Edna Valencia Murillo, a life changed by the Atlantic Dialogues
In her very energetic way and a waterfall of words, Edna Valencia Murillo explains how the Atlantic Dialogues 2019 have been a life changer. At the time of her participation in the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program in 2019, she was a Colombian news anchor for France 24 in Spanish, working from Bogota, a job she left in September 2021 to follow a more independent route. During the pandemic, she has written a book, built her platform “to connect black people in Colombia with African leaders”, and prepared the opening of her cultural center/hair salon, Belleza Negra - “Black Beauty” in Spanish. In addition to these noteworthy achievements, she has been consulting for Disney Animation Studios since July 2021 on black representation in a movie called Encanto, shot in Colombia.
In December 2019 in Marrakesh, Edna was already explaining how she was looking to raise the visibility of Africa in Latin America, “two continents that are related but don’t know each other”. At the same time, she was working to raise awareness and change the narrative and perceptions on the aesthetics of Black women: “Because they are beautiful too, even if it’s not according to the European standards”.
Being herself a reference on black identity for her generation, she explains that 13 million people, on a total population of 51 million, are of African descent in Colombia. “I want to connect black women with their heritage, their natural hair and skin, and stop using chemicals that are dangerous for their health and their self-esteem.”
How did the Atlantic Dialogues change her life in 2019, as a young Emerging leader? Marrakesh was her first trip ever in Africa. She transformed the ADEL program into an opportunity to go further and know more. From Morocco, she went to Senegal, where visits in Gorée inspired her poetry. In March 2021, she went back to Africa, this time to the MASA (Marché des Arts et du Spéctacle Africain) Festival in Ivory Coast, where she met a lot of people in the cultural field.
She has also kept in touch with some of the Atlantic Dialogues guests she met during the conference in Marrakesh. In February 2020, she has for instance helped William, from the NBA Basketball Team, do a tour and meet Afro-Colombian leaders in sports and journalism. She took him to her community in Quibdo, the capital city of the region of Chocó (82 % of Afro-Colombians), where the lack of opportunities is “the same as in rural areas in Africa”. They attended the Black History Month at the US Embassy in Bogota, and conducted a workshop with a young basketball team.
Edna leads a busy and enriching life. After one month in Cuba, then two weeks in Spain for a festival, she came back to Bogota in November 2021 to meet another AD guest: Thione Niang, the Senegalese former campaign advisor of Barrack Obama, who did a lot for the election of the first US Black president with the Democrats Youth. Back in Senegal since 2018, as the head of an agricultural enterprise, Thione Niang had toured Colombia with Edna, through Medellin for the NegroFest festival and Cartagena de Indias and San Basilio de Palenque – a fortified town founded in 1603 by African slaves who freed themselves, belonging since 2005 to the World Patrimony of Unesco.
Edna and Thione are planning to work on a documentary to show the connection between Colombia and Senegal, a subject Edna is very passionate about: “We have our own balafon in marimba music in Colombia, but we don’t know it’s an African instrument !”
Belleza Negra, the cultural center she will open in February 2022 in Cali, “a town with more Black people” – 27 % of the population, vs 10 % in Bogota – will be an “identity and aesthetic center”. A lot more than a beauty and hair salon. “There will be a library to sell African writers, a cine-forum space, fashion events, workshops and more”. Edna will launch her own book, La sombra del Baobab, “The Baobab’s Shadow”, a mix between poetry writings and an essay on Black issues and her personal experience of racism in Latin America.
In 2022, she plans on going back to Africa and get her citizenship in Sierra Leone, as her DNA test shows she is from this West African country. She will also launch her podcast as an independent journalist, freer than ever.