PENGals: Powerful, engaging, and noticed women and non-binary people of colour
Art by Bekkie Bury
At PENGals we have created a space for womxn of colour and non-binary people to connect in order to support, uplift, and educate one another on our experiences. We believe this is especially important during the coming year as current events have had a heavily detrimental effect on the wellbeing of most young people. The opportunity to care for one another’s welfare and bond over shared experience is crucial when so many of us are physically isolated from one another and at PENGals we hope to give the incredible womxn of colour of Bristol a safe and welcoming space in which to do this.
Since we launched the platform we have hosted panel discussions and interviewed prominent women of colour on campus covering a variety of topics. As well as this we have run virtual social events allowing students to get to know one another despite the pandemic. As well as being educational and creating spaces for discussion about navigating the world as a womxn of colour, we feel it is also important to be able to simply exist with one another, as people with similar perspectives.
The founders of PENGals are four young women from London who all attend University of Bristol. Farida is a second year History student of Nigerian heritage. It was after seeing the inspiring FLYgirls in Cambridge that she had the idea to create something similar for students in Bristol. Shamar is a first year Law postgraduate of Jamaican and Indian heritage. She’s the current President of Bristol’s Intersectional Feminist society, and has been working to keep the society accessible to all on campus. She has been working with other cultural societies on campus to reach as many students through PENGals as we can. Bekkie is a recent Art History graduate from Bristol who will be starting work in Bristol this year. Bekkie is in charge of PENGals use of digital platforms and social media, and she has been working on keeping our posts as engaging and informative as possible. Theresa is a third year medical student of Nigerian heritage. She is the chair of the Black Students Network, and has been fighting to create a voice for Black Students on Campus. Theresa has been reaching out to external speakers and groups to vary the voices we platform at PENGals.
A NOTE ON LEGACY:
“In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.”
― Alice Walker
Legacy is especially complex when considering women of colour in the UK. The legacy of people of colour is embedded and intertwined throughout British history, however it is often not explicitly spoken about or taught. This makes it difficult for a lot of us to access our past. Much of our history is passed on through aural tradition so we generally have to do our own research to understand the experiences and work of people of colour that came before us. The activism and work of people of colour was started by generations before us and we, at PENGals, hope to continue their legacy and help spread their stories through our platforms.
PENGals is based at Bristol university, in one of the most political cities in the UK evidenced by the toppling of the Colston Statue during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the summer. Strong connections to the slave trade were a fundamental foundation of the city’s wealth and prominence, but exposing this reality is something Bristolians of colour have constantly battled for. The activism of the people of Bristol is evidenced with the 1963 Bus Boycott – a staged protest in response to the Omnibus company’s refusal to employ Black bus crew. Bristol also has the largest settlement of Somalians and one of the largest communities of Caribbean people in the UK. Much of the art in the city pays homage to those early activists of colour, including the Seven Saint Pauls and the annual Saint Pauls Carnival. We want those who come to Bristol to know about its rich history and stories.
In the age of technology, it is easier to share stories and information to ensure our legacy lives on. The primary reason why people of colour do not know about our history is because we were reliant on gatekeepers to tell our story. Due to this our stories have been diluted and hidden between generations, which can leave us alienated from our identities. Additionally when we are encouraged to engage with the past it is often through the prism of trauma or through colonist narratives that restrict critical discussion. PENGals aims to repossess our agency and document the stories of people of colour, past and present, on our platform. We post our events, discussion, and interviews with other women of colour to serve as a form of legacy for students to come. This legacy is not merely the four founders or the current cohort of students. Instead it will exist for future PENGals at Bristol and beyond. The legacy is all of us and in creating a group that includes everybody it allows our work to travel further, aiding us to support and represent the womxn and non-binary people of colour that our work is dedicated to.
To find out more or get involved with PENGals, check us out on Instagram or Facebook both @pengalsbristol.
We can’t wait to meet you!
By Bekkie Bury, Theresa Awolesi, Shamar Gunning.
Art by Amelia Elson.
For Issue #20 ‘Legacy’. Published for International Women’s Day.