Tina Latifah Jonesion
Tina Latifah Jones: The glass is either full or half full, so yes, I am an optimist.
Tina Latifah Jones is probably best known for her work running the Milton Keynes based HIV charity Shika Tamaa Support Services (STaSS) which was founded in 2007, but upon spending time talking to her about her career thus far, there clearly is much more to Tina’s story. Wearing a trademark technicolour dress, she settles comfortably into a couch in her front room apologising for having to reschedule our appointment to slightly later because she had been babysitting 8 children earlier in the day.
Juggling family, career and academic pursuits is a theme that reoccurs throughout our conversation, something Tina seems to have become adept at, given that in 25 years she has successfully navigated careers in IT, a degree in Sociology and Criminology from De Montford University, a stint with Milton Keynes Council’s Housing Support department, a Masters from Warwick University in Social Work, running a Fostering agency, and is about to complete her second Masters in Leadership and Management from University of Bedfordshire.
As remarkable as all this may sound, Tina seems to take it all in her stride, choosing instead to focus on the amount of work that still needs to be done particularly now the effects of almost a decade of austerity have taken root. At its peak, STaSS had full-time staff, an office and offered a range of HIV support services to the local community, but by the time it celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017, the charity had lost all of its funding which led Tina to repurpose STaSS to encompass Mental Health and be more internationally minded by focusing support services in Ghana. Delving into how STaSS’ activities are currently funded, it quickly becomes apparent that Tina is the charity’s chief patron, but Tina is quick to point out that besides the charity being her passion, the days of waiting on government for anything is over and it is her way of giving back to her community as she feels she has been fortunate in her career.
Having lived in Milton Keynes since 1996 Tina is very much part of the local Ghanaian community from which she originates, with Ghanaians being one of Milton Keynes’ biggest most established African communities in the city, but she laments ‘by no means the most unified’, and that is why she, with the Association of Ghanaians in Milton Keynes (AGMK) are organising a Unity in Diversity event in March 2020. At this point I stop Tina in her tracks and ask who she is trying to unify? Tina is as baffled as me, if not embarrassed to answer… ‘Ghanaians’. She explains that in the last ten years, the Ghanaian community in Milton Keynes has splintered into over 20 sub-groups, along ethnic/tribal lines.
This being the irony, that in the last 10 years the Ghanaian community has prospered with more professionals living and contributing to Milton Keynes than ever before, and yet the community has never been more divided. So, what has gone awry? Tina posits the culture of competition and Ghanaians sacrificing their national unifying identity and values on the altar of tribalism. To think that the Ghanaian community in Milton Keynes is more divided than Brexit is remarkable, but as Tina adjusts her seated position, she insists she is optimistic about the future and the community’s capacity to come together and contribute more effectively.
For more information about Unity in Diversity 2020 contact Tina on 07742600207