November 30, 2022

poetry by Keziah Taylor

Activist Zoe Teague knows the value of being of service to others and learning to embrace your true self.

Antiguan born Jahnelle Zoe Teague describes herself as a Caribbean young woman, who is passionate about life, helping others, and gaining knowledge.

In spite of her hard and traumatising childhood, Zoe is unflinching in her desire to pursue her dreams and be of service to others through her resistance and activism.

Speaking to the Girls Narrative Project, she said, “I’ve realised that I can do more by working with different organisations and offering myself up for service sometimes… I’m realising that every opportunity to be a part of something is how I do better. How I give better and by this collective resistance, it’s a learning experience for not only me, but for the people”.

 “When you have to sit down in terms of the planning and the organization and the creation of something, you realise just how necessary all these parts are. The team, everybody and how you can’t do anything alone. And if I really want to make, have any form of resistance and activism, it has to be through working with others at all times,” she said.

With a very intelligent and analytical mind, Zoe said her journal was one of the tools she used to assist her with her resistance, as it was where she could not only express her feelings on a matter, but also work out its solution.

“I have sometimes felt a bit small. I have an issue with myself where I question my capabilities. And I think we all do that,  but personally, I think I do it quite often, where I’m in a space, and I hold back because I am doubting myself,” she said.

“So, my journal for me has been instrumental in me … writing down these moments and realizing what makes me feel or what triggers me- if I have an issue with a person or situation, my journal is the place where I go, and I try to deconstruct whatever this issue is so I can go forward and plan anything.

[…] It’s very solution-oriented. What can I do with something that’s bothering me or something that I’m passionate about? How can I make it better? How can I address the situation? Writing stuff down is how I know I’m making it real and I’m dealing with it. So, that’s a very important part for me of my resistance and activism,” she elaborated.

When asked how she would describe ‘resistance’, she said it meant pushing back and standing firm for what you believed in.  Continuing, she noted that it did not always have to be loud, but it is always there, a force to be reckoned with.

Speaking of her resistance, she explained that there were various things that she had to overcome, and spoke candidly about her ‘hard’ childhood, bravely telling her story of assault, bullying, as well as making the decision to be genuinely happy and inspiring others.

During the interview, Zoe, who now has a younger sister and step-father said she grew up with a very supportive mother in a single-parent household, but did not have a great relationship with her father, and so one of the things that truly scared her as a girl was the possibility of being separated from her mother.

She then spoke of a horrible event that not only truly scared her as a girl, but remains something she is still processing in adulthood.

Her voice slow and measured, she revealed that when she was just around the age of either 4 or 5 years old, she was molested by a friend of the family.

“When I was about four or five-, I am a little sketchy on the actual age, my mom was ill, and I didn’t go and stay with my dad’s family, I went and stayed with a family friend and a teacher of the school I was going to. And her grandson, he molested me,” she said.

“And I took that with me until I was about … 18-19 was the first time I told my mother. The first time I told my father was last year, so that was when I was 21,” she said.

Zoe who bravely wanted to tell her story as authentically and truthfully as possible, spoke candidly about her reasons to keep what had happened to her a heavy secret from her family.

“My mom would tell you, I always thought I was pretty smart and at that age made an assessment and said, based on how my relationship with my dad, and my mom worked… their relationship of what I would have seen here, I didn’t want to be taken away from my Mom,” she said.

She also did not want to live with her Dad and felt that if her extended family knew, they would blame her mother for what happened and use that as fuel to separate them. It was here that she spoke of the fear she also carried at that young age, that no one would actually believe her about the assault.

“I was also just afraid of… if anyone would believe me because the young man, he told me that ‘nobody’s going to believe that I would do anything like that’ and for years I didn’t realise how it affected me until when I got older.

If I wanted to date, how I felt about people and even now, how I actually, genuinely feel about men who … on that level attempt to touch me I… there’s certain behaviours that I see in men that now I look back on it and I think it’s because they’re similar to that young man that I do not like men of a certain nature. I have a visceral reaction,” she said.

Zoe explained during the interview, that she was still ‘interrogating personally’ how much of an impact being molested at such a young age has had on her, but admits that the horrible experience made her realise that life was not always fair.

“I realised that life wasn’t particularly fair. You’re just served some stupid hands. People just do things. I didn’t do anything. But here was life, like, ok, you didn’t do anything but you’re going to deal with this. What did I do? I’m four or five. Nothing,” she said.

“So, I realized that, ok, it’s not always going to be cookies and cream. It woke me up really early. And […] I thought I had to make a choice. So, I said, oh, well, if I say something, these are going to be some of the possible consequences. So, let me struggle through it or pretend it didn’t happen and push it to the back of my mind, so I could move on with life”.

And while she is still going through the process of understanding the true fallout of being molested, particularly at such a young age, she admitted that any kind of injustice makes her angry, particularly sexual violence and rape culture.

With this passion to learn, and to stand up to injustice, Zoe made a decision, with the support of her mother and her step-father to pursue her dreams of becoming a lawyer and at the age of 17, made a huge decision to leave Antigua to go to the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus in Barbados in this pursuit.

However, she said that this decision was met with very different reactions from her parents, with her mother being supportive and proactive, but her ‘disinterested’ father, taking a different route.

 “I was going off to university. I got accepted to do law, and this is just the difference in both of my parents. My mom’s like, ok, we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to sort you out. The money will come. Scholarship, loan, whatever she can do, we’re going to do. My dad, ‘oh you need to go work for two years at least and see how you can pay for your education’. My mom, ‘yeah, you’ve got this opportunity, yeah, ok, let’s make it happen’,” she said as an example.

She said her father was someone who she saw as staying to the sidelines, neither supportive or necessarily holding her back, “I mean, ok, you’re going to go do something sure, but  am I going to support you the way… like, for example, the way your mom would support you? Am I going to be there like that? No. But, am I going to tell people, oh, my daughter is doing x, y, z, I will.  But am I actually knowing what’s going on in your life? No. Am I there to deal with the rough times? No.”

However, while Zoe and her father have a ‘strained’ relationship where she said she recognised that she was the only one pushing for a better father-daughter relationship, she noted that there were a lot of people in her life who offered her support including her aunts, her friends, her step-father and her grand-father.

“My friends who when I didn’t believe in my own capability, they believed in me. I remember on my first day of university I was having a hard time and I told my mom and my step-dad that I didn’t think I was good enough. And at no point did either of them accept that from me. They were able to draw on individual things that they would have experienced with me and say, not you, you are more than good enough. And I really appreciated that,” she revealed.

For Zoe, it was during her time in university, where she started to truly step into her own power moving from the girl who was bullied for her appearance in her all girls high school, into a young woman who was realising her true role as a leader.

During this time, Zoe also became even more involved in charities and youth activist groups, including I Am A Girl, The Rotaract Club and UWI Stats to name a few. With a background of going to reading clubs when she was younger, as she loves to read, Zoe continues to inspire and offer support to others through the use of her social media.

“There have been people who have reached out to me. And people who continue to like someone say ‘tune in to things’ that I share. And people who haven’t known me long but every time I share something in my life or just in general, they’re like,’ yes, I see you, I support you, yeah, check this out, this young lady posted this’. People who reach out to me in private and say, ‘listen, I love what you’re doing’”, she noted.

When asked what message she would give to a girl who may be going through what she has, she said, “I would tell her, first of all, that you are enough. Don’t be afraid of who you are. Don’t let anybody’s perception of you define you. Decide that you are enough. Decide that anything that you want is worth having and live your best life.

If you have been hurt by someone, who had no right to hurt you, to violate your person, it doesn’t make you less. It doesn’t mean that you are tainted. There’s this poet, Jasmine Mans, and she said, ‘scars give your stretch marks something to talk about’. And you know, your scars are just, they’re stories that can help you to grow.

While Zoe will be the first to admit she does not understand why some of the horrible things happened to her, she chooses to look at it as something that helped her to know her path and be an advocate for women. She said she is now more vocal, and strategic, understanding now how important it is to share and be her authentic self always.

written by,
Ashlee Cox

Author, Writer, Entrepreneur

Ashlee Cox is a multi-genre author and writer. She formerly worked for leading news outlets within the Caribbean, as a journalist, and is currently the lead writer on her blog ‘Ashlee Unscripted’.

About the author 

I Am A Girl NGO

The Caribbean's leading non-profit organisation in support of girls, to inspire, empower and provide opportunities for girls to lead and exist in a world where they feel safe, protected and celebrated.

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