Nova Reid is using her own experience of casual racism to help change the world.

I trained in musical theatre from the age of 18, an industry that was very much about what you look like. It had long been my goal to be a professional actress and singer and while I qualified and had a successful career, sometimes performing to more than 10,000 people at Wembley Stadium, I still felt small. The day to day casual racism really wore me down. When teachers said things like “Nova darling, you won’t get that role, you’re black” at the time I just laughed it off, but those comments just seep into your brain.

I didn’t feel good about myself. I had very low self esteem and had complex feelings about my race and identity. I felt like my value as a human being was less than everyone else. Eventually this would lead me to a whole different career.

But I had a lot of work to do on myself first – and luckily an opportunity came along. Injury led to long absences from the musical theatre industry and during that time I really lost confidence. So when I got the chance to train in mental health, I seized the opportunity.

“I felt like my value as a human being was less than everyone else.”

I started my professional training in mental health and disability in 2010. When you have therapeutic training, you have to go through counselling yourself. By this point I thought I’d got over all those feelings about my race and identity, but they all came to the surface. I had to confront them and I’m glad I did. I went on to be work in mental health for the next nine years.

But there was another significant step in my career journey which started when I got engaged seven years ago. Planning my wedding, I realised that black women just weren’t represented in wedding media. My wedding blog, Nu Bride was borne out of frustration at modern British black women feeling invisible.

Nu Bride is dedicated to adding race equality and inclusive diversity to the wedding industry. I wanted to show lots of different types of women and make it more representative of society.

Nu Bride has a loyal following and has won awards. I’m proud to say it’s really moved things forwards. Progressive designers are now more representative of different ethnicities in their look books, photographers now think more about who they’re representing in their body of work and publishers are starting to share different types of stories – and this is in huge part thanks to the popularity and influence of Nu Bride. While there is still a long way to go, there’s definitely been a shift in the seven years since I started it.

“We each of us have a responsibility to help enable equality within our communities”

Nu Bride is responsible for catapulting my status as a diversity campaigner and I regularly appear in mainstream media, including the BBC and Sky News, to provide expert commentary on wedding and diversity matters.

And soon businesses started getting in touch saying “We love your brand, can you come in so we can do some training with you? How can we better reach our audience? What are we doing wrong?” At first I was giving diversity advice informally and then after a while the demand was so big that I made the service a consultancy.

Using my background as an actress, experience in counselling skills, mental health and disability, through storytelling and coaching I teach individuals and brands about the power of embracing diversity and how to confront bias and prejudice. People are becoming more aware and more brave and realising we each of us have a responsibility to help enable equality within our communities.

“I’m re-educating black women over their fear of being visible so they can thrive in their work”

The companies that come to me for diversity training are open to doing the work, either because they’ve had a close shave legally, or they’re very passionate about diversity and want to know what they could be doing better. The biggest barrier is fear of causing offence and getting it wrong when it comes to gender, disability, sexuality and ethnicity. Being able to talk about my own story is a powerful way of raising awareness.

It’s not comfortable for people to look at and admit to their own racial biases, their generalisations, their racism. But you’ve got to give people permission to be vulnerable, regardless of what they’re going to say, and create an environment where they feel safe to open up. Not doing so means people will continue doing things the way they’ve always been done. And patching problems like this over with a plaster means things don’t change – we have to look at the core of the problem.

If my husband and I are lucky enough to have children I don’t want them going through the same thing as me. Some BAME (black, Asian and majority ethnic) business women feel they have to remain invisible, that people won’t want to work with them if they know they’re black. But do you want to work with people who would discriminate against you because of your race? So as well as coaching companies in inclusivity, I’m re-educating BAME women over this fear of being visible, so they can thrive in their work.

The thing I’m proudest of is making change and I’ve done that wherever I’ve worked, in mental health, in diversity training, in empowering BAME women and running little mini day retreats for self care. Most of my retreat clients are women working in the field of diversity and anti racism. It’s hard doing this kind of work and they need time out.

“I’m only just figuring out who I am and slowly getting more confident.”

I’m really proud that I seem to attract people from lots of different backgrounds and all ages. The retreat I’m about to do is all women in their 50s. My work speaks to many people who just want better and deserve it.

All my roles have been different but it’s all led to where I’m meant to be. I feel like I’ve finally found a niche that works for me and it’s all around helping people and encouraging change. It was never the plan to do this but I feel like I’ve evolved into a role that combines everything I’m good at. At 37 I’m only just figuring out who I am and slowly getting more confident.

Words: Marina Gask
For more information on Nu Bride click here. To contact Nova go to novareid.com.

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