The Confidence Queen
My final call of the second week is with Genny, AKA the Confidence Queen. Genny was born and lived in Sierra Leone until she was 15, then joined her mother in London until her 20s. When she married and wanted to start a family she wondered where to settle. In one of those strange, small world coincidences ,the woman who had looked after her as a child in Sierra Leone had moved to Gravesend and suggested Genny could do the same. And so she did.
Genny radiates a deep and genuine warmth, even down the phone I can sense it. She tells me about a difficult time in her life and a dream she had. In this dream she was a bird trapped in a cage – when the cage door opened she realised she was an eagle who could fly. For Genny this dream was encouragement to admit that she needed help. And asking for help changed her world. I’m struck by the courage and wisdom of this experience, and how much better the world might be if we listened more attentively to our dreams.
Genny began a search for happiness – and in doing so has created so much joy and happiness for others. As a single mother of two black boys she was very aware of the challenges they might face, and wanted them to grow up confident. This desire for confident children was extended to the whole community and so she started a holiday project to develop children’s confidence. And from this, the Confidence Queen was born. A modern day superhero to support everyone, but particularly women and children, to grow in confidence.
Like all good superhero’s she needed a costume – an apron, a Carmen Miranda inspired fruit hat and some oversized heart shaped sunglasses from Asda to complete the look. The Confidence Queen is an explosion of joy, play, colour and ‘couldn’t give a damn’ attitude. In making herself smile she gives permission for us all to smile. Every Monday morning, 8-8.30am the Confidence Queen goes live on Facebook to start your week with positivity, acceptance and movement. All this, while running the Happiness project and a successful business as an accountant –thoroughly smashing any boring, grey accountant stereotypes.
Genny trained as a laugher yoga teacher and before Covid would host regular sessions with laughter, tea and connection. She’s hoping they will return. The Happiness Project started in 2008 and more than 300 people have now connected. Throughout lockdown Genny has been encouraging people to create their own happy space at home. She tells me how she has created a happiness island – a relaxing and decorated space she goes to each morning to meditate and wake up happy, in the afternoon to re-charge and each evening to relax and wind down. This regular practice, this level of care for herself is deeply inspiring. I can also see how it becomes the source of her phenomenal energy – in caring for herself she has an abundance to offer others.
Her sons are now grown men and Genny feels a new chapter in her life opening up where she can focus on herself and her creativity. It’s an exciting time.
Genny tells me how during the last year she has started bird watching – to begin with in her small garden. How this deeper connection with nature has led to noticing the different visitors to her front and back garden. How she loves to hear the birds and on her daily walk past LV21 to the prom she is so much more aware of all the different birds she can hear singing.
I ask Genny what she thought of Gravesend when she first moved here over 20 years ago. She laughs, ‘it felt like a strange place!’ Coming from the Old Kent Road to Gravesend she noticed how few other black people were here. Over the last ten years she’s enjoyed seeing the town become a melting pot of cultures. She senses a growing community spirit – the chance to celebrate everyone’s festivals. Now, Gravesend is home. A wonderful historical place, with the opportunity to build a deep connection to nature.
When I ask Genny what she’s proud of I’ve barely finished the question before she says my boys, of course. I’m then treated to a story about a trip to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. Representing Gingerbread, the charity for single parents that she’s supported and run projects for. She distinctly remembers standing in front of the palace gates and thinking, ‘look where I have come from and look where I am now.’ She loved the palace gardens and together with the friend she attended with, took off her shoes and ran around the palace gardens, laughing and delighting in them, they were ‘so beautiful’. Of course the confidence queen glasses got an outing while she was giving her best queen wave. Genny notices though, that for all the posh people present, that this event was really for all the people like her, who volunteer in service and support of community. And that the whole event as a gift to those people – to celebrate and honour their contribution.
I’m invited to join the Confidence Queen Monday morning wake up and Genny and I say goodbye. I leave the conversation fizzing with energy and joy. This is the joy of someone who has faced challenges and actively, every day chooses joy – as an active daily practice. There’s nothing wishy washy – this is fierce and human and honest and warm. I’m so grateful for this connection. I’m terrible at prioritising joy and pleasure. Maybe be Methodist family background which emphasised duty and hard work? I’m reminded of quote sometimes attributed to Emma Goldman, ‘If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution’. And Genny is working to create a revolution of kindness and confidence with this same joyous spirit. Lucky Gravesend.