Why we need more people like Melz Owusu
Ria explains the impact activist, Melz Owusu had on her.
I first met Melz Owusu during the pandemic in June 2020. It was virtual over Zoom and Melz was running a session for a group of people at my university who were researching for their PhD at Cambridge University. The research group was a chance for those from marginalised groups at the university to voice their experience of a university that was predominantly normative and historically traditional. Before meeting Melz, I never had an opportunity to think or talk as openly about this within an academic setting.
At one point, Melz asked us to close our eyes and imagine what a university free of boundaries and the difficulties we experienced, looked like to us. I remember trying so hard to imagine this space and coming up with a blank, clinical image. No culture, no people, nothing really.
I don’t think this was part of Melz’s intention, but it was a huge moment of perspective for me to really understand the way points of social injustice were sewn into the environments surrounding us. At this time, I was still doing a lot of work myself to reset my understanding of my relationship with social justice issues. It made me consider my efforts more and this moment was key to propelling my thoughts on my impact. How could I help more people in the spaces I was in?
An invaluable experience to me as a woman of colour against a very white backdrop.
What was intentional though was the scope Melz created for us in that moment. Here we were, a group of students who had all faced injustices of some kind, no matter how small or big. But you could almost guarantee, it was the first time any of us had really been given the chance to express what would make an uncomfortable environment more comfortable and inclusive. Being invited into this space, safely and with the clear understanding that our thoughts and feelings truly mattered and were needed was invaluable to me as a woman of colour against a very white backdrop. 2 days after this zoom call, my Dad passed away. Dad was the person who grew my beliefs and understanding of social justice and inspired it every day. One thing I’m so glad I got to talk to him about before he died was this call and the impact it had on me, telling one of my inspirations about another.
It was this interaction and meeting someone like Melz (albeit virtually) that really refocused my approach to others in general. Someone will always have something. There will always be a thing that makes them feel different, or out of place or slightly at odds with what’s around them. Whether they choose to reveal this or not, it will always be something they are conscious of walking into an environment - if you don’t have anything like that, it’s a good indicator of where you hold privilege. Having this more mindful approach of ‘what does this person need from me/this environment/this system’, I really believe has led me to much more insightful conversations and better relationships. I’m not perfect, I don’t always consciously think in this way, but I think this kind of thinking that Melz approached me with, evolved my approach with others. Sometimes it just takes one question to really impact who you are. This is one of those moments.
Melz is an incredible queer, transmasculine and non-binary activist, scholar and spiritualist (as according to their website.) After this online research session I followed them online and really found myself engaging with someone who was so different from me yet I felt so drawn to, likely because of those few overlaps that I could see myself relating to. I feel energised and inspired constantly by their abolitionist approach, something that intimidates me and something I feel motivated to keep thinking and working towards. Their joy never fails to infect me and I think people like Melz are exactly the kind of people we need in the world, in the mainstream, at the forefront. People who are human, raw, honest, and for people.
I could write so much about Melz, it would probably end up being a praising biography so I want to limit myself there. But Melz has directed and inspired so much of my thought process and so much of what goes into Matriarch too. A platform for people.
Thank you Melz, keep being you.