‘Are you sure? Because this isn’t going to end the way you think!’ The young student nurse said to a fellow student who demanded she took off the better of two pairs of theatre shoes so she could have them.
As it turned out Nola, the young black nurse was right. She went to their tutor and informed him of what had happened. He in turn made it clear to the other student that such a thing should not happen again.
This is just one of many stories Dr Nola Ishmael OBE shared with me when I interviewed her for the Women 101 Show.
Having arrived in England in the early sixties from Barbados, Nola has many such stories to tell. I found them not only entertaining and some, even funny, but highly instructive. Encountered by various manifestations of prejudice and racial biases, her retorts were spot on; her responses audacious, but appropriate.
‘When you’re silent, you collude with others in your invisibility,’ Nola mused with a smile. ‘You must stand up for yourself in a respectful way.’
Not overly surprising then, that her visibility increased in line with a dynamic career spanning over 40 years culminating in an OBE, many ‘firsts’, awards and being featured in top 50 list people profiles in a number of respectable journals. She was the first black Director of Nursing in London and would ultimately go on to develop policy and write speeches for Ministers at the Department of Health.
Fifteen months after I met Dr Nola Ishmael for the first time, I reached out to her on twitter asking if she would give me an interview for The Women 101 Show. You make these requests with a measure of uncertainty, not knowing whether such a high profile personality would make themselves available. Nola is after all considered a legend, amongst BAME and non-BAME circles in the National Health Service. The first time I heard her name, I remember it was said in hushed tones laced with reverence. But any anxiety I had about her availability proved unfounded. Nola messaged me back not too long after to say she would be happy to.
During our conversation, she left me wide eyed, speechless at times and certainly eager to hear more. As a black female who also came to England from the Caribbean as a young nursing student, much of what she shared deeply resonated with me. My thoughts shifted like a pendulum, swinging back and forth between my own early experiences and listening closely to Nola, not wanting to miss something great.
Without a doubt this was definitely one of my most interesting interviews yet. Nola’s got so much experience, insight and wisdom to share. Nola is sassy, funny, intellectually sharp; and at age 75, she’s still got more swag in her little finger than some folks have in their entire body.
Be sure to catch the Women 101 Show Thurs 13th Dec 8pm and again on Sunday 16th At 3pm on prayz.in radio.
Keep your head on straight and your heart on strong!