By Monique Thomas, founder of DAUGHTER SHINE
Whilst continuing to pursue a music career, in 2011 I left my teaching job to work part time with women in prison, on probation and in local community. Working with young women had been my motivation for becoming a teacher, and although I grew through the experience, it wasn’t for me. I also wanted to develop my music career that had been getting the dregs of what remained after a full day of taming teenagers. Music had been the centre of my passions for years, but I couldn’t yet see how this was a viable route and lacked confidence in my abilities.
In my new role as a trainer, I was open to new experiences and was aware that the realities of my naivety and prejudices would be exposed. Although certain that I’d had a colourful existence up until this point, at 25 I still had a lot to learn. Weekly activity included facilitating group sessions and 1-2-1s with women on relationships, confidence building, self esteem, abuse, sexual health, mental health, employability etc.
Questioning my suitability for the role, while battling a serious case of impostor syndrome, I remember being quite nervous leading up to my first prison delivery. However, during the session I was surprisingly at ease.
I was in a room full of women just like me. Young/old, black/white/Asian, Rich/poor, mothers/daughters/sisters/aunts. All of us made up of strength and struggles, victories and defeats, hopes and broken dreams, courage and fears. It wasn’t for me to have all the answers to the myriad of issues people faced. My job was to create a safe place and environment where we could all be real and begin or continue our journey of healing.
What was about to unfold over the next 2 years was a steep learning curve into the heartbreaking realities of life for many women. I was also going to see how beautiful, precious and resilient we truly are. I developed an understanding and appreciation for our shared humanity and the value of coming together on the basis of what unites us, rather than what keeps us apart. I learnt in practice what it means to be authentic and how empowering it truly is when we allow ourselves to be who we are and then share ourselves with others.
Our difficult experiences keep us grounded and often thrust us into the moment – the home of authenticity. Being at rock bottom or in a difficult place presents an opportunity for us to face reality and live more purposefully.
Much of this learning inspired the creation of an event called What A Woman Needs. I began to talk through ideas with friends and was amazed at how passionate they were about the topic of authenticity. I also spent time with music industry friends passionate about giving a platform to female musicians who were making great music, often with little profile. My heart for empowering women was often reflected in my own songwriting and the event title was taken from a popular song on my debut album ‘Unbroken.’
The combination of storytelling alongside music to empower women in this way was exciting and unique. Many hours of conversation and buzzing in coffee shops resulted in the creation of the 1st WAWN event, our signature #GIRLSNIGHTIN. This took place in March 2014 to coincide with Intl Women’s Month as a mini tour and culminated in a live studio event. My girlfriends courageously shared their stories, whilst I sung songs in-between accounts to weave the night together.
Due to popular demand, a new date was set for September 2014, which featured the Young Motherhood project and new artists. The SOLD OUT event was a huge success. It was proceeded by another sold out event at an even larger venue in the Custard Factory Birmingham in January 2015 called I AM BRAVE. In October 2015 we planned a National church tour in conjunction with Compassion UK and in March 2016 another big #GIRLSNIGHTIN was completed entitled YOU MATTER in Birmingham. After a move to Manchester to study at Bible College, I stopped doing events and spent time with my new family of 4. In Dec 2015 whilst pregnant with my first son Jude I began writing a book about my own life lessons in purposeful living and so continued to write throughout this period.