Black Hero of the Week Series

Amy Julian

They are the unsung heroes of the Black community. They are the everyday, underpublicized Oprahs, Kanyes and Don Cheadles of the world. Committed to change, these heroes have made leaps and bounds in educating the world of the issues in the Black community and across the globe.

In honor of Black History Month, The Mass Media has compiled the Black Hero of the Week series. Each week we will feature an influential and strong Black figure who has devoted themselves to initiating change in the African populace. Check back every week in February for our Black Hero of the Week, and help us honor those who have selflessly committed themselves to changing the world.

Every day in places like Sudan, Somalia and Uganda, young girls are subject to brutal torture and pain in the form of genital mutilation. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been documented in 28 countries in Africa, affecting over 100 million females around the world, according to the World Health Organization. Another three million are at risk of undergoing such procedures every year.

As young as the age of four, girls are held down while their genitals are sliced and butchered, leaving only a tiny hole through which to urinate. This practice has led to physical illness, infertility and even death due to excessive bleeding. To speak out against this ritual could mean facing physical harm, ostracism or even death. Perhaps one of the biggest advocates against the practice of FGM is former Somali supermodel Waris Dirie.

Dirie was born in Somalia in 1965, and at the young age of five, she was held down and subjected to the cruelty of genital mutilation. Dirie has said that the pain she experienced was crippling, but she “didn’t move, didn’t flinch” because she “wanted to make mama proud.”

Running from an arranged marriage to a 61-year-old man, thirteen-year-old Dirie fled to Britain, where she was discovered while scrubbing floors at a local fast food restaurant. She then modeled for big names, including Chanel, but in 1997 she decided to use her fame and fortune to raise awareness of the savage practice she endured when she was five; the procedure that killed her sister and two cousins.

Dirie became the Special Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation in 1997. She used her status as a supermodel and her UN leverage to create the Waris Dirie Foundation, an organization committed to the abolishment of the dangerous ritual.

FGM can lead to the loss of pregnancies, urinary function, and even loss of life. Dirie is committed to ending this practice and bringing about sanctions that would punish those who continue to perform these mutilations.

Waris Dirie has helped increase awareness of FGM, committing herself to the cause of saving young girls’ lives, and protecting their bodies from unnecessary and cruel harm. It is her unwavering dedication that makes her a true hero.