Voice to Voice Paloma Lukumbi - Writer, English teacher and Socio-cultural worker with Djénéba

On community-building, manifesting visions into existence, navigating self-doubt and tending to the different parts of our authentic selves

Voice to Voice is a series of conversation between creatives willing to flourish and most importantly learn from each other journeys. We aim to foster a sense of community, to openly discuss our authentic concerns in order to inspire each other to take the necessary steps to thrive in our own lives both creatively and personally.

We have the conviction that community is a necessary resource in order to expand our imagination and to remind ourselves of our inherent strengths to keep going through the journey. 

In this conversation, I discuss with Paloma who is a writer, poet, teacher and sociocultural worker whose work has been published in the Sankofa publication. She is interested in queer literature and particularly the work of poet and activist Essex Hemphill and works on the notion of “intimacy” in black communities.

We dive into the importance of community-building, we discussed the process of manifesting visions into existence, navigating self-doubt as well as tending to the different parts of our authentic selves.

Paloma’s answer – Djénéba’s question

In a society that tends to be individualistic, as an artist that puts an emphasis on the importance of intimacy and community, what are your challenges but also your tools and philosophy to bring your vision into existence?

From experience I will say that the most challenging is to have people trusting the process. I do not believe that « individualistic » and « art » go together. I like to refer to humans as (he)arts and in that regard, I consider everyone to be somehow creative. Creativity draws from experience and in that sense I cannot fathom the idea that (he)art is the result of individualistic endeavors/ambitions. Some creatives would like to shy away from collaboration, but the truth is that all our creativity stems from experience and even though it might be a personal one (affect), it always goes hand in hand with the experience that we make of our environments and people we both negotiate and navigate life with. To me (he)art is always « dialogic » and in that sense never lonely. 

Going back to the idea of trusting the process, I would say that sometimes it has been challenging because working and collaborating with people is draining in general. We all have our personal shit going and on and even when we decide to work together, sometimes each individual’s energy and ego can impede or slow down the creative journey. And that is probably the other  main challenging thing: time. It must be tempting one too many times to brush away the long and exhausting task that collaborating with others is. Some feel that they are losing opportunities, missing out on success and seek recognition so bad that they forget about the human exchange, which to me is in and of itself (he)art. 

No matter how people look at it, the very idea of collaborating; commit to one another, share our experiences, discuss, laugh and cry together is important to our individual creativeness (one’s inspiration never comes out of the blew). That is why it is central to my work to always build on a project based on inter-personal creative connections whether they be supported by personal affinities or the result of an immersion in somebody else’s creative process. Community is key right now (we critically  both need one another and take care of each other) and even though I get how some alone time is good (quietness is always smooth) after a while, you cannot but to go back to some rhythm. Your (He)art Beat is sound but rythme flows so much more, when polysemous. There is so much groove in the combination of our (he)arts and I def stand this. 

Djénéba’s answer – Paloma’s question

Do you battle (if so how) with the “impostor” complex, while navigating the creation of a platform that tends towards women’s empowerment?

The imposter complex or syndrome is defined as such:

“An internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck. The term was first used by two psychologists in the 1970s.”

I would say that I do not battle with the imposter syndrome. Regarding navigating the work of a platform that tends towards women’s empowerment, I usually have many creative ideas then implement them to the best of my abilities using the resources I have without overthinking. Indeed, I love creating and experimenting new things. 

I am conscious and comfortable with not being the most intelligent or creative person. I am also aware that I have a never-ending curiosity, a love for writing, travelling, art, culture, stories, personal growth. Therefore, I take up space in those areas I feel most inspired in, that I am naturally drawn to. I would even go further than that, it comes from a spiritual place, I simply need to do the things I do, there is no other choice, it is about authenticity.

It seems that some people have this complex for they do not perceive themselves as they truly are, their feelings and the actual facts mingle, they tend to focus on their flaws or some stereotypes they internalise regarding a group they belong to, failing to see the full picture of their essence. Again, authenticity and truthfulness is I think key for those battling the impostor syndrome.

Of course, while undertaking I don’t always have the desired responses. The process is however so enriching that it does not make the project unworthy. One person being positively touched by the content I create is already plenty.  There is always room for improvement yet I have done what was true to me to the best of my abilities so I never felt like a fraud or unworthy.

That being said, what I sometimes deal with is self-doubt. At times, I’m wondering if I am capable of doing some things. I’m thinking, do you have enough skills for doing all of this alone? Would people really be interested? But for me, self-doubt always means something too, it is a sign. For instance, those questions stem from the desire to expand the community, to get more people involved, to merge skills, a willingness to connect and learn on a deeper level. 

Paloma’s answer  Djénéba’s question

As a full-time teacher, a researcher and artist how do you tend to the different parts of you without drowning in exhaustion or laxism?

That one question is hard for me. I suffer from anxiety. I never truly realized this until five years ago. It is also, however, a combination of build up trauma that I didn’t even know my brain and body had translated into this excessive intellectual ambition. 

From my teenage years, I had switched anxiety into overloaded ambition, mainly because of Academia and you know the potential idea of social mobility. So there was no space for « exhaustion » or « laxism ». I used ambition as the core drive of my overpacked schedule, until I completely broke down. 

I am still fighting this overboard ambition but the turning point was definitely my physical and mental health. I waited for my brain and my body to completely shut down to actually commit to myself. And in that respect, I would say that the nucleus of me managing my daily job, my research and art today  is to have these three areas meeting at a junction, at some point. That is, it took years of cleansing: know that I struggle every single day and sometimes every single minute to disengage with my old bad habits but nurturing projects and goals that all tend to the same aim has helped quite a lot. I’d say that you can do different things, like myself, but when there is no ultimate vision, you are most likely to lose yourself in all the beautiful textures and beings that you are (hence exhaustion or the contrary, laxism). I personally engage all my activities from the « bigger picture, » point of entry. As such, I make sure I do not lose track of my embodied voice!

Djénéba’s answer – Paloma’s question

How have years of organizing and planning podcasts and a blog with a myriad of women (coming from different cultural backgrounds) shaped or foregrounded the way you engage your association?

Those years of organizing and planning a podcast and a blog with a myriad of women laid the foundation for creating my association.

I have learnt a lot from all of those women, have been really attached to their journey, to their commitment to being authentic and absolutely love how this commitment became a true blessing for them and their communities! Their stories are powerful testimonies. Each story influenced my journey, awakened a part of me that was sleeping, their words keep supporting my steps.

Thus, step by step through the years, from those conversations emerged a need to deepen this process, in order to impulse concrete progress, to take the digital platform that is online and put it offline, through activities and programs to build on the energy of the online community. The idea was to study some concrete challenges those women are facing, monitor their path and contribute concretely to their progress while responding to a need to belong to a well-intended community. It makes no doubt that

My association which is turning into a strategic agency is a creative space revolving around the narratives of minorized people. Such a space allows us to share quality information so as to make informed choices, to relate to one another, to express ourselves authentically while making our voice and creativity heard. It also aims to create more inclusivity for those who experience systemic discrimination in our societies.


Picture © Djénéba Diallo

Illustrations © Melissa Kob