“We were one of three black families in a large, working class estate where I grew up in Seacroft. I had to learn to defend myself from people wanting to hurt me and I developed resilience from a very young age. When I was twelve I remember a distressed woman walking the streets. She was looking for a local boy who’d stolen her purse. I was so upset and outraged by what he’d done, and even though he was a member of a brutal gangster family, and his friends advised me against it, I took her to his house. He beat me up afterwards but it was the right thing to do - I’ve always had a hatred of injustice.
High school changed my outlook on life. The teachers inspired me and I had contact with lots of strong, independent women who made me think about myself in a different way. They gave me the belief that I could better myself through education. I was all set for university, but then I met someone. He turned out to be a violent alcoholic and I experienced domestic violence and emotional abuse. We had two children together and my focus shifted to them; how I could keep them safe and how to get out of the relationship.
I was 23 and my youngest was three weeks old when I eventually started university. Education became the vehicle through which I transformed my life. I became the first black woman to be elected onto Leeds City Council, the first black woman chair of the Labour group, and I became chief exec of a mental health charity.
For me, life is about honouring the person that you are. It’s honouring your values, finding out what you’re put on this earth to do and doing everything you can to achieve that purpose.”