From childhood ambitions of wanting to be a doctor, to setting up Croydon’s new supportive network for black women working in community development, it has always been in Palma Black’s nature to help others.
Black, who grew up in Croydon, says: “When I was a child, I thought helping people meant being a doctor, making them better, and then I realised that there are so many other ways to help one another.”
Now Black is the Founder of Soul Purpose 360 a coaching and mentoring social enterprise that seeks to build a support system for black women, through working in and with communities.
The notion behind Soul Purpose 360 is to help black women who may have jobs in community development, social enterprises or community projects. The initiative also supports women who are lacking the confidence and belief that they can contribute positively to their community – but have the desire to do something.
Black spent much of her life as a community activist in the borough, and worked in the social sector. She was also politically active, and worked with others for justice for the family of Stephen Lawrence, the black teen murdered in a racist attack in Plumstead, southeast London, in April 1993.
She recalls: “I was a founder-member of the Anti-Racist Alliance and a member of the Labour Party Black Sections. The ARA set up the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign in the days after Stephen’s murder.”
These experiences undoubtedly shaped her. But her new enterprise also stems from personal experience.
Black, who now lives in Surrey, says: “When my sister was gravely ill, I was her support network. She was our priority and I gave up everything to support her over the seven years she was ill. Which by the end of her illness, I had lost my support network.”
In 2017, Black started organising a national event for women about self-confidence, but was forced to give up 2018, grieving for the death of her sister.
Black adds: “What Soul Purpose primarily is about is bringing together women who work in and with communities in a space where they can bring their personal baggage with them, to talk about what they are going through. They get support from others that are going through, or have gone through, similar experiences – nobody should have to give up on their projects or social businesses.”
“Even though a community development worker and others who work in communities, are surrounded by people every day, they’re lone-workers. There isn’t a support network, there isn’t a group that they can go to, and it’s really challenging work. When you consider that most black women have their own personal challenges as well as experiencing racism and discrimination as women, there is a need to create a supportive network.”
Black will be launching a similar network in Newham later this month and hopes to create these networks across the country.
She says: “Whilst it is everyone’s ambition to move up the career ladder, to get a better paid job and to be higher/more senior, I felt I became too distant from the communities that I sought to serve.”
In 2015 she resigned from her position as head of community regeneration for a large housing association. She then started a new journey into becoming a personal performance coach – working with individuals to raise their self-awareness and guiding them into a direction to achieve their goals. This enabled her to create Soul Purpose 360 in 2016.
Soul Purpose 360 launched their first event at Croydon Town hall last week.
Councillor Karen Jewitt and fellow BAME colleagues, Councillor Patsy Cummings, Councillor Patricia Hay-Justice and Councillor Leila Ben Hassel, attended the event in support of the initiative.
Whilst seeking to help women, this supportive relationship between her clients have mutual benefits, “Whilst I’m seeking to help them, they’re helping me and that really is kind of the pay off – no body loses, and everyone wins in this relationship especially the communities they serve.”
Croydon’s next Black Women’s networking event and Empowerment circle is on March 24 at Croydon Town Hall.
Black says: “To me, it’s a really empowering way of getting an individual to overcome their own limiting beliefs, to grow in confidence and to make them much more effective in what it is they want to do – serve others.”