Celebrating Black Changemakers
Curated by Vanessa Kanaiza Onalo, cultural tastemaker and founder of Kanaiza Gallery, we're aiming to celebrate people that make moves and move culture everyday.
In 2021, we launched our first ever in-app Black History Month (BHM) activation, through which we highlighted black historical locations in London. This year, we are celebrating the present through Black Changemakers and their impact on the community.
They are The Dreamers. The Do-ers. The Go-getters. They are the people behind the progress. They are the ones moving our communities forward day in and day out.
Up to November 7th, we will send you a message when you start your trip near a site linked to one of these Black Changemakers. You’ll be able to learn more about the location but moreover the people behind it and discover their impact on the Black community.
Find out more about our 2022 Black Changemakers below.
Brixton Soup Kitchen is a homeless charity that not only feeds the homeless, but also provides clothes, advice and help to get people back into homes, education and work.
“Our main ethos is to share and love”
Brixton Soup Kitchen’s main ethos is to share and love, and Solomon celebrates the staff for upholding these values and always being intentionally present. A large number of the team have faced or are facing their own struggles and therefore understand those they serve in great depth.
It is very important to give back because it shows you where you’ve come from, where you’ve gone and that you are now able to help somebody that was in your shoes. - Solomon
“I was brought up in the council estate, not having money to go to a tuck shop, so when I was able to go to university and get a full-time job, I wanted to focus on my area first.”
Growing up in Brixton, community always meant togetherness.
Solomon highlights that there are many who go unrecognised who gracefully uplift and help keep the community together. “We have so many pinnacles within our community who are doing amazing stuff and are focusing on doing their work. We’ve got Jenifer - Jens Body helping women with confidence building. Becky doing youth work when we thought youth workers had faded out and she has said no, let’s keep it going. We’ve got Pastor Lorraine, Mohammed Hashi, Michael Lammy, Kyle, and Isaac. Solomon urges organisations and philanthropists to keep on pushing the work that people are doing by platforming, funding and shedding light on the good stemming from nurturing and sustaining communities in present times.
It needs to be shown every day so people can see there is actually good going on not just in Brixton but around the world.”
Black Girls Hike is a non-profit organisation that challenges the lack of representation and inclusion of black women in the outdoors. They host nationwide group hikes, training activities and activity weekends.
“A lot of people will say you can't be what you can’t see and that's something that we're really trying to change."
Wanting more black women to share in her joy of being outdoors. Rhiane has nurtured and led a community of women to outdoor adventures and experiences.
“Community is important to me because it’s family, it’s collective. It’s like a shared history with people.
It’s empowering to be around like-minded people who are constantly uplifting each other, it gives you a new perspective. It takes you away from your comfort zone and it makes you feel like you can actually do anything because you’ve always got that support system with you”
When thinking about what can be done to continue to push the community culture forward, Rhiane advocates for intentional representation across all spaces. ‘I think we need to stay unapologetic and challenge all of the structures that stop us from moving forward, it does really need to be a collective effort.’
The 4Front Project is a youth organization on a mission to serve young people who have experienced trauma, violence and racial injustice, by fighting for their rights, supporting them to heal, and empowering them to build communities where they are nurtured, protected and respected.
Temi was 16 when she set up 4Front in response to the murder of her friend Marvin Henry. She wanted a platform for young people that had been impacted by violence and the grief associated with it to be able to share their stories and heal.
"The impact of experiencing violence, grief and bereavement felt like it was being completely overlooked within society."
At 16 Temi didn’t have the full scale of language to articulate that wider context. “It all culminated in me wanting to change a society in which a 17 year old can be shot and killed a month before his 18th birthday, and no one seemed to really care about that or how we felt as his friends about what had happened to him.
He joined a long list of other children and young people that have been killed and I guess 10 years down the line it was the search for answers and solutions which led to wanting to understand how something like that could even happen in this society.
I feel that community is about survival, it’s about finding that joy, that love and solidarity. It’s also how we push each other to thrive and grow. At its basic level, community is about collective care and joy.”
"What originally led me to get into grooming… When I was 13 or 14 years old, we didn’t have a lot of money. I was tired of home hair cuts and never having good haircuts. I picked up the clippers and said I'm going to give myself a good haircut, it wasn't good at all but that’s how it all started."
“When a man has his hair cut, he feels better, more confident and enhanced. It positively affects his mood”
“Historically the barbershop has always been a safe place where people come to talk, a space for therapy. The chairs are comfortable, and people just feel relaxed and that opens them up a little bit. I know that in the position I am in I can be so much more than someone that just cuts your hair. When a barber says to you ‘how’s life going’ or anything along those lines, it just all flows out, almost like a bottle being turned upside down and the lid clipped off, it all just flows out.”
“Community to me means togetherness and extended family.
The community has taught me so much and I’ve learnt so much from being behind the barber chair. It’s now my responsibility to take that information and give it back to the community in a whole way. Like the mentoring schemes I run. This is how the influence from the community is reflected in what I have done and will go on to do for the community.”
Sayce is the CEO and founder of the award-winning mentoring organization Mentivity. He believes in using passion to help positively shape the trajectory of young people’s lives in his community. Mentivity is a mentoring organisation which provides 1:1 mentoring and group work support for young people and support for the families that are linked to them.
“Mentivity is my life’s work, the inspiration behind it comes primarily from my mum who holds education and family in high esteem and my first two mentors: Mr Devon Hanson, who was my head of year at Kingsdale School and Abdullah Ben Kmayal who was my football coach and mentor from the age of 14. Both of these men really guide me through my passion for football and working with young people.”
“Mentoring is important because it is an investment in young people” We give young people time and that time equates to love for them because they don’t routinely have that in the home or within wider society. We are there to guide them into situations where they experience success, which is really important because success becomes addictive and that becomes a real driver for change.
Justin Finlayson of United Borders is doing fantastic work with his mobile studio. He helps deter young people from criminality and bridges the gap and builds relationships between rival gangs through music: their joint passion.
P4YE Project for Youth Empowerment in Croydon is led by a group of phenomenal men that are supporting young people through mentoring and helping to broaden their horizons.
“I found myself in a space where my voice just wasn’t being represented. You never really saw racial justice intersected with climate justice. The voices I wanted to uplift were constantly being pushed down. My mates and I all had some form of connection to climate change and wanted to specify the issues and have people really listen.”
In 2020, we were new, launching in the pandemic. The road signs were our first campaign. One has a silhouette of a mum and child both with afros amongst grey clouds to signify smoke and air pollution. The road signs all had messages about the impact of the disproportionality of air pollution and how it most affects marginalised black and brown communities.
The amount of work activist Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah does for Lewisham communities is absolutely astonishing.
Illegal levels of air pollution led to her daughter Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death and Rosamumd has been working for years to ensure that the conditions that led to her daughter’s death are acknowledged on a national scale. Ella was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate.
Hackney FC is Hackney’s only semi-professional football team. Hackney FC is not your regular football club; their ethos is based on community engagement, uniting local diverse groups as well as battling peer pressure and tackling gang influences.
“I spent 8 years in prison and used to play semi-pro football myself. When I was inside I saw many talented young players and when I spoke to them, I found out that they didn’t know there were leagues for semi-professional football. When I was out in 2015 I thought I would create my own team in Hackney and that’s how Hackney FC came to be.“
“I’d like to see things that will bring communities together. More collaborative initiatives, more events that bring people together where they get to know each other. Someone posed important questions the other day. ‘Do we even know each other any more as our parents used to know each other ? Do we have cultural events where we can bring our children and let them meet?’
There are so many people doing good work in communities. There’s Anthony King from Croydon and Sayce Holmes of Mentivity. I don’t want to say too many in case I forget any. Everyone that is doing great things in the community, we see you and appreciate all that you do.
“As a queer person the main thing that we could really engage in was night life and night life is great. I absolutely love it but it’s not the only outlet for queer and black people, there are so many people in our community that do not necessarily engage in night life. The OKHA book club was an alternative to partying and things that are not entirely sober spaces.”
“I really do believe in certain communities having spaces that are just for them”
It is very enriching and empowering to read a story, be able to see yourself in it as you are or as you could be and be with people that have similar experiences to you. Whether it’s to meet someone, get a better understanding of yourself as someone who is still understanding their sexuality, or be in a place to feel safe to explore without the judgment that you do get in other spaces.
Liv Little has a book coming out very soon called Rose Water. She created Gal-Dem - a space that allows amazing people of colour and black journalists to share great stories within the media space, which is overwhelmingly elitist and marginalised. Liv is an incredible fiction writer that is about to create an amazing story about growing up in London, being black, being queer and wanting to be a writer.
TAP Project team
“We initially grew organically from a WhatsApp group for guys with a community focus in 2015. I mentioned it to my sister Angeli and she was like ‘why can’t women be in this group’ I took that back to the group and we opened it up. The conversations became more holistic and we started asking questions like what we can do for our community and started implementing the suggestions.” Otis, TAP Business Development Director
“Community to me is a reciprocal, symbiotic relationship.” Meatta, TAP, Education Director
“Ubuntu, I am because we are.” Otis
“Community is that extended circle of people that you trust, that you know you can turn to and tap in to if you need help.” -Alexandra, TAP Health Lead
“To elevate the community is to honour the community through service.” Angeli, TAP Community & Finance Director
“Collaboration is crucial. As long as our end goal and vision are the same. Making a way because the collective goal is more important than the self.” Meatta
“From a health aspect I think that a lot more people including men are starting to take mental health seriously and it’s not so taboo to say ‘I went to therapy’ or ‘I am seeking therapy’.” Alexandra
Basketball coach and manager Steven Mroso received a hometown hero award in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022. As a former maths teacher, Steve equally champions education and sport discipline for young players to enhance their access to opportunities on and off the court.
My role models from childhood influenced my journey to becoming a coach. Mr Brown, my P.E teacher, was a successful basketball player, teacher and coach and he made me feel like I could do the same.
I’ve worked with many players over the years who have gone on to be successful in various ways. Some who had been going down the wrong path have now graduated and got good jobs. Others have gone on to play for England, and others have gone on to be doctors, lawyers and teachers and have thanked me for building up their discipline and mental strength.
I’ve worked with some good people around the city. There are ex-professional players who are now teachers helping the youth through education. There’s Wayne Robinson who was England’s Captain as a junior and is now showing young people how they can turn their life around. Steven Hansell is one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with at the club and Danny Williams is now creating pathways for young people to play basketball.
Author, activist and thought leader Professor Kehinde Andrews. Chair of the Harambee Organization of Black Unity and UK’s first Professor of Black Studies. Kehinde is Jamaican and grew up in Handsworth Wood in Birmingham.
Harambee Organization of Black Unity is based in the Marcus Garvey Centre and is an update of the Organisation of African American Unity founded by Malcolm X in 1964. The organization is focused practically on issues facing the local community, but always tying these into national and global concerns.
Black studies is a culmination of perspectives, contributions and experiences of Africa and the African Diaspora with a focus on the science of liberation and black communities.
Black Studies are new in UK universities but not new to the UK or in the community. The creation of the Black Studies syllabus was influenced by Kehinde’s own studies and research into black psychology and liberation psychology. "At PHD level when doing my research, I wanted to make sure to base my research on communities, and to make sure my findings were translated into University coursework that would ultimately benefit the community."
“Harambee is an old organisation that my dad started running in 1972, with my mum and other activists in Birmingham that dealt with independence. It was a nursery school, bookshop, hostel and it offered legal and immigration advice. The kind of things the state wasn’t providing. When I did my PhD, I came across Malcom X’s organisation of Afro-American Unity, which was all about the need to have an organisation that can bring people together and teach them about economics, education etc. This informed the creation of the Organisation of Black Unity which merged with the Harambee initiative”.
“You see students come in with lots of ideas they can’t really express and by the end [of the course], you can see they are expressing ideas and from their speaking form, you can see that they’ve really got it. They are able to go out and organise.
We have seven black members of staff in our department and that is more members of black staff than most universities have. It’;s really important because that black environment is a space where you can be yourself outside some of the racial expectations of school”
Derrick Rawlins, chef and owner of Mellows Catering Ltd and Mellows Bar and Restaurant. Known to most as Mellow ; a nickname given to him by friends when he was younger for having a mellow singing voice.
This all stems from my love of food. At the time I opened my restaurant in Birmingham we were missing somewhere where the community could sit down, eat good Caribbean food, have a birthday party, go on a date. There was nothing quite like that and it was my dream to create that space and that vision led to me opening Mellows Bar and Restaurant.
We are foodies, food is very important to the black community. Carribean food is one of the cuisines you can eat, enjoy and be full. It’s tasty, it’s homely, it brings back memories from the Caribbean where we’ve grown up from. Food allows us to keep our history, it brings us together and also draws in other communities to experience our unique culture.
There are many good leaders in Birmingham, not just in cooking. There’s music management like Despa Robinson of BE83, Adians Dining, Chef Kano, The Legacy Centre and so many more who are bringing the community together.
- Creative Director + Still Photographer: Nate Clarke (@nateclarke__)
- Research + Content Lead: Vanessa Kanaiza (@kanaizagallery)
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