[UPDATE: I forgot to add my screenshots of Mallence herself—fixed.]
A few months back, I posted the video of the TEDx talk Mallence Bart-Williams gave in Berlin in January 2015. I said at the time:
She speaks truths about our world that we will never, ever hear via Western corporate media. And even if by some fluke we do and our eyes are opened, such rare and minimal exposure cannot possibly overcome our indoctrination since birth into White Supremacy and parasitic imperialism.
There is beauty in truth, and power in knowing it, even—especially?—when it is difficult for us to process, accept and adapt accordingly.
Since then, Mallence has haunted me. Particular statements she made really struck me, stuck with me and have come back to me at unexpected times, such that events large and small (and media messaging about them) are now filtered through a sharper lens. Where once I grasped (dimly) the outlines of the non-Western world’s perspective and perception of the West, I could only see it through a messy, amorphous cloud of data points and news stories and flashes of history. And while all of these things may evoke extraordinary empathy—and sadness and rage and bewilderment—they simply would not coalesce into a coherent vision for which I might find words.
Mallence Bart-Williams found those words.
Empathy is necessary of course, but it is not sufficient to change the world for the better. Wisdom and creativity and hard work—sometimes very hard work—are at least as vital. One can see all of that and more in her FOLORUNSHO Collective and the way she tells its story:
When visiting Sierra Leone in 2008, I came across a group of extraordinary young men, who at the time lived in the streets of Freetown under a bridge in a gutter called LION BASE. Everyone warned me and urged me to stay away from those boys, who lived in this gutter. I was told they were night robbers, thieves, gangsters, bad boys …
This description sounded rather intriguing and a friendship developed out of my curiosity. The mutual respect superseded and neither have I ever gotten robbed or harmed. Their individual stories touched me and left a mark on me, that I was unable ignore.
What makes these guys so special? The fact that their circumstances were very different from mine, not only enabled me to learn from them, but also put things into perspective, things that we take for granted. They made me understand how strong a human being and how grand the soul is. I don’t believe in charity as it only creates inferiority and dependency, so the idea was to be creative and productive and to push the boundaries. Observing their innate creativity and talents I realized I am able to contribute some thing to their lives by serving as a bridge between their creativity and the rest of the world.
The majority of the boys had been living in the streets from a very early age on; some were as young as 3 or 5 years old. Thus most did not have the privilege of going to school and learn even the basics of reading and writing. The proceeds from the 1st sneaker collaboration between FOLORUNSHO and K1X in 2011, enabled the boys to hire a private teacher that taught them how to read and write. In November 2011 twenty-one boys, aged 14-22, moved from LION BASE into two apartments, which they rented from the proceeds of the sneaker sales. After more than 6 months of private tuition fifteen of the boys started to go to school; Patrick and A Fame graduated from school in 2012 and are now attending college.
Ever since the boys discuss their future instead of merely focusing on day-to-day survival. The consequences of their personal growth are many, But most importantly they won a battle against social and environmental exclusion.
I watched the video again recently and decided to do a transcript, so that I could have better access to her words. It’s below the fold (all bolding emphasis mine), with screen captures of some of her slides for clarity, and some for sheer beauty.
Change your channel | Mallence Bart-Williams | TEDxBerlinSalon
Good afternoon. I am Mallence. And I come from the richest country in the world. It is located in the richest continent in the world, in the West of the richest continent. My country is called Sierra Leone.
On the surface we are blessed with infinite beauty and abundance of flora and fauna, producing the most exquisite harvests of coffee, cocoa, fruits, vegetables and culture. You name it, we’ve got it.
We also have diverse wildlife and vast marine resources, and waterfalls, and rivers that run into the most beautiful beaches. The land is golden. Literally. A true paradise.
Which of course is inhabited by the most beautiful souls.
We have a very strong cultural heritage.
In fact, Sierra Leone had the first sub-Saharan university. Prior to that there was one in the kingdom of Timbuktu, which was the first university in the world, succeeding the great Gnostic schools of Egypt and Osiris.
On a deeper level, we are blessed with the real treasures the kings and queens of this world desire.
This was the largest alluvial diamond ever found. It weighs almost a thousand carats, 969 to be precise.
This beauty was found by an old lady in her back yard about 2 years ago. 125 carats.
Some people mine gold in their back yards. That’s quite common.
Besides gold and diamonds, we have about 20 precious minerals that have been discovered as of today. We recently started extracting huge petroleum reserves that have been discovered. We have platinum, ilmenite to make titanium, rutile to coat jets, iron ore, the largest iron ore deposits in Africa, the third largest in the world. Tantalite, also known as coltan, used in your mobile phones and computers. Bauxite for aluminum production, zinc, chrome ore, copper, coal, phosphates, potassium, salt, lead, granite, asbestos, nickel, zircon. Furthermore, we have exquisite timber, like mahogany and teak. And we have the most beautiful stamps in the world.
Of course the West needs Africa’s resources, most desperately. To power airplanes, cell phones, computers and engines. And the gold and diamonds of course: a status symbol, to determine their powers by decor, and to give value to their currencies.
One thing that keeps me puzzled, despite having studied finance and economics at the world’s best universities. The following question remains unanswered: Why is it that 5,000 units of our currency is worth one unit of your currency, when we are the ones with the actual gold reserves?
It’s quite evident that the aid is in fact not coming from the West to Africa, but from Africa to the Western world. The Western world depends on Africa in every possible way, since alternative resources are scarce out here.
So how does the West ensure that the free aid keeps coming? By systematically destabilizing the wealthiest African nations and their systems, and all that backed by huge PR campaigns, leaving the entire world under the impression that Africa is poor and dying, and merely surviving on the mercy of the West. Well done Oxfam, Unicef, Red Cross, Life Aid, and all the other organizations that continuously run multi-million dollar advertisement campaigns depicting charity porn, to sustain that image of Africa, globally. Ad campaigns paid for by innocent people under the impression to help, with their donations
While one hand gives under the flashing lights of cameras, the other takes, in the shadows.
We all know the dollar is worthless, while the euro is merely charged with German intellect and technology, and maybe some Italian pasta.
How can one expect donations from nations that have so little? It’s super sweet of you to come with your colored paper in exchange for our gold and diamonds. But instead, you should come empty-handed, filled with integrity and honor. We want to share with you our wealth and invite you to share with us. The perception is that a healthy and striving Africa would not disperse its resources as freely and cheaply. Which is logical. Of course. It would instead sell its resources at world market prices, which in turn would destabilize and weaken Western economies, established on the post-colonial free meal system.
Last year the IMF reports that six out of ten of the worlds fastest growing economies are in Africa, measured by their GDP growth. The French treasury, for example, is receiving about 500 billion dollars, year in, year out, foreign exchange reserves from African countries based on colonial debt they forced them to pay. Former French president Jaques Chirac stated in an interview recently that we have to be honest and acknowledge that a big part of the money in our banks comes precisely from the exploitation of the African continent. In 2008, he stated that without Africa, France will slide down in the rank of a third world power.
This is what happens in the human world. In the world we have created. Have you ever wondered how things work in nature? One would assume that in evolution the fittest survives. However in nature, any species that is overhunting, overexploiting the resources they depend on as nourishment, natural selection would sooner or later take the predator out. Because it offsets the balance.
Now that I shared my perspective with you, I would like to share my initiatives with you.
As a Sierra Leonean, I am a diamond expert. I find them in the rough.
What nature created from the darkest substance, under the influence of heat and pressure, transforms into the strongest, most brilliant rocks.
These rocks have the consistency to sustain an entire nation.
These will be our future leaders.
Please meet the Folorunsho creative collective I formed with 21 street kids that were orphaned and displaced as a result of the Sierra Leonean civil war, and ended up living in the street as early as age 3, growing up as outlaws of society.
[FILM: montage set to music of young men in scenes around Freetown, interspersed with cuts to closeups of them seated individually and speaking in turns (with English subtitles).]
“My name is Timothy. But my gangster name is A Fame.”
“I am Donald Williams but my nick name is Wanee.”
“My name is Patrick Christian Kargbo.”
“My name is Allusine Jalloh.”
“My name is Momoh Alpha Kamara.”
“My name is Lamin Bangura. But in the streets they call me Crazy Exhibit.”
“My name is Sahr Morsay.”
“My name is Sheku Conteh. in the streets they call me DMX.”
“I lost my mother and father during the civil war in Sierra Leone. I was brought up by my grandmother in the village.”
“At the age of 5 years of age my stepmother maltreated me, she even put poison for me [in my food], and I choked for it.”
“In Jesus name I pray, Amen. This is the story of my life.”
“We were the ones that formed Lion Base. We were the first ones to lock the place down till other gangsters came after some time. Now Lion Base is fearful. It is a fearful crew.”
“You have the hard way and the soft way. The soft way is to steal. The hard way is to carry load for people at Dorfcourt or to collect people’s rubbish.”
“If you are not strong in the streets, you will die at a young age or you gonna end up bad, before a time.”
“2001 when I came into the streets I used to do a lot of bad stuff. I stole, I used to steal people’s phones, I used to live a bad life. Until 2010 when I met Mallence.”
[Lettering onscreen: “K1X/*Folorunsho Sneakers Project”]
“From the streets she took me and put me into a school. I live good, now.”
“Then my own thing that I want to do in the future, is to study law.”
“I’ve had that determination always. I want to become a lawyer. This is my future.”
“My future plan is to be able to afford my own family.”
“Because I have now decided to go to school to be an international business man.”
“The rough life some of my fellows in the streets are living, I wish they would or could change like me.”
[Lettering onscreen: “Shooting Patrice’s short movie, ‘The Rising of The Son.'”]
“Leave the bad lifestyle behind, because this is not how human beings are supposed to live. Human beings are supposed to reason, and wish for a better future in this world.”
[Lettering onscreen: “JR’s Inside out Project, Pasting in Lion Base”.]
[Large scale, black-and-white photos of the young men’s faces pasted onto a stone wall, pan to “Lions Base” spray painted.]
FADE TO BLACK
[White letters on back background: “LIONS BASE”.]
“The more you give the more you get! Whenever you share with others you realize how much you have. When you give you feel rich. We want to share with you all we have, especially our joy, strength, passion and creativity.” -FOLORUNSHO”
“It’s not about charity, it’s about sharing.”
“FOLORUNSHO logo, WWW.FOLORUNSHO.NET.”
These guys are my biggest inspiration. Destiny brought us together. I met them by a chance encounter in 2010. In 2011 they all started living with me, 21 in number.
Wonderful things happen when creatives meet with mutual respect. How did we go about it? Creativity. That same creativity that ensured their survival under the most adverse circumstances in the streets is channeled into outlets such as art, music, film and fashion.
They made the impossible possible. From Lion Base in Sierra Leone to luxury fashion stores in Paris, New York and Berlin.
This is what we created single handedly, without a single cent in donations, without running water, without electricity, most of them not being able to read and write at the time when I met them. And now some of them are studying law, engineering, being filmmakers, and so on.
This is made with pure energy, inspiration and love in Freetown. With creativity and passion as the sole ingredient, we participate in a global market of international competition and find our way into the world’s most exclusive department stores, onto the bodies of the world’s fashion icons, and into the most distinguished art collections and exhibitions in Berlin, Paris, New York, Miami.
A proven concept that produced self sufficient individuals financing their own education into lawyers, engineers, filmmakers and artists, within only three years. A concept based on mutual respect and sharing, a blueprint that can be replicated anywhere, under any circumstances. I only had the vision and the insight to recognize diamonds in the rough, and was determined to prove to the world that the absence of donation produces quality in a self-sufficient manner. I believe charity merely creates inferiority and dependency.
I want to serve as a bridge between two worlds I call home. To facilitate a fair exchange between two contrasting worlds that become powerful once balance is reinstalled.
It’s not about charity, it’s about SHARITY.
Today I invite you to change your perspective. Own your visions of a brighter world. Never see lack, see abundance, always, everywhere, and watch the universe conspire. Don’t focus on problems but on the solution. Remember our perception of any given situation is the only thing that determines the outcome.
I am Mallence. I am German, too. Change your channel. [German phrase.] Thank you for listening.