Updated: Jun 11
Voices of Positive Change: “You can’t be what you can’t see” – Marian Wright Edelman
Zahara's Dream Interview with Ramla Ali, Boxer and Model, United Kingdom|Somalia
1. What dreams do you remember from your childhood?
My dreams during childhood were counting down the days to celebrate EID, because during that rare time, we would be given new clothes, which I loved. I dreamt of being financially wealthy, so I didn’t need to rely on free school lunches or the fantasy of having straight hair and looking like what I saw in the media, which so often was the depiction of a blonde haired, blue eyed, pretty white woman. I also dreamt of being skinny and looking like most of the other girls in my school. I presume my dreams were similar to a lot of other young black African girls who share a similar background or who may have been raised in the west but these aren’t the dreams of childhood I want for my future children. I want them to understand that real beauty can come in the form of dark skin, powerful physique and curly Afro hair.
2. What does Empowerment mean to you?
Empowerment to me is when the illusion of impossible meets achievement and if having found to fail from all your hard work, through this, finding the strength and courage to relentlessly continue on, in the pursuit of accomplishing one’s dreams. It’s inevitable that we will all struggle in some form in our lives but what you do with those hardships will determine and shape who you are and consequently have a major impact on others, for the better.
3. What does Opportunity mean to you?
To me, opportunity is the chance to accomplish. Not everyone is gifted with the same privileges, nor do I believe it’s healthy to compare yourself to another’s wealth. Financial, spiritual or otherwise. We all have our own interpretation of what success looks like and opportunities a bi-product of this. So place yourself in a position that would allow these opportunities to present themselves in the first instant, through hard work and sacrifice.
4. How do you start your day to achieve the objectives you have set for yourself?
I’m an incredibly ambitious person and it’s that fire inside of me that keeps me motivated to achieve my daily objectives. If I’m trying to succeed in fashion, I don’t aim to just have a picture printed in a magazine, I want to be on the cover. If I’m training for a fight, I don’t want to compete against someone I know I’m going to beat, I want to fly to the other side of the world and test myself against an Olympian. In answer to the question you set your goals so high that they seem incapable of achieving and everyday you chip away at it until there’s nothing left. I’m not someone that believes in overnight success, nor do I want it. That’s not real success to me. I need to go through pain and failure to understand what I’ve earnt and what it’s worth.
5. What first inspired you to become a boxer?
The moment I actually realised I wanted to be a fighter for a living was when I stumbled across an incredible woman named Lucia Rijker. It was Lucia who truly inspired me. She was breaking the mould and achieving in female combat sports long before anyone else. Before the glory of Olympic medals in women’s boxing she was setting the standard. It was as good, if not better than other male fighters on the cards at the time. Which was important because even now we need the acceptance of our male counterparts in the sport to allow us to compete. It is men who run the governing bodies and who largely pay to attend or subscribe. So it is these people who will need to win over and Lucia did that. Sadly though in my opinion she never really got the media exposure that she deserved. If she had I believe we would have seen a much larger participation in combat sports with women.
6. What inspired you to work as Ambassador with UNICEF?
Charitable endeavours has and is always going to be a huge part of my life, culture and religion. I just can’t comprehend people who have achieved such success in their life, especially financial that don’t have the burning desire to use that wealth, power and time to create opportunities for others less fortunate. I want to reach the very heights of my sport and that’s what I’ve always worked for but I don’t want to be remembered for what I’ve done for myself. I want to be remembered for what I’ve done for others. UNICEF as an NGO was a perfect fit. They are an incredible organisation that have worked for decades to ensure the safety and well-being of children, refugees and women less fortunate across the world. I also believe I have a unique perspective across a lot of the initiatives and topics that they tackle, as so many of them I have already experienced. When I enter a refugee camp in Africa or the Middle East or discuss education with women who have suffered from abuse. I’m not just looking at poverty and inequality in front of me. I’m looking at people who resemble my mother and father. I’m looking at young men and women that bare the same scars as my brothers and sisters.
7. How can mentorship benefit young women and girls?
Mentoring the future generation of young women is essential in being able to create a foundation of knowledge that allows for those that come next, to progress further than you once did. For all the difficulties I’ve faced, especially in competing for a developing country thwart with corruption and incompetence, from individuals who are gifted positions of power without credentials, it would be much easier for me to continue on with my career and selfishly look to the next chapter but I believe that I have a duty of care to inform and educate the next young girl that decides to follow in a similar path to ensure their journey can be smoother than mine. Trailblazers are critical to showcase the opportunities that are available but often they have the misfortune of being the first to also make a lot of the majority of the mistakes which can be avoided and it’s those that come next that are catapulted to the very heights of success.
8. What would be a piece of advice for young women overcoming social and economic adversity?
Dream so high that it’s seems impossible to achieve, for your journey to success will be harder than most but the rewards are so much greater. Use your pain and struggle as a blazing fire that will never go out. Fear and anger of inequality is a powerful tool so use it. Don’t be deterred but what you don’t have because you understand better than most what you need in your life.
9. How do you manage disrupters/toxicity to your journey?
If I’m honest, I initially found it very difficult to shut the negativity and disrupters off, I spent a lot of energy in the early part of my career holding myself back because of toxic relationships, I didn’t know if was allowed to believe in what was destined for me. It wasn’t until I found the strength to free myself from these people that I realised how limitless my success could become. The mind is the greatest tool you have, what you decide inside that colosseum of possibility is what determines your achievements.
Only when you begin to listen and acknowledge those people around you, will you give them any power in your life. So understand first, who’s words will influence your thoughts and actions because they will shape your journey. In 2016, shortly after winning the national championships for a second time in the U.K, only then did it became apparent to me the poisonous relationship I had with my then boxing coach, he would insist that I wasn’t good enough, experienced enough or worth enough to progress past that point regardless of what I was willing to sacrifice. If you’re told enough times what you aren’t, as opposed to what you are, then that’s all you begin to see. It was my husband who I met around the same time that made me understand this was just a phycological weapon that weak minded people use to shield and deflect their own insecurities and short comings. In turn keeping you locked up inside your own mental prison and ensuring your success doesn’t surpass their own lack of ability, skill and knowledge. At the time It seems impossible to silence those people but you need to search albeit it in the dark for those positive voices that help you create the most aspirational image of yourself and let you dream.
10. How did you survive your greatest fear?
My greatest fear was and is, the fear of failure. I wouldn’t say I survived it, because that implies, I’ve overcome the possibility that fear has no bearing on my life, which is untrue. I fear failure constantly but rather than survive it, I use it, daily. If the glimmer of a challenge appears and seems so impossible to accomplish then the fighter inside me wants nothing more than to triumph.
11. How do you turn fear and failure into strength and opportunity?
Facing and accepting failure is the most important part of learning. Without it, you are blind. Do not be scared or worry that fear or failure will determine you or make you less. Instead look at it as the pathway to building your character and better understanding your inner self only then can you turn it into your greatest strength.
12. What is the best career advice you were given?
It’s not a piece of career advice that was personally given but something David Goggins said that resonated, which was. ‘Instead of killing them with kindness, torture them with success’. For me, this was the permission I needed to not feel guilty and reach for the stars.
13. What is your personal motto?
‘Horay Usoco’ which in Somali translates roughly to Go Forward. For me when I hear this saying all I think about is the image of people coming at you from all angles with distractions as they try to knock you off your path and just having the ability to tunnel your vision and move in the direction towards your goal.
14. What would your younger self tell you if she were to meet you now?
To my younger self I would say; Begin your journey now because tomorrow is never promised. I spent too many years worrying about what others would think and how that would affect me and not enough time on what I needed for my own peace and solace.
15. What is your advice for women and young people worldwide?
One key piece of advice I believe young women worldwide need to have, is always remember to control your own narrative, especially in the media. Often you will find magazines, platforms and broadcasters however respected in the field of news and journalism they might be. They all have their own idea of the messaging they want to get and use from you. So understand who you are speaking with because you need to ensure there is a healthy balance.