Talks with Opened Palm
One of the most beautiful things about life is that we are constantly exposed to opportunities to see life through someone else’s lens in order help others and develop ourselves. None of us are immune to hardship and as the saying goes “life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it”. When Opened Palm visionary Esther Odejimi shared that despite all she’d been through, she had a burning desire to be a change agent for others, we had to delve deeper into her story and understand why she decided to lend a helping hand..
Opened Palm is a community organisation that helps empower children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and Esther shared that creating an organisation with a heart-fuelled mission was always on her agenda, “I always wanted to form some sort of community interest organisation that focussed on children and young people from under privileged backgrounds”.
Growing up in a Christian home highlighted that her family dynamics were not the trend and Esther felt that inner tug to extend her experiences to those less fortunate, “we are so close knit as a family and I somewhat took that for granted. I’d visit other people’s houses and experience dysfunction and I realised, I’ve got something to give here”. This selfless attitude caused the birth of Opened Palm and with a strong conviction during her A-levels, Esther knew that despite having a number of other commitments, the time for Opened Palm was now.
As an Oxford University graduate, receiving her acceptance letter was an incredible moment given some of her life experiences “we’ve seen the struggle; we’ve lived the bailiff life, biscuits and tea for dinner. A family friend also did some very questionable things in my childhood, and despite that, by God’s grace, I still managed to get myself to Oxford and graduate? For me, now it’s time to give back.”
"Sometimes they just need someone that looks like them, talks like them and someone they can see themselves in."
Statistically, those that attend Russell Group universities come from affluent middle-class families, and Esther’s experience re-confirms this as she shares that “you’re surrounded by children of world leaders, generational billionaires, and very little black presence.” As the only black person in her year group and throughout her degree, she was the only black person on her course as an undergraduate, she learnt a very prevalent lesson, “ (I learned) how to embrace different experiences because immaturely I equated wealth to the absence of struggle and it’s just not the case. Who’s to say you haven’t been abused because your family is wealthy?”
Mental Health is on the rise within the black millennial community and Esther’s work thrives on restoring self-love and confidence for as many young people as possible. We questioned what has been Esther’s standout experience at Opened Palm, and she tells us of a young girl who didn’t speak. “There was a young girl in year 8 at Bridge Academy who was mute. Yep, didn’t speak. She played basketball, and the coaches expressed that this girl’s performance on and off the court was being affected and literally handed her over to me.”
As to be expected, the little didn’t speak to Esther to begin with, “for the first 45 minutes, it was pretty much silence. We spent a few hours together and by the Grace of God by the end of the session she spoke, and boy did she have a lot to say”. For Esther, this conversation further affirmed her work by demonstrating the necessity for the creation of more safe places for young people to express their concerns.
"For me, now it’s time to give back”
Opened Palm is run by Esther and she has the support of a good friend, Gabrielle Haynes who has a personal connection with the work Opened Palm does. We spoke to Gabrielle about her experiences at Opened Palm and she added “because of the experiences I’ve had as a care leaver, and other negative things in my childhood, having the opportunity to have a positive impact on a child, especially ones from vulnerable backgrounds, and just being a key attachment figure in a child’s life, implements what I needed as a child.”
Both of Esther's parents are in ministry, and while their position in the church has heightened her appreciation for them, it has sometimes provided difficult to navigate boundaries, "as a fantastic as my family is, it’s a bit of a weird paradigm to have your parents as your disciplinarians, your pastors, and your councillors". Her family shifted from feeding others the word, but being fed the word when they joined another ministry.
Esther expressed that this shift helped her realise the necessity of representation, and further inspired the work of Opened Palm, "when my family joined another ministry, it was the hugest breath of fresh air, and that’s what I found in my work. It’s not necessarily about the dysfunction at home, or having a bad mum, sometimes they just need someone that looks like them, talks like them and someone they can see themselves in."
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