“One day, I posted a video, then Pink, (the singer) reposted. I was like, ‘So America likes what we do.’… Okay. That’s cool. Then Ciara reposted. I think a couple months after that, Ellen DeGeneres DMs (Direct Messaging), and she said, ‘You should come.’ We had one week. Wow! She sent the tickets and we were crying on the Skype call. They flew us to LA. It was a dream for Anaé, because she had never been in an airplane before. I was so happy that I had taken English classes, and was able to speak it because otherwise that would have been really difficult.”Jeniffer Bonsenge
1.5 million followers on Instagram.
1.5 million followers on Facebook.
349,000 followers on Youtube.
These are impressive online stats… but who really is Jennifer Bonsenge? As we celebrate women, we had the great opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Jeny. A few revelations may surprise you, but we hope that you see resilience, strength, and a breakthrough.
AA: Where are you from?
J: Originally from (DRC) Congo, Kinshasa, and raised in Belgium.
AA: What do you do professionally?
J: I’m a professional dancer, choreographer, and model. I also direct shows for artists, run a dance school in Belgium, and then I’m an entrepreneur also, so simple… (laughs).
AA: As we are celebrating womanhood, what is your definition of it?
J: Being a woman is someone who has power and strength. She is the center of a family. A house is built on a strong foundation, and she’s the foundation. She is precious.You have to respect a woman because she gives life and she endures. So women are like diamonds.
AA: When you were growing up or even now, did or do you have anyone that exemplifies being a woman?
J: My mom is my first inspiration. I was able to see the way she raised us no matter how difficult it was, and how brave she was and is in any situation. She is a fearless woman. Nothing can stop her. I (also) look at Ciara. Her journey, her life, the way she started, because I have been following her since I was 10. She went through a lot, but now, when I see her life, she found happiness. I can identify myself with her because she’s doing art. I also look at Viola Davis. The stories she is telling us as an actor empowers us. I would always look for me because if I need to find myself, I will look up to a black woman.
AA: So let’s go a little bit deeper. Would you say that you were prepared for womanhood? If we go back to the younger you, were you prepared to be a woman?
J: I don’t think I was prepared. I was just prepared to survive in this world. My mom was doing a lot by herself. She was in a difficult marriage. She raised eight of us, and I was helping her. She didn’t have the time to prepare me for my future life as a woman. My experience did help me as a grown woman to be able to handle other people. I was able to handle others, but not myself.
I didn’t have the advice that a woman needs to have. Relationships for instance, or maybe how you take care of yourself, your hair; self-care. You know, I had to take care of other people first. When I was twenty, then I started to become more interested in myself because I was a dancer and I had to perform. I will always be thankful to my friends because we helped each other. I have a friend from my neighborhood. She’s still my friend, and she still does my makeup today.
My mom and my dad are from Congo (DRC). They had to leave because of war and they came to Belgium. They would say that we had a chance to grow up in Belgium and had to make the most of it. So we had that extra pressure to succeed at school. There was pressure, but we didn’t have the conditions to succeed. We didn’t have the tools to succeed, but still, we had to fight.
I didn’t have that deep relationship with my mom growing up. I knew that she couldn’t help because she had problems and I will never blame her for that. She was just praying every day that I would be able to manage. It was risky, but today she tells me that I inspire her.
Also, society would look at us because we were different because we were black, and this was a whole thing. When I was a child and a young girl, and I couldn’t identify myself with a big sister, I just had a TV. I just had Ciara and Missy Elliot. Yeah, that was difficult.
AA: So nobody in your neighborhood looked like you?
J: Yes, they did, but I couldn’t really identify. It was difficult to see someone who succeeded. Someone you could say, ‘I want to be like her’. There wasn’t a (successful) black woman. I didn’t have that. Today, we have that.
I’m happy that today, young girls can identify with me; especially young black girls from Belgium and Europe. I’m so proud of that.
AA: What three things would you advise younger ladies to prepare for womanhood? When you were younger, what three things did you need?
J: I would split this into three parts. There is the intellectual, self-care, and then the social part.
For the intellectual part, young girls want to have fun, but a school is a place where we get the most, especially when we are young. Studies are really important because you get the foundation of life.
I will say for the self-care part; love yourself. To be honest, when I was a child, I wanted to be like other girls, but I did not look like them. These were white girls and I found them really beautiful then. I didn’t love myself. God creates you like this, right? So love yourself. Love your hair, your skin, your lips… everything. I realized when I was 18, that there were girls like me in Congo when I traveled. I took my first flight to Congo and I saw the beauty.
The third part is society. Sexuality, relationships, marriage, and all the demands were something you were ashamed to talk about with your parents in an African family. Till today, I have never spoken to my mom about that. As a young girl, don’t be ashamed to say, ‘Mom, I got my period. What should I do?’
AA: You two didn’t discuss that?
J: I was scared, you know, I was so scared. I asked my teacher first.
AA: Were you more comfortable with your teacher?
J: Not comfortable, but I was like at school, and I saw other girls having it. So I asked. My Mom did notice and she asked if I knew what it was, and I said I did. So (my advice is) ask questions about relationships and take your time, or you can find yourself in a toxic or abusive one. It was the case for me. I’m just out of a toxic relationship because I didn’t know how to value myself. I didn’t know how to value myself with a man.
For me, it’s so obvious that I don’t even say it, but I have a relationship with God. I am a Christian girl and I believe in God. I understand that some don’t believe, but that’s my story. I survived all of that craziness in my life because of God, and I’m sure of that.
AA: And that helped you walk out of the previous situation?
J: Yes. All the situations, like poverty, education, the (toxic) relationship, (and) all the things I didn’t have when I was a kid. I survived all of that because of God. He was in control. I think He wanted me to be stronger to help other people. That’s why we are doing this interview now because other people are going to hear my story at the right moment, the right time.
AA: What would you say created the shift between young Jenny who was trying to figure herself out, and the Jenny we see now?
J: All my failures helped me to have that shift. You know, every time you fail, it’s an opportunity to get up. Time is precious. I will never waste my time with bad energy, bad people, (or) a bad situation.
I learned that before taking care of all the people, you have to take care of yourself. When I was a grown woman, I started to understand this a lot more. I wasn’t even able to take care of my family anymore or my students, because I was going through bad moments. Now I’m back in my happy place and back to taking care of other people, because I feel good.
AA: How would you describe yourself as a woman today?
J: The first word that comes to mind is that I am strong. It was not easy, but I am strong because I went through a lot. When I fall down, I come back stronger. I never quit! I think we have that power as women that we don’t even understand. You can do us wrong. You can try to destroy us, but we still have the same value. And if you don’t forget that you have value, you are good. So to describe me, I’m strong and I’m proud of who I am today.
AA: How do we ensure cross-generational forward movement between our mothers, us, and our daughters?
J: It’s very important that young (black) girls see people who look like them. We should use tools like books, games, TV, YouTube, or whatever. We should (also) break the barriers. Children should talk to their parents, and parents freely to their children about difficult topics; deep topics.
AA: How do you see the future of the black woman? Where are we going?
J: We are in a time in which we are winning. I’m so happy to be living in this moment. So many other women before me didn’t have the chance to see what we are experiencing today. We have to celebrate this. I see young ladies, young girls that can identify themselves with so many other grown black women today. The future for the black woman is bright.
This interview was part of the “Breakthrough” Visual Project created by Kerla Marie.
Location: Ayoo Studios
Creative Director: Kerla Marie
Photographer : Ornelle Chimi
Tech Assistant: Nayo Photo
Video Interview: Eloho
BTS Photo: Oh My Joy
Hair: Agnes Anui & New Village Braid
Models: Aisha Okiki & Glori
Style: Brownie Brown
Shoot Assistant: Ashley & Ines Ngaleu
Jewelry: Tru Face By Grace