“I think periods of self-reflection are extremely important towards understanding and caring for ourselves,” says south Londoner Sarah Adesikun, one of Almeida Theatre’s Young Leaders – a unique platform providing a voice for young people aged sixteen to 25 who have something vital to say about the world we live in and the desire to influence positive change.
The series, titled Figures of Speech, is a digital film project where each writer records a specially written speech tackling a subject close to their heart. These include masculinity, cuts to the prison system, prejudices, mental health and Islamophobia.
Through her speech, The Four Phases of Self Care, Adesikun – a politics student who is “fiercely passionate about social justice” – used this platform to tackle the stigma that is attached to mental health and promote the undeniable importance of self-care, while touching on concepts of race, gender, and self-realisation.
Over the next few weeks we will be bringing you exclusive interviews with four of these Young Leaders. Here, we begin the series with Adesikun, asking her what she viewed to be some of the most acute issues her generation faces in their day-to-day lives, and much more.
Undine Markus: What triggered your interest in writing the speech?
Sarah Adesikun: In South London, I am involved with a social justice fellowship for young people called The Advocacy Academy, which aims to improve our local community. As I’ve been involved with the fellowship, I was able to listen to the stories and testimonies of people who have experienced inequality and trauma and often carried their pain on my shoulders. It made it very hard to want to make a change within my community as I felt there were so many problems I wanted to fix at once. I felt so small in a world full of so many problems, and realised that I needed to change my mindset, so I could really dedicate myself to helping my community.
Undine: In Phase I, you outline the importance of self-realisation. What are the first steps each of us can take towards building an understanding of and care for ourselves?
Sarah: I think periods of self-reflection are extremely important towards understand and caring for ourselves. Some people are so busy with work and school, and never get time to reflect on how they are truly feeling, and because of this, never get to figure out what they need to do to change their lives. Often, these periods of self-reflection are instead being filled with listening to music, or being on social media – which there is nothing wrong with – but it does take time away from really figuring out yourself. I always take a time out of my day to do something I truly love, like paint or write. But this can come in many forms.
Undine: How did you develop the courage and confidence to express yourself freely?
Sarah: I think that exploring injustices in the world has allowed me to gain confidence. I have learnt that staying silent in situations where injustice is taking place is dangerous – and makes me complicit to the actions of the oppressor. No problem is too small or too trivial to speak about, and sometimes your mind can trick you into believing it is. But voicing your thoughts and feelings, and expressing them is so important for the first step of realisation. People are going to judge you anyway, whether you’re too quiet or too loud, or shy, or bossy, so you might as well be yourself and say what you really think. Everyone has courage buried somewhere – we see it when we’re really angry, or when we cry in front of people – it really just needs to be unlocked.
Undine: What are some of the daily routines that you practice?
Sarah: It might sound strange – but I talk to myself a lot. Personally, I have to voice my thoughts in order to gauge an understanding of how I truly feel. My mind is a tangled mess sometimes and I can only really get to untangling it by saying it out loud. I tell myself how I am feeling, try to uncover why I am feeling that way, and then give myself advice into solving it. Its like a three-step process. Sometimes I write it down, and read my thoughts back to myself. I also love to draw and paint, and have a little sketchbook where every page represents my thoughts and feelings of the day. Sometimes its a scribble and sometimes it s a full blown acrylic piece, it just depends on how I am feeling.
Undine: How important is it to learn to say ‘no’ at an early age?
Sarah: Very. A lot of the time young people are stifled by their elders, or figures of authority around them and never get to step out of the box and think critically. If you develop a habit of saying yes, it only follows you through life and saying no gets tougher and tougher. There are so many things I have been taught or socialised to believe about gender or race or mental health that I knew were just plain wrong, but didn’t think to say anything. It is only when I challenged these thoughts that I understood that wisdom does not always come with age. Sometimes we know things are wrong, or we don’t want to do something someone tells us to, but don’t have the strength or knowledge to explain why they are wrong or why we don’t want to do them. One of my favourite quotes is: “Learn to say no without explaining yourself.” I’m not always going to understand why something is wrong, but if I can feel that it is, saying no is the first step to resisting these thoughts that are pushed on us.
“Education is the root of most social problems, and if social mobility is difficult, the appreciation and value we have for education inevitably decreases, and means more young people turn to dangerous ways to make money.”
Undine: What are some of the ways in which you battle gender expectations in your daily life?
Sarah: I think the fact that I am studying politics at university is one step to battling gender expectations. Politics is a male-dominated field, in which women can often feel intimidated by the contentious nature that we see, say in the House of Commons or in Prime Minister’s Questions. Although our prime minister is a woman, MP’s are overwhelmingly men and this fact is a universal trend. Studying politics, with hope of being involved in political change as a career, will hopefully be my form of breaking gender expectations! I try to battle the gender expectations of other people too, on a daily basis. Family members or certain friends often come out with remarks that are misogynistic, whether consciously or unconsciously and I try to check them and challenge their thoughts – I’m a massive football fan so I get this from many boys, or even girls, who truly don’t believe a girl can understand football or the offside rule. Language is important too, we use ‘man’ a lot when describing certain occupations, like a policeman or often assume a doctor is a man. I’ve started assuming everyone is a woman just to break the gender imbalance. But as a feminist, I still defend the choice of women to not break gender expectations. Some women choose, freely, to aspire to be housewives, value modesty, or like dresses and pink and other ‘girly’ stuff, whatever that means. A feminist should understand that there is nothing wrong with that too. All women are different, some like tradition and some choose to break it. All is fair and right as long is it is by choice, and not forced.
Undine: What do you view as some of the most acute social issues in your immediate environment as well as London?
Sarah: Living in the south of London all of my life has opened my eyes to many social issues. I think the most obvious come in the form of housing, social mobility and youth violence. Housing isn’t affordable, and locals are being priced out of the area they know and love. Places like Brixton are being gentrified to the extent that locals simply cannot identify with the area anymore, which in turn raises the cost of living in the area. In my immediate environment, there is a problem with youth violence – with young men being predominantly caught up in the cycle. Education is the root of most social problems, and if social mobility is difficult, the appreciation and value we have for education inevitably decreases, and means more young people turn to dangerous ways to make money. It is time to invest more in our local community and the young people that are ultimately going to change it.
“All women are different, some like tradition and some choose to break it. All is fair and right as long is it is by choice, and not forced.”
Undine: How do you see yourself contributing to social change in the long run?
Sarah: I hope to be involved in the political process, whether it’s through social research or working for charities that aim to tackle social inequalities. I would also love to be involved with tackling gender inequality on an international scale, as there are places in the world where girls cannot go to school, or where violence against women is normalised and part of the culture. I hope to dedicate my life to social change, but I know that this must start within my community.
Read Sarah’s speech here and follow the conversation on social media #FiguresofSpeech.
Check back here next week for our next Almeida Theatre Young Leader interview.