Fearless and Empowered – Efe’s transformative life journey

Efe Fruci has had to overcome physical, sexual and racial abuse to become the person she wants to be and to help others become the people they can be. Here Efe talks about how she turned negatives into positives, and how Oxford Brookes has been pivotal to her success.

“I hated my life experiences and was ashamed of my upbringing,” recalls Efe, who founded her motivational coaching business, Fearless and Empowered while at Brookes in 2012.

“But now I am proud of them because I changed the narrative and have become the person I want to be. And I am using that experience to empower other women to be fearless and go after the life they truly deserve.”

Education has played an important role in enabling Efe to progress. She left school early to help raise her sister and wasn’t able to resume her education for ten years. But she persevered, and after living in Belgium and the USA moved to the UK in 2012 to study BSc Biomedical Science at Oxford Brookes.

Most of the highlights of my time at Brookes were about helping people.

“I wanted to be accepted – as a black woman – and be able to see people like myself. I joined an Afro club at Brookes before I even became a student so I could get to know the community and be part of that way ahead of time. And the people I met were absolutely amazing.”

Efe threw herself into student life at Brookes – including becoming a student ambassador and volunteering for Brookes Engage, an outreach programme for children from backgrounds that are under-represented in higher education.

“Most of the highlights of my time at Brookes were about helping people. I volunteered for Brookes Engage, speaking to Primary School kids about how to get to university based on my own experience.”

I was able to implement change by being part of the team that led on diversity and inclusion.

“The student ambassador role was an opportunity to represent the university at UCAS fairs, Open Days and in taking people on campus tours. I really enjoyed it. And I was able to implement change by being part of the team that led on diversity and inclusion. Being inside that conversation was empowering – they saw me, they heard me and wanted my voice at the table.”

Another important connection for Efe was her academic advisor, Susan Brooks.

“Susan knew exactly where I was coming from, I was very open about the things I struggled with, and she was just amazing. I wanted to excel so was always asking her questions and her door was always open. She was a great professional – respectful and compassionate.”

Efe’s first degree and her subsequent MSc in Health Sciences in 2016, also at Brookes, built on a previous Diploma in Midwifery. Her medical science career has progressed – taking her from Oxford to Brussels and then to her current role as Scientific Senior Analyst at Accenture in Vancouver.

But she has also developed a parallel career as an inspirational speaker, coach and author – a career which grew and began to flourish while she was at Brookes.

This was like a dream of mine that was now taking off.

“I set up Fearless and Empowered in 2012, soon after I arrived at Brookes. I was older than most of the students and I wanted to set up a group of people who would study together and support each other. So I put up posters in the Library for people to join me and about 15 people showed up – five of them are still good friends!

“The group grew and grew. We ended up with about 300. I felt so empowered by it that I started doing workshops for women who lacked confidence, and were scared of public speaking and things like that, and eventually working with larger groups using courses I created myself.

“I’d always wanted to help people, at Sunday School or wherever, but this was different. The feedback was really positive and they were asking for more. This was like a dream of mine that was now taking off.”

It wasn’t just the people who came to the workshops who were benefiting. Through helping others, Efe was transforming her own self-image which had been badly damaged by childhood trauma.

I was 14 and very scared.

“When I was 14 my family moved to Belgium, in this small town where there were no other black people and nobody spoke English. There was a lot of racism – people would only talk to me about certain things in a certain way that they didn’t towards white people. I felt very isolated.

“My father was an alcoholic and very disrespectful to my mother. We would get physical abuse from him whenever he got drunk.

“But the worst thing, the thing that changed me was the day he took me to this woman’s house. She sat next to me. He said to her, ‘I’ve brought my daughter here for to tell her what my business is about.’”

That business was prostitution and the woman, encouraged by Efe’s father, tried to persuade her to become a prostitute. They even got a girl, who was brought through from another room, to explain what she did.

“I was 14. I didn’t know about a lot of these things she was talking about. I was very scared. She was very detailed and she was touching me places I didn’t want her to.

“The intention was to sell me into sex slavery. That was my father’s grand plan. To cash in his daughter as a sex slave.”

I grew up thinking I was worthless.

Efe escaped from the situation, calling her mother from the bathroom and telling her father she was unwell and needed to go home. She and her mother, who was pregnant with Efe’s younger sister, subsequently moved to Brussels – where they were out of immediate danger. But the psychological harm was lasting.

“I felt ashamed. I thought I had a vision for myself and my mum had a vision for me – of being a doctor or a scientist, and having my own family by the age of 25. But this ordeal left me scarred and traumatised. That somebody who should care for me had so little faith in what I could become, that he saw me as a sort of cash machine.

“So I grew up thinking I was worthless because my own father had told me that.”

I came to realise that I could be that person I wanted to be.

It was through helping others that Efe, as an adult, was able to become who she truly wanted to be. And the power of both helping and asking for help is central to her positive philosophy.

“I started letting go of the shame I felt by talking to people I trusted, good people. And I came to realise that I could be that person I wanted to be. If I worked hard, not for the sake of it but with purpose that aligned with my own values.”

Having the power to help also brings responsibility and that is especially true withregards racism – a trauma visited on black people that needs white people to take action to end it. Despite the large scale of the Black Lives Matter movement, Efe is not confident.

It is okay to not know what to do, what is not okay is to have a voice and not use it.

“It has happened so many times before. Black people demonstrate and raise their voices to tell of their hurt. And a lot of white people claim to be sympathetic but then do nothing. Eventually it quietens down and goes back to normal – or worse

“But I do have words of encouragement. To that black woman or man who wants to change the world – ‘you can do it, it is possible. It will be hard but there will be people you meet along the way who will help you finish it.’

“And to the white community, I would say ‘it is okay to not have all the answers, it is okay to not know what to do, but what is not okay is for you to have a voice and not use it to empower other people.”

Efe is empowering many people – Fearless and Empowered has already helped thousands of women transform their lives and aims to reach over a million – and she is a powerful role model for black and white, women and men who want to bring real change to their lives and the world we all share.

Efe is giving a webinar, part of Brookes Enterprise’s Grad Series, talking about her journey after university – Mind the Gap on Friday 3 July at 3pm (BST) >>

Benita Mayhead and her team of Brookes executive coaches have been providing pro bono coaching to SMEs >>