chunks of their free time to get OnBeat off the ground, and they also confessed to sometimes prioritising it over their university work, especially around the time of their magazine launch. “It’s something we’ve gotten better at though,” Alisha tells us, “we’ve learned that we can’t do that and sometimes when we each have our thing to do we have to just be frank and say no, I can’t do that this week, I have other commitments. It’s about finding a better balance this semester.” 

As well as the OnBeat magazine launching at the end of first semester, they have been managing a number of other creative projects. They have started the OnBeat radio show hosted by Alisha, which is now collaborating with Social Radio Leeds, as well as holding a number of creative workshops. They have also recently won the opportunity to run a workshop taught by Paula Akpan, the founding director of Black Girl Festival, who will lead two workshops: one on personal growth and the other as a Q&A on being your most authentic self. The workshops will be open to all OnBeat members and are scheduled to take place around mid-March.

After the workshops they have decided that they will shift their focus to getting a website together so that they can publish all of the articles that couldn’t make it into the print edition of OnBeat. “We had so many articles left over and we still have so many people now pitching articles to us, we just don’t have anywhere to put them yet,” Alisha tells us. “A website would be the most financially viable way to get everyone’s work out there, but we want a site that’s cohesive to the brand, and for that we need the right person to design it, which is what we are currently looking for.”

When asked what their standout moments since creating OnBeat have been, they all smile at one another and in unanimity agree that it has been the chance to bring together isolated women of colour at the University. “One thing that makes us all so happy is that through our events there are a lot of freshers who have found friendships through OnBeat, and have access to a direct platform to meet people who understand their position and their culture. It means that first years hopefully won’t have to experience the same loneliness or isolation I felt.”

Within a matter of months, these three women have turned OnBeat from a brilliant idea into a resilient brand, and if their first semester as an official new society was any indicator to go by, the future of OnBeat is as big and vibrant as the brand itself.

Elicka Ghahramani

Fashion Editor