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In Conversation: Lemn Sissay On His New Book About Re-claiming the Ethiopian Heritage Stolen From Him by England’s Foster Care System

In 'My Name Is Why,' the 2019 PEN Pinter award winner passionately advocates for children in the institutional care system, and in turn tells a unique story of identity and the power in discovering one's heritage.

It took the author Lemn Sissay almost two decades to learn his real name. As an Ethiopian child growing up in England's care system, his cultural identity was systematically stripped from him at an early age. "For the first 18 years of my life I thought that my name was Norman," Sissay tells OkayAfrica. "I didn't meet a person of color until I was 10 years of age. I didn't know a person of color until I was 16. I didn't know I was Ethiopian until I was 16 years of age. They stole the memory of me from me. That is a land grab, you know? That is post-colonial, hallucinatory madness."

Sissay was not alone in this experience. As he notes in his powerful new memoir My Name Is Why, during the 1960s, tens of thousands of children in the UK were taken from their parents under dubious circumstances and put up for adoption. Sometimes, these placements were a matter of need, but other times, as was the case with Sissay, it was a result of the system preying on vulnerable parents. His case records, which he obtained in 2015 after a hardfought 30 year campaign, show that his mother was a victim of child "harvesting," in which young, single women were often forced into giving their children up for adoption before being sent back to their native countries. She tried to regain custody of young Sissay, but was unsuccessful.

Whether they end up in the foster system out of need or by mistake, Sissay says that most institutionalized children face the same fate of abuse under an inadequate and mismanaged system that fails to recognize their full humanity. For black children who are sent to white homes, it often means detachment from a culturally-sensitive environment. "There are too many brilliant people that I know who have been adopted by white parents for me to say that it just doesn't work," says Sissay. "But the problem is the amount of children that it doesn't work for."

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News Brief
(Screenshot from "Every Woman" video)

Check out Cameroonian Crooner Vagabon’s New Ode to Female Power

The singer dropped a video for new single "Every Woman" today, shot by fellow Cameroonian director Lino Asana.

Cameroonian-born singer-songwriter Laetitia Tamko, better known as her stage name Vagabon, has been spoiling us with delights as of late. First, the crooner teased us with two singles, "Flood" and "Water Me Down" from her forthcoming sophomore album, Vagabon, a work she wrote and produced herself. And today, she surprised us with a new single and video for "Every Woman"—a track Tamko claims is the "thesis of the album," as per a press statement reported by The Fader magazine

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Interview
Courtesy of Mashudu Modau

INFLUENCED: Meet Mashudu Modau—the Podcaster that Entrepreneurs Revere

This young South African influencer and his podcast network Lutcha, are changing the entrepreneurship game.

OkayAfrica brings you the 2019 INFLUENCED Series. In the coming weeks, we'll be exploring the online communities being fostered by young South Africans who are doing more than just influencing. From make-up gurus and hair naturalistas to socially-conscious thought leaders, get ready to be influenced. Read the rest of the series here.

Mashudu Modau was born-and-raised in Soweto and is a young South African influencer who's using social media to help anyone who's interested in becoming an entrepreneur or establishing a start-up. Modau insists on staying in his own corner and simply focusing on the impact that he can have on his fellow South Africans. At just under 11 000 followers on Twitter, that's quite a number of people who're joining him in that same corner.

Modau founded a podcast network called Lutcha, a platform for African podcasters, comprising of five podcasts which speak to entrepreneurship, branding, marketing, mental health and fitness. The host of the MASHSTARTSUP podcast, Modau focuses specifically on entrepreneurs that have excelled and that are still starting out on their entrepreneurial journey as well.

Describing himself as an "eco-driven specialist, youth entrepreneur and part-doctor" he wears a number of titles but his passion and work center on the start-up space. Modau attributes his childhood curiosity to igniting the spark and eventual interest in business and when asked by MarkLives in a recent interview, whether he feels entrepreneurs are born or made, he said, "Entrepreneurs are made. In the fire. Literally. It's a process of constantly and consistently testing, learning, failing and starting over. Over and over again."

We caught up with him to talk about why he does what he does, the key lessons he's learnt from social media and what his bigger picture is.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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