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#What25MeansToMe – Banseka Kayembe

June 23rd, 2021


“We need to empower the youth community to have their say and take part in civic discussion”

We spoke to Banseka Kayembe, freelance writer and founder of Naked Politics, a youth-led platform seeking to engage young people in social issues. As part of our #What25MeansToMe blog series, Banseka discusses having space to explore your identity, involving young people in politics, and the importance of grassroots community support.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am a freelance writer specialising in issues around race, feminism and youth issues. I’m also founder and director of Naked Politics, which is a platform to engage young people in social issues, give them a chance to be heard, and connect them with politicians. Our aim is to empower the youth community to have their say and take part in civic discussion.

Why did you set up the Naked Politics platform?

After graduating with a Law degree, I faced my first stop-gap in life. This was the first time I had to pause and think: “So what do I enjoy doing, and what do I want to do now?” I just knew that I enjoyed writing and I knew that young people had a lot to say about the world. I set up Naked Politics because we don’t hear our voices enough in mainstream media. What started off as a hobby escalated into something that I never stopped doing. In the past few years, we’ve started to build a proper team and look for funding and support – it’s a really exciting time!

 What obstacles have you had to overcome during your adolescence?

I think one of the most challenging things is not having enough scope as a young person to explore your identity and find out who you are. Often, life can feel like you are on some sort of conveyor belt. There’s so much to be gained in stopping, breathing, sitting with things and reflecting. It’s not a waste of time – it’s really important. After finishing University and not having a graduate job lined up straight after, this was the first time I really had to pause and reflect. I’d gone through education, but who really was I as a person?

Your young years are your formative years, and I think we need to be giving young people the opportunity to explore who they are and what they enjoy.

Who helped you get to where you are now?

Community groups, family and friends have supported me – I’ve been lucky to have a supportive network around me. I think that big institutions can sometimes fail young people. There can be a tendency to pigeonhole people into particular boxes, depending on gender, race and other factors. When I was younger, I felt as though I was underestimated by others, particularly at school. 

I think that youth centres and grassroots organisations embedded in communities have the capacity to really shape and support young people. 

When I was younger, I used to attend Saturday School, which fostered a sense of community for me. I really admire institutions like pan-African schools, where young people can learn about and embrace their history and heritage. It is these grassroots organisations that can make a huge difference in the lives of young people, particularly those whose educational needs are not met through the mainstream schooling system.

What advice do you wish you could have given your younger self?

I think school could be quite hierarchical, and it was an environment where you are encouraged to be a lot more boxed in. I would tell my younger self not to care about that, and to worry less about what I looked like. I think it is really hard for young women, who are frequently seen through the lens of how they look. It is particularly hard for young women who are people of colour as well. I grew up in a pretty white space, and as one of the very few black kids in school it was easy to feel othered or like we weren’t good enough. 

As a society we need to appreciate the diversity of young people too, including the young people who don’t fit our modern conception of what it is to be young.

There are vulnerable young people, disabled young people, POC young people, queer young people. All of these young people matter, and we need society to embrace them too.

How can society better support young people going through the challenging transition from adolescence to adulthood?

I think we have to treat young people as they should be treated – which is that they actually matter. At the moment, I don’t think society does. We can largely shun young people from civic and political discussion. We paint them as though they’re not interested, which is not true because lots of young people are leading on some great political things at the moment.

My hope for the future in general is that we fully live up to the idea of what it means to be a democracy. Political and civic discussion can’t just be something that only certain types of people do, or that only happens in certain spaces, like Parliament. It needs to trickle down. Why don’t we see more politicians in youth centres and spaces talking to young people? Why don’t we see young people more involved in how the government and political parties come up with policies? 

If you feel like you don’t really have much of a say and no one cares what you think, then you’re already quite disinvested in what’s happening. Young people aren’t apathetic about politics, but they’re apathetic about politicians, and the systems in place which fail young people and don’t include them or represent their views. Young people need to be included in those discussions, which will hopefully lead to a better shaping of how young people make that transition from adolescence to adulthood.

To keep up with what young people think, you can follow Naked Politics on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and sign up to their newsletter

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