Cool, Calm, and a Voice for Change: In Conversation with Jazmin Sawyers

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As part of Label’s Black History Month celebrations, I decided to slide into the DMs of Loughborough-based athlete and singer Jazmin Sawyers. Jazmin is not only a talented and inspirational individual but also a genuine voice of empowerment and change.

I’m happy to say that she did in fact reply and below you will find our interview. It details a bit about Jazmin’s life and explores some important issues that continue to pervade our society.

It’s great to have you Jazmin – for our readers that don’t already know who you are, tell us a bit about your multi-talented self…

Thanks for having me! I’m 26, from Stoke-on-Trent and a long jumper for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I’m also a singer, presenter and former bobsleigher. I love yoga and like to think that I’m clever because I prefer reading to watching tv but I’m absolutely reading the book equivalent of Love Island most of the time, so I don’t think that quite works.

Q. How have you been throughout the pandemic? How has your mental health/ relationship/adapted training routines/competition schedules been?

A. Generally, pretty good. I spent a large chunk of lockdown alone and basically dove headfirst into training. I missed my boyfriend a lot as he was based around 4.5 hours away, but it gave me the chance to learn a few new skills (making clothes, braiding my own hair) and catch up virtually with lots of people I’d not spoken to for years. Though much like everyone else, zoom fatigue got to me and it all became a lot less fun and a lot more sad. I’ve been lucky enough not to lose anyone in this time, and have kept my job, so I’m doing much better than many others, and I’m grateful for that. The Olympics being postponed threw a spanner in the works but luckily, we were able to have a brief athletics seasons and I became British Champion, winning back my title for the first time in four years. Training had to be adapted (for a while, we weren’t sure how to clean the sandpit after every different athlete used it so we weren’t long jumping) and most competitions were cancelled but I think I eventually adjusted pretty well and made the most of a weird season. I’ve not seen my coach since February, so it’s been pretty different!

Q. Who were your main role models growing up? Are they still the same, and what do you think it means to be a role model in today’s society?

A. My idol was heptathlete Denise Lewis, and I think she was a great role model. She still is, as she’s now a broadcaster which is what I hope to do when I retire from competitive sport.

I think anyone who chooses a career in the public eye must accept that whether they see themselves as a role model or not, they will take on that role to someone, and so they should be aware of that. Many young people now simply have aspirations to be famous, so if what you do makes you famous, there will be young people looking up to you as something to aspire to, whether or not what you do or how you behave is ‘good’. I’m not saying that this is a good or bad thing, it’s just true. Personally, I take that responsibility seriously, and try and be someone that I’d want a younger version of me to look up to. Yes, I’m just jumping in sand, but because I jump quite far into sand, some people are interested in what I have to say, so I want those words to have a positive impact.

Q. Let’s talk a bit about BLM and performativity on social media – your series of videos on Instagram articulated this extremely well. Why do you think this is still such a problem, and what needs to change? How can people take serious action on an individual level – including those that perhaps do wish to act genuinely proactively but feel helpless and unheard.

A. I think social media platforms make performative activism an extremely easy thing to do. These platforms function based on likes and shares, so if you can produce a piece of content that gets likes and shares then you feel like it’s done its job, regardless of its substance. The platforms are designed that way. That’s why it’s so important to take your antiracist and other socially positive work offline. Having a conversation with someone face to face is much harder than posting a fist graphic on your Instagram page, and for good reason – you have to see people’s reaction when they don’t like what you say, you can’t just turn away from the screen and close your app, you have to respond again and try and genuinely help them understand. Sometimes that does happen online but often the activism starts and ends with a post. That will rarely change someone’s mind and certainly won’t change the world.

People want to hear about big dramatic changes they can make but often don’t want to hear the truth about what will usually make the most difference – conversations with the people around you. Bring up something you learned in a book you read or a video you watched, and start a conversation. If you hear racism, and you will, call it out, explain why it was racist if you have to. That’s much harder than posting to what is often the echo chamber of your own social media profile, because in real life you’ll get a lot more pushback and a lot less praise, but even if you can’t change someone’s mind in real life, you can let them know that racism won’t be tolerated around you. If you can effect change in your small corner of the world, if we all can, that’s where we see a real difference going forward.

Q. Women should be supporting women and it’s so important that feminism is truly intersectional, how should women across the world be actively demonstrating this?

A. Consider women outside of your community, and outside of your current view. If you are in a position to engage with feminism on social media, you are part of a privileged group, so remember to be vocal for and fight for the rights of those women that don’t have the kind of access or voice that you do. Do you caption your videos? Who makes your clothes? Are the action points you’re suggesting available to everyone? Of course, none of us are perfect, but we want to make sure that when we’re speaking up for women, it’s not just one kind of woman.

Q. I’ve been participating in Girl Trek’s Black History Bootcamp, which writes to email subscribers each day, celebrating the black community and moments in history. There’s a ‘walk and talk’ which you can do each day… podcasts, playlists, links to newspaper archives etc. It’s a quiet, educational, and enlightening process that is equally accessible as it is important. Are there any particular resources that you would like to recommend to the readers and beyond?

A. Two articles by two fellow athletes that I think are worth a read:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/athletics/2020/06/25/think-racism-hasnt-affected-almost-every- day/

https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/katarina-johnson-thompson-racism

A. Returning to a more trivial state of discussion, you’re lowkey my fashion icon; what are your top styling tips/fav brands and designers at the moment?

Q. Firstly – thank you, I don’t think I’ve ever been anyone’s fashion icon before so I’m deeply humbled. My top styling tip is honestly, if in doubt, turtleneck. I have leotard turtlenecks, sleeveless, long-sleeved, sheer, chunky knitted…. they just look good. I’m not fashion-literate enough to have a favourite designer, I usually just charge through vintage shops until I see something cute. Also, know your body shape. I have virtually no torso…or if you think of it another way, my legs look way longer than they are, so I work with that. Also, number 2, I always wear lycra shorts under my miniskirts, this saves me at least twice a week from poorly timed gusts of wind.

In fact, I’m not done – final tip: Stop saying ‘I wish I could wear that’ and just put it on. You only think people pull things off better than you because you see them wearing more daring clothes more regularly. You can be that person too.

Q. Also, I know you’re a bit of a keen Bom Bom-goer… as am I – it was my favourite workplace throughout my undergrad! What is your go to Bom Bom order?

A. I’m a black americano kind of gal, or a raspberry and mint tea if it’s later in the day, but I always add a cookie (not sure my coach would like me saying that). Salted fudge if they have it in!

 

Words – Hannah Bradfield X Jazmin Sawyers

Header designed by Christos Alamaniotis

 

 

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Label Features Editor 2020-21

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