University Centre Croydon (UCC) students have heard from one of London’s inspirational mayors as part of Black History Month and Higher Education Enrichment Week.

Organised by the Public Health and Social Care Programme of UCC, 60 students gathered virtually to hear from Councillor Kate Anolue, Mayor of Enfield, who was inspiring public health students preparing to go into the healthcare profession.

Cllr Anolue, known as Auntie Kate, was introduced to the session by esteemed Programme Leader Dr Pauline Aweto.

Cllr Anolue is the oldest of seven children and was born in Nigeria. She thanked her father for fighting for gender equality when she was younger: “He always said when he saw my progress, ‘I’m glad I didn’t listen to my friends who would question “why are you training that girl?”’. He turned round and said to them ‘yes she’s a girl and I will give all of them equal opportunity. If she gets married and her husband doesn’t want her to work then she’ll be home to help children after school with homework’. I’m very grateful.

“My father was the one who believed in gender equality.”

As the eldest Cllr Anolue worked in Nigeria during the civil war as a trader, cooking food for lorry drivers to buy items such as fish, which was rare during the war, in order to ensure her family remained healthy.

In May 1971 she moved to England to meet her husband whom she had an arranged marriage, but only on the condition she could continue studying, as she was one year from completing a teacher training course when she got her visa.

“My father said ‘if she’s going she must continue with her education and I would like her to do her nursing and if not, she will not come’. They said yes. When you look at it, it was not what I wanted, but what my parents wanted. In those days you had to do what your parents said.”

Cllr Anolue immediately got into nursing and was training in hospital within a year, while also becoming a mother for the first time.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know England. I wasn’t unhappy because for me I’ve achieved what my daddy wanted and satisfied my husband being a wife and a mother and studying. I carried on and fortunately I passed my exams very easily. Yes, I was new in the country but as I believed and trusted in myself I could do it.”

When she was pregnant with her second child she passed her midwifery course. Shortly after the birth of her fourth child, her husband died and Cllr Anolue was now a single mother. But with the help of her friends she was able to continue her career and support her children.

“I was left with four children. What do I do? Do I sit at home and look after the kids with two certificates or do I look into another area where I can go ahead and make sure my children have that they would have as of two parents?

“Make sure you’ve got good friends. A friend indeed is a friend in need. I had good friends. Where you’re working, make sure you’ve got a good relationship with everyone become a reliable member of staff who is friendly and who everyone can approach. Very lucky I have those qualities.

“No matter what I say about my success I do not forget about my friends as without them I wouldn’t be where I am.”

And when her youngest child asked if she had always wanted to be a nurse Cllr Anolue realised she still had something to do – become a lawyer.

Cllr Anolue said she had ‘the best of her years’ studying the law course, which she passed in 1997. She then asked if she wanted to change careers: “I couldn’t give up delivering babies. I get to be part of a family and help them to see this miracle and embrace this miracle. I couldn’t give it up. Decided to carry on.

“But what did I want to do with my degree? I looked at MPs, who all had law backgrounds. As a community midwife I was asked about housing, and help etc and I would go to the council. So I went to the council and became a member of the Labour Party.”

In 2002 she was elected as a councillor for Upper Edmonton, and got involved in tackling domestic violence, as well as remaining involved in her community. In 2008 she was given freedom of the borough, and was selected as mayor for 2012-13. And despite taking a break from politics, she was re-selected, elected again and became the only African woman to become mayor of the same authority twice.

Cllr Anolue said: “My profession is nursing but empowering women is my utmost aim.

“I like to give my story to make sure it doesn’t matter where you stand. Being a single mother doesn’t mean there is no more life or you find yourself alone. You will have a time of pain but don’t let it shadow the good things that will happen.

“Nothing is impossible. It’s the way you think and the way you carry yourself. Your mind is an amazing thing. It can tell you can’t do it and you give up. When it says you can do it you can open up.

“You must always be positive about yourself.

“As you continue to march on there are still some women that will really hate what you’re doing and want to destroy you. Keep them at arm’s length and don’t look back. There are people who have no self-respect and they are prepared to scream in the marketplace. You want to show you are just ahead by ignoring.

“Silence is the best answer. You have not opened your mouth. Those who have time to waste they are wasting the little time god has given them.

“And look through your own window, because while you’re trying to peek into other windows your window will shut.”

Commenting on what has helped her do the things she has done, Cllr Anolue said self-love, self-discipline, determination and self-trust were all key qualities.

“We have something that guides us, self love. You’ve got to love yourself.”

Students used the Zoom chat function to thank Cllr Anolue for taking the time to speak to them, with comments including: “Thank you Mayor Kate for sharing your fantastic life stories. An absolutely awesome person. I will take away so much from your advice,” “Thank you for inspiring us, you are thoroughly a hero. We have learned so much, I am privileged to have this opportunity to hear your life story,” and “You have ignited something in me. I feel so important. I feel as I matter all through your words. Thank you.”

Miemie Neethling-Taylor, Head of Higher Education at Croydon College, said: “What an inspiration you are to us. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being an inspiration. We will not be empty vessels.”

Cllr Anolue closed the speech saying she was looking forward to visiting the college when restrictions were relaxed enough to allow it, and said: “Please, please be positive about yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough.

“Trust yourself, believe in yourself and never ever give up.”

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