It is with great sadness that I tell you that Grace Brown, the head of the Sierra Leone women’s boxing team has passed away. She was 43.
Grace is featured in the exhibition ‘42’ Women of Sierra Leone at the International Slavery Museum, a display of work by photojournalist Lee Karen Stow. The exhibition documents the lives of women living in West Africa where women’s life expectancy is in the mid 40s.
Despite the obstacles, Grace and her female boxers had a dream of reaching London 2012 when, for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, the ban on women's amateur boxing will be lifted.
Sadly, and frustratingly, a lack of in-country sponsorship and support meant the women were not able to try for the early qualifying rounds in order to have a decent chance of reaching the Olympics.
At the same time, Grace fell seriously ill. She underwent a mastectomy and suffered a stroke. She became housebound, unable to train and box, and relied on the power of prayer to ease the pain.
In September 2011, Grace allowed Lee to photograph her, at her home, surrounded by her team mates (picture above). She raised a defiant fist and said quietly 'Gold', determined for her team one day to reach the Olympics and bring home the Gold medal.
Richard Benjamin, head of the International Slavery Museum says:
“I was deeply saddened to hear that Grace Brown, head of the Sierra Leone women's boxing team, who is featured in our current 42 exhibition, has passed away at the age of 43.
“This poignant exhibition shows that even though life expectancy for women in Sierra Leone is in the mid-40s - the spirit, achievements and indeed hope of many women shine through on a daily basis. Grace was one such woman and our thoughts go out to her friends and family."
Lee’s aim for the exhibition is to show that these women, and women in similar circumstances, should be given the right to live, not die and follow their dreams and ambitions without being held back.
In response to Grace’s death Lee raises the question:
“How many talented and committed athletes are being ignored and not given the chance to pursue their dreams, purely because of their circumstances and geographical locations?”.