Silence falls over the auditorium as Jessica Huie MBE tells the story of her inspirational journey before a spellbound audience.
From teenage mum living in a hostel, to a glittering career as a journalist and publicist to some of the world’s biggest stars, award-winning entrepreneur and, now, author, Jessica’s is a rags to riches tale and so much more.
Her talk is the latest in the series organised by UWE Equity, a programme launched at the university by Zainab Khan in October 2017 to improve graduate outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students and help them overcome barriers to fulfil their potential.
It is a programme that has made a huge difference already, says Claudia Bediako, who completed a law degree at UWE and is now working towards her LPC diploma.
“I have seen so much difference since I started here four years ago,” she tells Bristol24/7 at Wednesday evening’s event.
“Before, I felt there was nothing that I felt comfortable going to.
“It’s nice to hear the experiences of BAME people instead of someone from a different background. It’s opened up a lot more doors for a lot more students here.”
Tiffany Sefuke, who is studying business and events management, agrees, saying Equity not only makes students feel more supported, but has also provided her with real experience of business events management to add to her CV.
Stopping for a quick chat, he admits it was difficult at first moving to a new city from his home in East London.
“From the outset, I thought how can I reach out to Bristol businesses,” he says. “Equity was a big help in that respect. I’ve been able to network and make new contacts.
“Every time I made a new contact, that led to another, so I’ve been able to be a part of so many creative projects. It’s also boosted my confidence.
“One of the main things is opening the door for more opportunities in Bristol that I feel I would not have had access to otherwise.”
First year fashion communication student Cidella Brown agrees, saying the mentoring scheme in particular has been “magic” for her and helped her secure an internship in the industry already.
After the talk, students and guests queue up to meet Jessica, the air fizzing with positive energy.
Speaking about the event, Zainab says Jessica represents the spirit of the Equity programme.
“We believe it is important to showcase talented thought-leaders who can speak candidly about contemporary issues of identity, their experience of overcoming challenge as well as those who have forged portfolio careers and created opportunities,” she says.