"I want to bridge the gap between the arts industry and the Asian, Muslim community, which has pools of talent," said the 25-year-old in an interview with Peterborough Matters.
What started out as a childhood hobby writing in her bedroom has turned into a passion, a career and an identity for Malika Speaks, real name Hanna. She has credited her mum with pushing her to take the plunge and share her work publicly, starting her on a new path in life.
Former Middlesex University student Malika lives in Peterborough with her family. She is part Arab, Ugandan, Indian and Tanzanian, describing her identity as a ‘cocktail.’
She was crowned the poet Laureate in 2019, an opportunity she entered into very reluctantly.
Malika said: “I was not at all sure of this. I was apprehensive and nervous, partly because I haven’t seen many people of my ethnicity on a platform like this before. And I actually thought to myself - am I a poet?
"But then I thought I'll go for it as I have nothing to lose. And next thing you know, I have won it. I have no regrets. In fact, it changed my life, in a way.
“I realised at that point that a little bit of courage is all you need at times. And that’s what I am going to tell the young people as well.
“This competition and the result have really empowered me to explore my own opportunities and Syntax have been so supportive. And this platform gave me a voice.
“Actually, the poet community in Peterborough have been so welcoming and open and supportive. This really keeps me motivated and wanting go further.
“That’s the influence I hope to give younger people in my community - when they can see there is someone like them on the platform, they might feel more encouraged to come forward.”
Malika is also an advocate of positive mental health and social justice and hopes to raise more awareness through her work on these issues. She hopes to inspire more young people to feel confident in themselves and follow their hearts and talent without feeling uncomfortable.
Malika said: “I know there are pools of talent within the Asian and Muslim community that often goes unnoticed. But the trend is changing at a very slow pace. I think because there is a lack of young, female role models in this industry, within this community and in generally, this could be a barrier for young, talented people to showcase their talent and share the same platform with others. I am hopeful when they see me - one of their own here, they might feel more empowered.
“Although, I would mention, that lately, women have been coming up and telling me that they like my writing or their kid loves to write as well and is interested in it. So, it’s definitely picking up. I think the more people see this work and know that the platform is there, the more they will be motivated to pursue.”
Going forward, Malika is keen to organise various workshops,and during the half-term she is holding workshops for the children as well as planning bigger long-term projects on mental health with a focus on younger people.
She is also in the process of setting up an empowerment session with women in her community to promote the need for female role models in the society.
She aspires to create more content that can resonate with the diverse community of Peterborough.
Although, the lockdown has been particularly tough for the arts industry, Malika has applauded the artist community in Peterborough who came together in support of each other during these testing times.
She has a message for people facing challenges, especially her generation and wants to remind them of their existence and tell them, they are not alone:
“You are placed in this universe. The world needs you, so go out and shine!”