Benny Bonsu: Becoming Africa’s Olivia Pope

Benny Bonsu was born in Ghana, and at the age of 10, moved to Tottenham in the United Kingdom, where she dreamt of making a global impact. Today, Benny is the first woman sports editor hired in the UK, after being identified to head GiveMeSportWomen last April. Benny is a natural born leader and has proudly pursued her twin passions of sport and education since she was very young, and has contributed significantly to community development. 

Today she is known in the sporting world as the Oprah of sport because of her witty and straight to the point interviewing style, as she has reached significant peaks in her career. 

This celebrated London-based global sports broadcaster and producer continues to make pioneering moves as she breaks barriers for woman of colour in sports broadcasting. 

Benny has worked across some of the biggest sports media platforms in the world including BBC World Service, Sky Sport, and BT Sport.

A multi-award winning sport journalist, Benny has received some key awards like the Leaders in Sports 40 under 40. She was the only black woman to make the list, another barrier broken by Africa’s most accomplished woman in sports broadcasting. 

In 2012, Benny had the extraordinary opportunity to work on the London Olympics, where she served as Sports Operations, and policies manager for the Local Organising Committee. She also project managed the Sport Accord Conference 2012 with the International Olympic Committee and International Federations.

In 2018, she qualified with her NPQSL ( National Professional Qualification of Senior Leaders in Education) after also dedicating ten years to being a secondary school teacher, working with disadvantaged young people across London.

A graduate, she majored in Media and Advertising with International Business. Upon graduation, Bonsu’s industry experience included working with British Basketball Men’s team during their journey for qualifying for Euro basket, working as a media comms manager for the athletes.

She has also been part of the NBA, NBA UK and Africa family for the past 15yrs, where she actively supports the work they do across Africa and acts as the voice of the athletes in the league through the media and non-for-profit work on the continent.

Benny has produced of the biggest television shows across Africa for the Modern Times Group, alongside serving as one of the leading writers for “TRUE Africa” magazine covering all the African athletes across all sports.  

She tells Kass Naidoo about her Be The Next initiative to mentor young women in sports broadcasting and her wish to be Africa’s Olivia Pope. 

Benny, it is good to talk to you on gsport. Thank you for joining us in these rather uncertain times. How are you managing the Covid-19 lockdown?

I’m so sorry it’s taken so long to get these questions to you. It’s just been so hectic! So finally, I can sit down and answer all the questions for you. Um, I’m, okay. I’m doing good, during this lockdown, um, just been keeping my head down, getting some work done. You know, it doesn’t stop for us as publishers. We still have to keep going. So, it’s still a hectic time for me. Um, but I am doing good. I’m doing more exercises, I’m eating well, I’m doing all the good things I should have been doing before lockdown, and during lockdown. So yes, I am great!

With live sport cancelled, how has this impacted your work?

Obviously it has impacted our work cause a lot of the content that we produce and create is based around live events, um, but with the cancellation of it, you know, we get, we don’t get to do as much as we used to do, but it also helps you become more innovative, right? 

“It has impacted us, but it has helped us create new ways of how we can consume content, but also how we can create content for our audiences.” – Head of GiveMeSportWomen, Benny Bonsu

So creating content without live sports, so for us, even though it has impacted well, um, it’s enabled us to do added content that we wouldn’t have otherwise thought of, you know, like doing interviews over Skype or Zoom, creating more podcasts, um, for our content, but also putting the power in the hands of the athletes to create original content for our platform. So yeah, it has impacted us but, it has helped us create new ways of how we can consume content, but also how we can create content for our audiences. 

Tell us about growing up. Where were you born and what were the early days like?

So, my early days were in Ghana, um, you know, I went to University Primary in Accra for many years, well until I was about nine, ten years old. Um, came to the UK very young. I went to St Thomas More school, which is, uh, is a Catholic, a Catholic secondary school that is notorious for sports, is known for sports through my era. Um, I mean we only used to just turn up at competitions and the other schools would be scared! So that’s how notorious it was for sports. I went to St Thomas Moore at the age of 11, I loved it. 

I loved it because, you know, you had, you know, your Math, English and Science and all those core subjects, but then you will participate in three or four different sports whilst you’re in school. And then if you’re good enough, you got to represent for the county. And if you’re good for the county, well you competed for the burrough then the county. If you’re good enough, you go to the national teams. And so, for me it was great cause I got, you know, in Ghana we didn’t really do much sports.

I mean I was quite young when I left, but um, when I got to the UK and went to St Thomas More, um, you know, like every sports was available to us and for me I really enjoyed it. 

So, at a very young age I picked up athletics, field hockey. Um, didn’t really like netball, if I’m honest. Um, didn’t play basketball, was more football, football, athletics, field hockey, um, that I loved, and I was involved in and, and athletics. I loved, I loved athletics, 200, triple jump, long jump, name it, I was in there! 

But growing up was great. I grew up in Tottenham, which is, um, one of the most diverse communities in London. It has quite a huge Ghanaian and Nigerian community, and Irish community, growing up. So, it was kind of like an area where everybody knows everybody, so if you did something bad on the street, before you get home, your mom would already know about it.

Um, I loved it. I loved it. I loved growing up here. I still, I’m still here. I never left the area because, I always feel like it humbles me. It humbles me. Um, and it never takes me away from my roots and where I’ve come from.

Before you really took off in sport, you did significant work in the education and behaviour space. Tell us more about this work.

Yeah, so I’ve always loved education. I loved the idea of education as sports because where I grew up, like I said in St Thomas More, that was the core thing for us, where education comes first, and sports comes second, and then you put it together to achieve anything you want. So, um, when I left St Thomas More school sixth form, I finished my A-Levels, and I went to university. I studied Media and Advertising degree, but I’ve always known that I wanted to do something in education, because whilst I was in school, this was really weird …

Whilst I was at high school, I was volunteering as a mentor. So during the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, volunteering as a youth worker at a local youth, youth center, so I started really young, like at an age of 16, I was teaching, at the age 16, um, at the age of 18, when I left to go to university, I would always travel back to my local area to help coach, reform, um, highly in sports development. 

Um, I would always also help mentor the youth offenders. So, I used to work with yacht teams by working with a youth services in our area. Um, and through that I really enjoy that. I really enjoyed making the little differences in the young people’s lives. And for that, you know, it’s like man, going to university and being in a group of 150-something students that are all doing media and advertising, and everybody wants a job in the media after the fact.

“I went back to teach and I went, trained, trained as a teacher and a youth worker, qualified youth worker, worked for Prince Charles’ charity, actually, um, the Prince’s Trust for many years, um, where I would be given, um, 16 young people when I had 12 weeks.” – Bonsu speaks on working in education.

I was like, man, let me go do something that I know can create and impact the community. Let me go and teach. So, I went back to teach and I went, trained, trained as a teacher and a youth worker, qualified youth worker, worked for Prince Charles’ charity, actually, um, the Prince’s Trust for many years, um, where I would be given, um, 16 young people when I had 12 weeks. These young people are young people that have been in prison, no education, um, you know, homeless young people, 16 kids, they’ll select them, they’ll give it to me for 12 weeks and I have twelve weeks to change their lives. You know, either get them back into education or get them to start their own business or go to college or in work. And I had 12 weeks to work with these young people. And I absolutely loved it because these are young people that are coming to this program with a list of issues.

Then you know, you sit there and you’re, you’re trying to advise and teach them and show them that there are other ways to success. You know, you don’t always have to go through the traditional way. And I worked, you know, I did that for many years at the Prince’s Trust and I loved it. And then obviously I went into secondary school education where, um, my main job was head of behaviour. 

So, head of behaviour and community cohesion, which meant, you know, a lot of the time dealing with the core issues within the school environment. Um, and also dealing with behaviour issues or some of our students, you know, and if you come from London, you know, that was a huge issue, especially when it came to gun culture, knife crime, um, and it was huge and it’s something that I loved, I loved doing. Um, but also taught, I used to teach PE and I used to teach media studies.

Um, and it’s a huge part of me. Um, I only stopped full time education about two years ago. I’ve always done the media and education, side–by-side. Um, so, uh, yeah, that’s a part of me I don’t think will ever go away. I always said when I’m 50 or 60 something, um, and I’m ready to retire from the media landscape, I will build my own school somewhere and I’ll be, you know, teaching until the day I die because, um, I always feel like teaching is like one of the best jobs in the world. So yeah. 

And I still teach, it’s quite funny. I’ve left it, education, but within the media space, I’m always teaching, I’m always mentoring because I just feel like, man, if somebody opens a door for you it is a responsibility that you also the open doors for other people, but when you open the doors, make sure you hold their hand and mentor them and teach them, until they get to the point where you don’t need to hold their hands anymore. So yeah, education is really, really big part of me.

Were you always going to move into broadcasting and sport?

No, not necessarily because, um, that wasn’t, um, a big thing for me. Um, the reason why I started media and advertising at university, because I wanted to go into PR – something I also did on the side for a lot of athletes around the world. Um, I wanted to be the real-life Olivia Pope, you know, like (laughs) the African version, uh, which I still do and I think I’ll probably end up doing it next couple of years, um, on a more permanent basis. Um, that’s why I went into media and advertising – to understand the landscape, and how to work within the PR world. Um, broadcasting sports is something that came later.

“My siblings and my cousins are like, “Benny you’ll be good at it, you should go for it!” Um, and that’s the only reason why I went into broadcasting, it wasn’t on my list of things I wanted to do.” – Bonsu describes how she ventured into sports broadcasting.

I just, when I was at university, um, I used to host the university radio show. Um, and I subsequently ended up hosting The Break London radio show, and then it just went viral. And then all my, you know, my siblings and my cousins are like, “Benny you’ll be good at it, you should go for it!” Um, and that’s the only reason why I went into broadcasting, it wasn’t on my list of things I wanted to do. Plus, I also wanted to be an air hostess. So, I, yeah, I had other plans for my life. Um, sports and broadcasts, sports was always going to be a part of me … Broadcasting, I wasn’t so sure. It was just like by chance that I ended up in it.

Where does your passion for sport come from?

I think my passion for sports comes from the fact that I came from a different country where sports for girls was not pushed, and then all of a sudden I was in this environment where boys and girls, at that time, when you’re young, it’s kind of equal, because nobody actually, it’s not a situation where there’s, “Oh, you can’t do this cause you’re a girl, you can’t do it cause you’re…” I mean I grew up in an area where my coach, Burk Gravis,, he treated the girls just like he treated the boys.

We all did the same thing. There was no separate class for the girls, or separate class for the boys. We all did it together. If we’re running five miles at the end of the school day, we’re all running five miles. If we’re all doing triple jump, we’re all doing triple jump. So, I feel my passion came from that. 

But also, the fact that sports taught me so much, at very young age that I knew that when I got older, sports will always play a part of me. You know, it wasn’t, it’s never going to go away because I feel like some of the most important lessons that I learnt, I learned from sport. I didn’t learn in a classroom. Um, I learned from sports and um, it’s never going to leave me and one day I hope when I have my kids, um, yeah, I feel sorry for them because I’m going to make them do sports (laughs), I’m going to make them do sport because I learned so much from it. Um, I’m going to ensure that they also learn as much as I did, um, when they get older.

When was the moment you knew you could impact global sport the way you are now?

Um, I… Oh, that’s a good question! Um, I think I knew from a very young age, uh, if I’m honest, I didn’t know I wanted to go on the global stage. I didn’t know I wanted to go into broadcasting, but I remember at the age of 12 years old, our coach, um, took us to a sports summit at the BBC, and the sports summit had like, Sepp Coe, the head of the BBC, Michael Johnson, Denise Lewis, a whole bunch of amazing athletes were there. 

And at the age of 12, we were asked to go to this sports summit, and my coach took a whole bus of us to BBC at the time, and we’re all talking about, you know, the impact of sports in the community, and like, what they’ve done and blah, blah, blah. But for me, at the age of 12 years old, I had, I didn’t see this impact in my community.

Um, North London, Tottenham is a pretty poor area. It was a poor area when I was growing up, and I hadn’t seen any of those impacts. So I remember at the age of 12, maybe 14, I think, yeah, at the age of 14, we were at this conference and, um, they were talking and all I could hear was just talking, and I was getting upset by it. So, I put my hand up and I said, “You know, this is great all the things that you’re saying, but I don’t see the impact in my community. I’ve never seen any one of you guys in my community, I don’t see new tracks. I don’t see basketball courts. I don’t see this. I don’t see that. So, it would be really great, to you guys to come to our local area and actually contribute to what’s going on. ‘Cause my coach, does everything by himself, he puts us in his car for training, he feeds us…

He makes sure that we’re okay. He doesn’t get any support.” Um, and I made that comment, and I remember my coach sitting there like this (covers eyes). “Oh, my God, she did it!” Um, yeah, I got that a lot from my teachers when I was younger! Um, and, um, I remember maybe a year later, um, Nick Bitel at a time was, um, in charge of the London Marathon in London. And we were at a training session at our local New River Sports Centre. And Nick Bitel, who was there at the conference, turned up at the New River Sports Centre as we were training and had donated so much to the Haringey sports development and vowed to do more to support the work of our coach. Burk Gravis was Dean at a time and you know, from then on at age of 15 all the way through to, I think I was 23, 24, Nick Bitel had always given us opportunity within our local community.

Supported the work of Burk Gravis, supported our program for many years. I think at that point I knew that having a voice creates change. Um, and then from that conference I went on to volunteer with the London Peace Alliance. I was heavily involved in the community as a youth activist fighting for, you know, gun crime and our local area and support to create change. 

“So, I was so active in that area and I think I knew from a very young age that to have a voice, um, creates impact.” – Bonsu used her voice to stand up for what she believed was right in her community.

Um, so yeah, from that on, from the age of 14, all the way through to the age of maybe 25, um, I was active, maybe not 25, maybe 28. I was active in a community. You knew, it’s like, “Oh, there’s Benny, there’s trouble, but good trouble,” you know, because I was all for our people, I was all for our local community. So, I was so active in that area and I think I knew from a very young age that to have a voice, um, creates impact.

And I knew my path as a woman and especially a black woman in this area, whether it’s in sports or social justice, um, I’m always gonna fight because you’re always an underdog, right? And then when you go past being an underdog and you become a fighter, and when you become a fighter, you just fight.

What did it mean to you when online publisher, GiveMeSport hired you as its first head of women’s sport?

Um, it meant the world to me. Um, I knew the challenges I was going to face as a first of a kind, a first woman in sports, you know, first editor in this space, and I was over the moon.

I was excited, but I was also scared. I was also scared because I know who I am. I know where I’m from. I know the kind of society I live in right here in the UK. Um, I knew the kind of, I would say challenges that was a face of me stepping into this role. I was scared! I was scared, I was excited, but I was also scared, because … Yeah, it’s hard. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, because you already know. You already know that people are gunning for you to not do so well. 

So, I was scared in my role, but, um, also excited knowing that I’ll be the person that creates this momentum for change, and for women’s sports, but also for women! For women, and for women of colour. Like I knew what was coming. So even though I was scared, I was excited because I knew I had to go in and fight, and fight hard too.

There is concern that there are not enough women of colour in the print strides. You have managed to hit big highs in this area. What has been the key to your success at publications like True Africa and others that you wrote for?

Um, yeah, this is, this is an area that is quite, um, touchy for me cause I always say it and my team is always like shaking their heads. And I always say, look, we don’t have a lot of women of colour in this area. We don’t. Why …? You know, why don’t black girls want to write, why don’t they want to write about sports? Why is it that we don’t have many? Why are we not encouraging them to be in this area? Um, and I think for me, when I went in there, it was, it was great because I remember getting this job and speaking to my friend, TJ Adeshola – who’s head of Twitter Sports, and I said, “Man, I just want to keep my head down and get this job done, blah, blah blah …”

And he’s like, “No, you can’t keep your head down. You can’t keep your head down, Benny, you have to be out there. You have to be seen, you have to be heard, you need to go everywhere! Make sure you’re on the right platforms, you’re talking, because when young girls see people like you, they’ll want to be you. Because they don’t see you or us in those areas, like publications, they don’t know that opportunities exist. Um, so for me, when I got there, it was important that my team that I created was diverse, but also a diverse team that really reflected what society looks like. And I think for me, the reason why, you know, areas like TRUE Africa, Okay Africa, GiveMeSportsWomen have been successful, is that we challenged the norm. Like, because you looked at the teams, ‘Ah, man, that’s a very diverse team!”

Why, why can’t other publications do that? Why are there not more opportunities for women like that? And we feel like in the last 12 months, you know, Adam occasionally saw what we were doing and then all of a sudden there was a rise of women’s sports journalists being employed, but also diverse women being employed. 

I mean, they may not give us credit for it, but we know that we created this change. Um, and for me it was really, really, really important, because we cannot keep on having the same newsrooms or publications that just reflect one view of society. When you have a hundred, you know, different cultures and, and people in shades, and we’re telling one story, we need to be able to tell all the stories. And I think the reason why GiveMeSportsWomen, TRUE Africa, Okay Africa, all those areas as successful, is that they are not scared to challenge the norms.

You know, they’re not scared of challenging norms. They’re not scared to be diverse. They’re not scared to be innovative. They’re just to see what’s going on and say, look, we’re not reflecting that. We need to change that, and then they do it. So, I think that’s how they create, you know, the, um, they’ve been successful in those areas.

What is the state of global women’s sport and how can we improve it?

I mean, women’s sports only get 7% coverage, 7% coverage across the broad, and that’s print, … Oh, don’t mind my finger, I cut it yesterday, trying to be healthy, (laughs) um, they cover, you know, that’s across print, TV, radio, um, online digital: Seven percent! And it may have risen throughout last year, especially with the women women’s football world cup. But there’s still some more work to be done. You know, there isn’t, um, we haven’t got there yet, and we need to do more.

Um, when it comes to sponsorship of women’s sports … Yes, some brands are stepping up and doing more, but more could, you know, more could be done. Um, we’re not seeing that it needs to be as equal as men yet because we know we don’t have that following. But imagine …, imagine! Yeah. Just, just, just, just, just imagine that if women had 50/50% of the coverage men have, imagine the growth women will have when it comes to sports! 

“Imagine …, imagine somebody said, a publication, a broadcaster, organisation, an investor, said, you know, we are going to invest in women’s sports, and, you know, money is not an issue.” – Bonsu speaks on what is currently lacking in women’s sport – investment.

Imagine …, imagine somebody said, a publication, a broadcaster, organisation, an investor, said, you know, we are going to invest in women’s sports, and, you know, money is not an issue. We want to see you grow, because I have a mom, I have a sister, I have an auntie, I have a niece, I have a nephew (, … I mean!), I mean, I have a daughter, That! I would want to see them in this area become successful. Imagine if we had that. I think if we had that, it would, do, you know, it would do women’s sports a world of good, but right now we don’t have that. 

Um, there are some people either that are trying, GiveMeSportsWomen did, the Telegraph, BBC did. Um, but more can be done. Maybe we just need people that are brave and innovative to invest in women’s sports and really believe in this journey. Not believe it, when there’s big events, but believe it for the long run, that this will change and create more change for years to come. I think that’s when it has to be done. More needs to be done. I’m pretty sharpish if I’m honest, because we have this COVID-19, it’s just taken us 10 years backwards. We need to be going forward.

Having travelled the world, what do you think we can all learn from each other about promoting women’s sport globally?

I think we; we can learn a lot. I mean I was in France last summer, the whole summer for the women’s football World Cup, and I realized that I was at France. Everybody else was talking about it like ridiculously, it was being promoted. It was everywhere, especially in the UK, it was, um, and in France – in certain parts, nobody knew what was happening. No-one! Even signage of the women’s World Cup was, we were in Montpellier. We didn’t see … We saw one train with signage. That’s what it was. 

And then we went to the stadium to watch Canada and um, Canada and Cameroon play. And what was really interesting about that night is that we saw more men, men supporting women, especially the Cameroon men! African men came out to support their African team! And it was refreshing to see because on a continent where women’s sports is not pushed during the World Cup, it was the men that were supporting, the men that were at the stadium supporting the women.

I think what we can learn from each other is knowing that in order for women’s sports to get big, one: Getting the same, you know, 50/50% coverage of women’s sports. But also, if we have a male ally that sits at that big table that we are not allowed to be on, or we’re not on, and really become great allies, I say, you know what? We also believe in a group of women’s sports, and this is the reason why we should support it. I think if we have that, it would be amazing, because globally, if everybody’s singing from the same sheet, then there’s no reason why we can’t grow.

What are your personal initiatives to raise the profile of women’s sport?

Um, I’ve always had this, a, mentoring program called ‘Be the Next’ and Be the Next just mentoring. And I really target a Bammy women of colour, um, to join or reach out because I feel that, um, when I first started within the industry, I knew so many people in the industry that could have held my hand, that could have possibly opened a door or even simple, simple things such as just advise me, and none of them did.

You know, nobody did. They’ll listen to my struggle. Um, and they’ll, “Oh!”, they’ll feel sorry for me. Um, but not actually do it for me. I think in my whole career, I’ve had … three champions … No, maybe four champions. Um, and if I’m totally honest, there were not my people. It was, um, Adrian Hulbert who was my boss, editor at a BBC who was, he really believed him in championed me, trained me. Um, but before even go to the BBC, it was another friend of mine, Chris Mitchell, who saw me and said, man, why haven’t you ever tried out at BBC? And I remember saying to myself, like, “Look, I’ve been told so many times that, uh, as a woman of colour on my shade, definitely nobody wants to see me on TV.” So, I didn’t reach out. And he’s like, no, you should go for it.

And he opened a door and, when he opened a door, I met Adrian, who believed in my journey, but also, um, another member of …, another person I met from my journeys is a man by the name of Andy Kearns, who at the time was head of Sky Sports. Um, Eddie, you know, he said, “Benny, I’m going to say this once, people want to see you on TV, go and do your training.” And he sent me on my way to go and do my NCTJ training, which subsequently I didn’t finish because, and, he was like, man, you don’t even need to do that. Just come and work. And he opened a door for me. Um, and then there’s a lady by the name of Georgina Falken who works for Sky Sports now, who’s always opened a door for me when she could, and when she knows of an opportunity, always reaches out.

Um, it’s just for me, I feel like mentoring is the, is the best way for people to, um, to access this industry, or to get into the industry, and my initiative Be The Next now, it’s really me just being honest and open about this industry. Sports and media industry for girls of colour don’t want to be in it. Um, but it’s also for me to open the door for them, you know, all the young people that I mentor. I always make sure I open the door for them to go through to gain the right experiences, but also being honest with them so they know what to expect so they’re not disappointed, you know? So, yeah. Um, Be the Next, if you have any young girls of colour that want to be in the industry, and want to be involved, please ask them to reach out to me.

How would you describe the state of African women’s sport and how far have we come?

We could do better. We could do better. My future dream is to see women’s sports in Africa on a global stage. I mean we have some amazing talent. We really do, but on a global stage we’re not celebrated. They’re not celebrating them the way we should celebrate them. And what I really dislike is when we have some talented African athletes, from Africa, they then end up competing for other countries, because we don’t have the infrastructure to support them back home, or build their brands for them that makes them, you know, when we put them on global stage, people would respect them like their fellow colleagues. 

“Um, the state of African women’s sports… Even though it’s getting better, we still have a long way to go, and I think the more, you know, how we can make it better and bigger, as you know, it’s really lobbying governments and investors and people that are really believe that we can go, and do more to really invest in women’s sports.” – Bonsu speaks on the current state of women’s sport in Africa.

Um, the state of African women’s sports… Even though it’s getting better, we still have a long way to go, and I think the more, you know, how we can make it better and bigger, as you know, it’s really lobbying governments and investors and people that are really believe that we can go, and do more to really invest in women’s sports.

It’s something that we need to talk about. I mean in Africa, when I was growing up, it wasn’t, it wasn’t part of a conversation in my family, because they only expect me to do one or two things: To become a doctor, become a lawyer, or become an accountant, you know, one of those three. If I didn’t become one of those three, me, even go into sports … I remember telling my mom’s I’m going into sports, she just looked at me like, what … What are you doing that for? And I think we need to promote the fact that you can do this career and still be successful and live a great life, have a great house, have a family life and have all of that. 

I mean, we need, we just need to promote it and talk about it as well, when something that women and girls our daughters can do. Um, yeah, whether competing, or working in a boardroom, or becoming a manager, becoming a director. There’s so many opportunities for us. And I think for women’s sports in Africa, one building infrastructure for our athletes that are female to succeed, but also building an infrastructure for women that want to work in sports to make sure that we also succeed in a global stage.

What does your African heritage mean to you?

Everything! Everything! When I go, everywhere I go, I make sure they know the Bonsu name, and if they can’t pronounce it, I make sure they can pronounce before I even sit down. I mean, my African heritage means everything to me, because without it, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Um, I always say this: I know who I am, I know where I come from. Um, and that’s me being an African woman from the Ashanti region of Ghana, I’m Ashanti woman. And if you know the history of the, um, of the Ashanti people, you know, that this is such a huge thing for us. Um, and I think without it, without my heritage, I don’t think I’d be where I am now.

You are known as the Oprah of Sport! How do you feel about that title? Does it motivate you to be more impactful in the spaces you work in?

I wouldn’t go that far! They call me that, I wouldn’t call myself that. Oh, it’s a great title that I get. Um, imagine being compared to Oprah! The Oprah of sports! Its great and yes, it does put pressure on me, because I feel like I need to live up to the standard. Um, I think, you know, now, it’s just like the move from Oprah to Michelle Obama was sports, and it’s kind of, this is pressure, you know! There’s pressure, because especially when you’re on this stage, you can’t fail. And like I said, when I got the job at Give Me Sports, it’s like, it’s great, but I knew the challenges that was coming with it. So, you can’t fail, you cannot fail. You can’t even fall asleep at a wall for a second. You can’t do it!

So, it motivated me to do better because I’m not only doing my continent, like Ghana proud, but it’s my continent. I represent every single person. I always say to my team, I said, “Look, Ghana is just a burrough in Africa!” For me being in this position, I’m representing a whole continent, because I can’t fail, one: because it’s my continent, but Two: I can’t fail because of where I live in the UK. And I can’t fail because of my connections to America. Because as a black woman in this space, you’ve got to create a change. You’ve got to create a change that people failed to do before you, or people that see that there is this, you know, there’s this inequality, but you’re not prepared to change it. 

So, whilst you’re here, you’ve got to create a change. You’ve got to be the voice of change. And I think that title brings, you know, it’s a great title, but a pressure it brings you within this space (giggles) … I’m even sweating talking about it! It’s, it’s a lot. Um, but it does motivate me to be impactful because people, when I walk into a room, people already have that, “Oh, what’s she got to say, what’s she going to do!?”. 

People have that anticipation, and I feel it, and I feel it all the time. That’s why I always feel like I’ve got to use my voice for positive change. I’ve got to be impactful. I’ve really got my passion for sports and for change and also for social justice within the space. That’s important. Um, and I’ve got to use it the right way. I can’t, cannot divert from what my vision is of what I want it to be for us, as Africans.

Have you had a single greatest career experience, or can you recall a few highlights that make you proud of what you achieved?

Um, wow. Um, I think career highlights for me would be, yeah, achieving my NPQ SL, which is, um, national professional qualification for senior leaders in education. Um, I’m so proud of that qualification, because that was blood, sweat and tears! Literally, tears! Um, I remember at the time going to my boss in the school I worked in, and I wanted to do this qualification, and he gave me the look, you know, like, “Are you sure you want to do this? You know, it’s really for senior leaders, you know, I’m not sure you could do well. I can’t sponsor you. I can’t pay for your fees to do it.” 

“And I knew that the only way I can progress to become better or get a better position to create change, was to do this qualification. And my boss wasn’t going to help me, even though other people were getting helped, and they were getting paid for it. And he said no to me.” – Bonsu speaks on having to finance her own studies to better herself.

And I remember knowing that I wasn’t earning a lot of money at a time, when I was teaching, and I had to …, I’m looking after my mom at home as well. And I knew that the only way I can progress to become better or get a better position to create change, was to do this qualification. And my boss wasn’t going to help me, even though other people were getting helped, and they were getting paid for it. And he said no to me. And at that point I had to make a sacrifice. I didn’t know what, I’m just going to have to go for a whole year without doing things I like, um, and little pleasures that, again, there’s not a lot, like, I get myself cakes and stuff, I’m going to have to give up all of that. I’m going to have to give up seeing my friends, I’ve got to give up everything, just to make sure I can pay for this course, so I can get this qualification. 

And I remember doing that and, you know, at every stage I was challenged, at every stage, he didn’t believe I could get this qualification. And then when I finally got it, oh my God, I remember I got it, I was so happy, I was with one of my colleagues, Nick, I can’t forget this, we were driving to go see an apartment and um, the email came through, and I got this qualification, and at that point, I said to myself: “I’m finished. I’m going to have to quit this job!” And, within a month or two, mind you, the year that I was doing this qualification, I just completed an operation, I nearly died! Um, they found, um, nine tumours in my stomach this size … Um, and I couldn’t walk for a whole month and a half. Um, and I was home for about another month, um, before I could work.

And during this time, I was still trying to get my work done and all my essays and all my projects and research done, to submit. Um, and I had done it. I had done it and achieved it. Um, yeah, that, that was, yeah, within a month I had quit the school, because all the people there thought I couldn’t do it. I had a qualification. I said I’d got it and I bounced. And that’s when I decided I was going to go into sports full-time, because that’s the highest qualification you could achieve in education. I have it now, I’m going to now go after my passion of sports, and that’s what I did. And then, as soon as I decided to do that, I went for this role at Give Me Sports. Mind you, I didn’t think I could get it, as well, because I’d been beaten down so much.

My confidence were (exclaims), but I knew after I had that qualification that I could do anything. And I walked out. For three months, I wasn’t working, I wasn’t working, had no money coming in. Um, and I’d moved back to my mom’s. And, um, I applied for this role at Give Me Sports, and went for the interview. I remember this, cause my trousers that I was wearing, I even had holes in it. That’s how bad it was. Um, and I went for the interview. Um, and then a week later, I had a job, and that was a highlight for me as well. But I think a highlight to cap all of that off for me was last year, when I was named, um, Leaders in Sports 40 under 40. Um, and I was one, the only black woman on the list. Um, and that was great. That was a great highlight of my career.

Um, so yeah, those, uh, some of my greatest career highlights as well. And then capping it off with the students I was teaching in this school where I got my qualification, my students had all also passed their exams that summer. So yeah, like those are my highlights.

Tell us about covering the first ever NBA Africa Game in Johannesburg in 2015.

“People didn’t want me to, well, not the NBA, but people I worked with in the UK at the time didn’t want me there to do the interview I’d secured, they wanted me to give it to somebody, to other people to do it. But I was there, and our African players were there, and they knew that we together had been on a journey to make sure that this happens in Africa, and it had happened in Africa, and they wanted, yeah, African sister to come and cover it.” – Bonsu speaks on covering an interview at the first ever NBA Africa Games in Johannesburg.

It’s really weird, right? I’ve talked for about 40 minutes, maybe forty-five minutes, and I haven’t talked about NBA. Um, yeah. So, my first NBA Africa game in South Africa was something special. I mean, again, it came with challenges. People didn’t want me to, well, not the NBA, but people I worked with in the UK at the time didn’t want me there to do the interview I’d secured, they wanted me to give it to somebody, to other people to do it. But I was there, and our African players were there, and they knew that we together had been on a journey to make sure that this happens in Africa, and it had happened in Africa, and they wanted, yeah, African sister to come and cover it. 

And I remember flying out to Joburg. Um, by the way, I didn’t know that you guys had winters, I’d turned up in my summer clothing, I was at the airport, freezing! So cold! (Laughs). Um, and I remember coming and seeing the South African culture, experiencing it, watching an NBA Africa game for the first time, seeing the smiles on all the athletes that had been on the journey with all of us, myself, (names unclear), all of us, um, to ensure that this happens, and it was happening. It was happening, and we were there to celebrate it. Um, and that was one of the most unforgettable experiences on my life. Um, greatest achievement, I’m not sure, but it was one of them was unforgettable experiences on my life. Um, NBA Africa, and ever since then I think I’ve been to every single one in South Africa. I haven’t missed one yet.

What are some of the key lessons you have learned as a woman in sport?

That you need allies! You need allies, and allies you need, um, are male allies. Um, so I’m still building, I’m still building my allies. Um, but you need it in order to be successful. You’re going to need male allies in order for you to be successful in this area. But also, you need to know your stuff. You need to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it. You need to know your why. If you don’t know your why it is so easy to get lost and this environment. Know your why, why you’re there, and what you want to create. You know, what is the change that you want to change, within that space, in your area. 

But also, knowledge. Always know what you’re talking about. Do the work. Don’t be lazy about it, do the work. And also, learn to fight, because as a woman, and especially if you’re a woman of colour, you’ve got to fight. And when I mean fight, that doesn’t mean go around punching people. It means you got to have, how are you going to use your brain to fight, to win? You know, because as a woman, you’re already at a disadvantage, but to be a woman of colour, double disadvantage. So, in this area, you’ve got to be triple smarter than everybody there. Every day is a fight for you, and you’ve got to be ok with that. 

You know, every time you walk out of your house to go to work, it’s a fight. But it’s also the lessons you’ve also got to learn, to take care of yourself. You’ve got to take off your mental health. You got to know when to take a break. You’ve got to know when to just be, just be. Just be, and just be normal, away from all the chaos that you’re in within sport. Because it is, it is chaos. It’s stressful. Um, sometimes you’re working from six to 5:00 am, because it is the business. If you want a nine-to-five job, that’s not it in sports. Um, you’ve just got to be, but also learning to take a break from it.

Who are your favourite women in sport and why?

Oh, wow. Um, I think for me it has to be Michelle Roberts. Michelle Roberts is the executive director of the NBPA, and it’s the national basketball players association. Um, I’ve learned so much from that woman, (laughs) so much from that woman. Um, yeah, she’s my favourite, because she, she just teaches you how to have that fight, and why you fight. You know, why you’re fighting. She teaches you to why you do what you do, and why you should do it to the best of your ability, and why you are the best person for that job. 

She’s my favourite, because regardless of how hard I have it, I always remember the woman that paved before me, and she’s one of the women that paved before me. She’s still there. And as long as she’s still there, I have to be, you know, I have to keep on fighting, because I’ve got to fight for the next girl that’s coming through. So, she really teaches me how to keep that fire going. 

But I also think, for me, it would be Jeanie Buss, um, who is the owner, you know, director, owner of the LA Lakers. Um, for what she does, you know, the Lakers is one of the biggest brands around the world. Um, how has she done it all those years, taking over from her father. Um, and I just respect her, I respect what she does, how she does it, and the success that she’s had with it, but the fact that she also respects other women in the space, she’s a real ally for women in sports. Um, so yeah, she, those are my two favourite women in sports.

What is your greatest career ambition?

Well, um, I think for me, I want to do something in, in a couple of years’ time, I would like to do something in politics, maybe become a Minister of Sports, Youth and sports, for Ghana. Um, but I think my greatest ambition is to campaign and lead for the Olympics to come to Africa, because I think in my lifetime, we’ve got to see the Olympics in Africa. 

We cannot keep going the way we’ve been going all these years, and Africa cannot be part of that conversation. Um, Africa is a huge continent. We have so much to offer. Um, can you imagine the Olympics coming to Africa? Why hasn’t it happened? Um, I think I want to be part of the pitch team, or the person that leads the charge, to create that change and make sure we have that in Africa.

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