Projecting the Positives of Black Women

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A Nigerian-born Briton, Ibijoke Maxwell is the founder of Passionate Empowered Professional Network, a platform that brings together black career women living and working in the UK and from around the world. She recently visited Nigeria, during which she spoke with Mary Ekah on the inspiration behind the birth of the Jo Maxwell Show and her future plans 

Tell us about the Jo Maxwell Show, which is currently making waves in England?

The Jo Maxwell TV talk show gives a platform to African women for their voices to be heard, and their unique cultural experiences can be shared with the world. It was launched first on YouTube and online in 2017 with the first season covering a range of universal topics that speak to the overall female black experience – as African women living in Africa or abroad. The inspiration behind the birth of the Jo Maxwell Show is as a result of the consistent lack of representation of black women on mainstream British screens, as I have experienced over the years during my stay in the UK.

Beyond the talk show what else do you do?

I would like to say that I am more than a talk show host. I am also the Founder of Passionate Empowered Professional (PEP) Network, a platform created for black women living and working in the UK. PEP is a platform that brings together black career women living and working all over the UK and from around the world. Even those women that are not working but are black women living in diaspora are part of the network.  We come together and network every two months and get to meet new people. We have existed for years.  I am passionate about seeing women succeed in all their endeavours – personal lives, careers, businesses, relationships, marriages and families. My passion is clearly reflected talk in my TV show, which gives women opportunity to showcase these successes and challenge prejudiced belief systems about the African female cultural experience. So the PEP platform does a similar thing that I am doing with the TV show but on the offline mood.  That means PEP has been going on before the Jo Maxwell talk show. I do have other nine women that help to push the vision because I am doing wholes lots of stuff at the same time. I am a wife, a mother of three children and I also work as an Information Technology Consultant in the UK financial sector. So I am into financial services. That means I do also have a 5 to 9 job. I also broadcast. I Co-host of bestof2podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud, also geared towards black communities in the UK. I am a very busy woman but I am still able to do all other things.

Are there particular experiences that propelled you into these?

Yes, growing up as a child in a polygamous home, I was always listening to the conversations of the big aunties and big uncles. I eavesdropped on their conversations and for me I was being empowered because I had the opportunity to listen to wise words and good advice from them. But I know that is not common because a lot of us grew up without having who to tell us what to do and we had to figure it all out ourselves. And growing up, I kind of love to talk and I empower women around me. I can’t live without that. I am very feminist. I kind of like empowering the other women. I thought that if I am doing this naturally, why not channel it into something bigger where other women can benefit from. Why don’t I use my voice in a much more positive way? Why don’t I bring all these women together so that other women can benefit from just the normal conversation that we have.  It is a combination of a lot of things but really, I wanted to give back to my generation and the generations to come and the only way I can do that without feeling any crunch is by using my voice and hopefully I’m able to empower women with the platform I have created.

Your talk show, you said came up as a result of the lack of representation of black women on the mainstream British screen. What would you say is responsible for that?

It is in the UK too and not just in the African countries – I think there have been a lot of stereotypes for a long time. I think as a black person, most of the times, the things that people often hear about us are the bad things. The media like to showcase the bad side of the black woman because bad news sells easily and I think back then in the UK, it’s been a struggle for the black woman or black person to actually climb ladder. We even have issue of a woman, whether you are black or white, getting to top positions, how much more if you were a black woman. I had that issue as a woman and then as a black woman in the UK. So I think this is occasioned by a society dominated by men. And as women, we are not confident enough to step out and say, hey, I am successful! We were raised to be seen and not heard, so we still have that mind set as women. Of course, we are doing so well in our own space but we are not confident enough to go out there and take over.  So there wouldn’t be anything about us and unfortunately, the only thing that they see and hear about us is the not-so-good stories. The bad news sells.  But really, the bad news is like 20 per cent, we have about 80 per cent of good news. So I felt that, if you are not going to showcase us, I will start something and that is what I have done.

Black women are not represented on the screens definitely. I rarely saw black women on the UK TV screens who reflected the positive success stories that I was surrounded by within my network. And like I said, because I am very passionate about empowering the other woman, I developed a passion for the media while struggling to find images of black women on British screens. So my passion to see women succeed in all their endeavours – personal lives, careers, businesses, relationships, marriages and families is clearly reflected in my show. I may have the confidence that the other woman does not have but that doesn’t mean I am better than the other woman. As a woman, I feel we should be celebrated for so many things we do. The women that I respect the most are the moms because I feel they are the most hardworking women and that is the job that goes most unrecognised – they don’t get paid for it. I feel that as a woman we get undervalued a lot, we get side-tracked and everything is the man first. So as a woman I feel we ought to be celebrated and recognised for our achievements but clearly we haven’t get that much.

What did you study at school?

I studied Accounting and Finance. I attended Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) briefly before relocating to the UK at age 17 to further my education at the University of Greenwich, UK. Growing up as a child, I wanted to be very successful and in my mind then the only way I could achieve that was being an accountant. So I decided to study Accounting and Finance. I started working after graduating but I didn’t feel fulfilled.  So I switched to Information Technology, thinking that I would get a solution there.  I still kind of felt there was a vacuum there – it was as if something wasn’t complete in me up until last year when I realised what actually my calling was, which is to impact on the other woman out there and that was how I started the Jo Maxwell TV Show. So it wasn’t something that I had to think about for a very long time. I was already used to holding meetings with a number of women but the media was just something I started last year.

I have been holding meetings with a number of women for over two years in my own small space where we talk about real issue where everybody table their issues but I kind of felt we were the only ones benefiting from the discussions, so I said I could take this to another level so that someone else could benefit from this. I felt that if I create a platform that allows us to talk about so many things, even if it just one extra person that benefit from it, I am good. That was when the Jo Maxwell TV talk show came up. So everything started in 2017, it wasn’t anything that I planned. I just spoke to my husband about it and then it started.

How long have you been married?

I have been married for 10 years with three beautiful kids.

Now that you have so much passion for the big screen, do you intend going into the movie industry anytime soon?

No! I won’t say I have a passion for the big screen I was just happy doing it online and then people started telling me that the contents were really good and we needed a way to push them out here for more people to benefit from.

Are you still going to transmit the show from the UK?

At the moment, we are transmitting from the UK but I would be doing some recordings in Nigeria by summer and that basically will be showcasing some interesting people based in Nigeria and it would be real life issues.

You do a lot of things as a wife and mother, how do you cope?

It is not easy but I must say that I do have a very supporting husband, a man that believes in me and allows me to do whatever I want to do and that is what a lot of women do not have. Also, I do have a live-in nanny as well and they all do give me the support that I need.

What has been the challenge in achieving your goals?

The only challenge I am facing right now is finance because right now the project is self-founded. I pay for the production and every other thing myself. When I started, I didn’t see it as a big thing but I think it’s now getting to that point where we need supports and we hope that at some point in future we would start getting sponsorships. Apart from that, I just think that nothing comes easy in life, so every other challenge is lesson for me to learn to find a way to get better for the next step.