On Friday 29 March, it was an honour to welcome British journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown as she joined RJP participants for a lunchtime discussion at LCC.
Ugandan-born Alibhai-Brown, aged 69, writes about discrimination, immigration, and cultural issues faced by ethnic minorities.
She strongly believes in having an “international” approach to journalism and has written for various publications including the Independent, The Guardian, New York Times, Evening Standard and Daily Mail.
After one participant described her as a “lion when it comes to discussions”, she shared some of the highs and lows in her journalistic career. One of her toughest moments was being made redundant by the Independent, despite having worked there for 18 years.
“Everything shattered. I couldn’t stop crying.” She admitted that being a migrant and a woman of colour has not made it easy to excel in a male-dominated industry, however, she feels it has contributed to her determination to never give up.
To her amazement, three months after being dropped by the Independent, Alibhai-Brown won ‘Columnist of the Year Award’. It was one of many awards she had received, but the timing of this particular accolade gave her the confidence to fight back.
“Life takes you to a place and you have to find some courage within you,” she encouraged participants to remember to value one’s history and to “be motivated by a sense of justice and always have that little bit of anger.”
Her career as a journalist took off in the 1980’s when she landed a job at the New Statesman, but later left as she believed the editor was prejudice towards Muslims.
Alibhai-Brown advised participants to be resilient in an industry that can be gruelling at times, particularly for those in minority groups. “It is hard when bad things happen but I would say don’t break down, find a way instead.”
Despite the negative experiences she has encountered, she explains how lucky she feels to live in London and have the opportunity to give a voice to marginalised cultural groups through her writing.
“I don’t feel British as much as a Londoner. I would die for London and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
She is currently a columnist for the ‘i’ and regularly writes for the Evening Standard as well as working as a freelance broadcaster.
“It has been the best journey and that fire inside me is still burning today”.
RJP participant Loraine Mponela, a refugee journalist from Malawi, felt inspired by Alibhai-Brown’s words of advice about having resilience as a woman of colour.
Following the event, she said: “As human beings, we can be quite proud. But it is amazing how she is so genuine and not afraid of losing anything.”
Kerim Balci, a participant who previously wrote for a Turkish daily newspaper called Zaman for 21 years felt extremely grateful to meet Alibhai-Brown. He had been a dedicated reader of her articles in the Independent and found her stories fascinating.
“I find it inspiring that she is one of the few people that are speaking from a non-establishment.”
Zaman Daily was shut down by the government in Turkey in 2016, and now Balci is looking to continue writing in London.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown reassured participants that she is still hopeful for the future of journalism regardless of its setbacks.
“If you have a strong sense of justice… or a story to tell, there is still a way to get into this difficult industry”.