Zimbabwean American singer, poet and activist Shungudzo says she finds an outlet for her activism through music.

Artist Shungudzo feels an urgency to 'use her words' to fight against racism

In her music and poetry, Shungudzo tackles the racist experiences she had growing up in Zimbabwe and the US.

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As a kid in Zimbabwe, Shungudzo was the first woman of color to compete on the national artistic gymnastics team.

It wasn't easy, but Shungudzo, a singer-songwriter and poet — she also appeared on MTV's "The Real World: San Diego" — says her mother helped her train and overcome many barriers.

"[My mother] actually trained me at home using tree branches as bars and tape on the ground as a balance beam because I wasn't allowed to go to gyms because of the color of my skin," Shungudzo said. "So, to go from that to being on the national team was a great accomplishment. And I'm grateful to have done my small part to open doors for other athletes of color in my country."

Related: ‘African in New York’: Shirazee's personal twist on an iconic song by Sting

Shungudzo and her family left Zimbabwe when she was 10 and settled in California. She found the transition to be odd since the impression of perfection and freedom she had of the US did not match with the reality she experienced. 

"I thought that moving here, I would leave racism behind," Shungudzo said. "But that exists here too — as do so many other forms of oppression."

Related: Four musicians grapple with the same question: What is home?

She says she was never fully accepted by a lot of Black Zimbabweans, white Zimbabweans and descendants of British colonialists.

"I was in this sort of in-between, not really knowing where I fit in."

Similarly, in the US, "I was bullied and experienced racism solely for being Black. So, that was an interesting jump. Nobody in America has bullied me for being white here. I'm just Black." 

Shungudzo draws from those experiences in her music and activism — like in the song, "It's a good day (to fight the system)," which she wrote last year in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed in the aftermath.

"What I do feel is an urgency and a desire to use my words, to say things that make some sort of difference, even if it's a small one," she said. "Even as a kid, throughout everything that I was experiencing, I always found words as a great way of describing what I had been going through and healing from it."

In her latest single “To be me," Shungduzo tackles sexism head-on. She says the song is intended to be an anthem of empowerment for those who’ve been victims of sexual or racial violence as well as those who live in fear of it. 

The song is about what it feels like to be unsafe in your body. Although it's also personal for Shungudzo, its message is universal and mirrors the ideals of #MeToo and BLM. A music video will follow the release in the coming weeks.

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