BEYOND | Celebrating Black History Month 2020

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WELCOME... We are members of the Migrant Voice newsroom, a group of community journalists from different cultures and backgrounds, who have come together to publish this e-magazine celebrating the achievements of Black people across the West Midlands to mark Black History Month. Many of us initially joined media training workshops with Migrant Voice under an initiative spearheaded by MiFriendly Cities, a project creating innovative migration friendly cities in the region. Some of us, like myself, had no previous media experience and struggled with even the most basic technology, yet here I am writing a welcome message in an online magazine! Having attended Media Labs and newsroom sessions, made new friends and had the opportunity to learn about photography, filmmaking, copywriting, social media and journalism skills over the last year and a half, together we now bring you our first magazine, and one which celebrates Black voices, Black talent and Black experiences. And so we come to Black History Month. What started as Negro History Week in the US in 1926 was finally given government backing in 1976 when President Gerald Ford called on Americans to “recoginise the important contribution made in our nation’s life and culture by black citizens”. It was expanded by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History to ‘Black History Month’. While some countries like Jamaica, US and Canada mark the awareness month in February, several other countries dedicate an annual celebration for Black history. The UK’s first Black History Month was held in October 1987 to celebrate the contributions and achievements of Black people from Africa and the Caribbean to the development of the UK. It was organised through a Ghanaian-born analyst, Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who served as coordinator of special projects for Greater London. It has since spread all over the UK and become an integral date in the cultural calendar for Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry, three of the country’s cosmopolitan and diverse cities. Many UK councils, museums, universities and art hubs have organised different activities to celebrate the month throughout October. Special focus is also placed on role models who have stood up for the rights, equality and justice of Black people so we can today enjoy a better life. This is a time when people of African ancestry around the world can come together in memory of our rich past, a past that has crafted us into the amazing global community that we are today. So join us in celebrating Black History Month and in highlighting just some of our local heritage in this online magazine!


Yours truly, Althia Barnett Co-editor, Beyond BHM magazine


EDITORIAL BEYOND EDITORS Althia Barnett Morshed Akhtar SUB EDITORS Loraine Masiya Mponela Farisai Dzemwa COMMUNITY JOURNALISTS Camiquea Bryce-Jordan Sazini Malaba Dickson Tornongo Louise Andrews Petrona Clarke CONTRIBUTORS Jane Thakoordin Herbert Walter GUEST EDITORS Daniel Nelson Judith Vonberg EDITORIAL CONSULTANTS Selbin Kabote Adam Ali Salman Mirza Anne Stoltenberg Nazek Ramadan Ben House Nathan McGill DESIGN Adam Ali COVER PHOTO Sam Jordanne by Adam Yosef

WEB: MIGRANTVOICE.ORG EMAIL: ADAM@MIGRANTVOICE.ORG © MIGRANT VOICE 2020. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. All opinions and views featured in this magazine are those of their respective authors and respective organisation(s) and not necessarily of Migrant Voice, MiFriendly Cities and/or partner organisations.








Black History Month launched in Brum Birmingham’s celebration of Black History Month was launched with a special virtual event held on 26 September.

A Black Lives Matter inspired visual performance filmed in the city by the Eloquent Praise and Empowerment Dance Company was live streamed.

As well as reflecting the city’s diversity and heritage, this year’s launch featured inspiring speakers and creative performances.

During the awareness month, organisers will be sharing stories from across the city’s African and Caribbean communities.

Hosted by Rebecca Hemmings, the event showcased musical performances from artists including Judith Emeline, Sunbeam, dub poet Moqapi Selassie, Aston Performing Arts Academy, Steele & Strings, and concluded with a performance from Wassifa Showcase.

“Birmingham’s Black heritage and its citizens’ own stories will also raise awareness of the challenges and the perceptions that have restricted their access to opportunities, progress and participation in our society,” a spokesperson for Black History Month Birmingham said.

Guest interviews included Cllr Paulette Hamilton, Cllr Sharon Thompson and Kameese Davis.

Details of city events and activities taking place during October for Black History Month, can be found at:



Artists wanted in North Birmingham for creative community projects Community organisations in north-east Birmingham have put a call out for local artists to create art installations to engage and empower local residents. Gallery37 North - an initiative working on creative projects in and around Aston, Witton, Birchfield, Perry Barr, Erdington, Lozells and Newtown - is looking to recruit artists from Birmingham for seven new commissions being installed between December 2020 and spring next year. Powered by Saathi House and Punch Records, the projects are being co-ordinated with partner organisations across north-east areas of the city. Among them is the opportunity to design several illuminated art installations with Birchfield Big Local for a specially planned community Light Night and procession to be ready for March 2021 around the ‘Church Vale Triangle’. The Light Night commission has a budget of £20,000 for the artist and potential apprentice, and requires interactive engagement with local residents. Another commission focuses on the creation of a large mural outside Saathi House in Bevington Road, Aston. This project has a budget of £5,000, is ideal for a street artist and also revolves around key community engagement. To find out more or to apply for these and other Gallery37 North commissions, visit: Application deadline: 2 November 2020. 6 | BEYOND

NEWS Migrants bike together to defy hostile environment

Local community groups joined city migrants for a bike ride in Birmingham earlier this month to show unity in the face of the “hostile environment”. Citizen empowerment organisations Centrala and Migrant Voice organised a socially distanced community bike ride despite the downpour of rain on Saturday 3 October, in the hope of bringing communities together amid a climate of fear and suspicion around migration and migrants. Held at Edgbaston Reservoir, the group were joined by Community Reporter Kirsty Card from Birmingham Live, who said she hadn’t ridden a bike since she was seven. Oksana Bischin, who organised the event, said: “We thought it would be a good idea for different people from different backgrounds to get together on a bike ride. I was not only out of my comfort zone riding in the rain, but I also had a go at doing press ups.” Salman Mirza from Migrant Voice added: “Edgbaston Reservoir is one of the big bike ride hubs where people can get back in the saddle and fall in love with cycling again.”


Maokwo to curate MiFriendly art exhibition Migrant led arts collective Maokwo will be curating an art exhibition planned by MiFriendly Cities. Laura Nyahuye - the organisation’s CEO, founder, artistic and creative director - expressed her delight to be curating this exhibition. A previous participant of MiFriendly Cities projects, Laura (pictured) will bring her unique artistry, enthusiasm and activism to the project. “Our hands are made to make, to create, to touch lives, to heal and to heal others. What do you have in your hands?” she said. Kicking off with a series of creative workshops in Birmingham and Wolverhampton, participants will be supported to express what the cities mean to them. Organisers are hoping for an exciting, thought provoking, accessible exhibition that encapsulates what MiFriendly Cities is about. BEYOND | 7


Zimbabwean Brummie chosen as One World judge A Birmingham-based journalist who originally travelled to the UK from Zimbabwe for a new life was selected to be a judge for the prestigious One World Media Awards this year. Selbin Kabote, who works for charity Migrant Voice as a Media Lab Project Worker, was one of four judges in the ‘Refugee Reporting’ category at the prestigious annual event. The winner of this year’s ‘Refugee Reporting Award’ was France 24’s documentary entitled “Libya: The Infernal Trap”. Established in 1998, the One World Media Awards recognise the best media coverage of developing countries, reflecting the social, political and cultural life of people around the globe. Open to journalists and filmmakers from all over the world with 15 key categories, the awards highlight work from all media platforms and across a wide range of genres and themes. The focus is on stories, topics or issues in, about or related to developing countries. The One World Media Awards also celebrate “stories that break down stereotypes, change the narrative and connect people from different cultures”. Entering the awards provides writers and filmmakers with a unique opportunity to be recognised by some of the industry’s top professionals and to gain a wider audience for their work. Among the judging panel were some leading and experienced journalists from the BBC, Channel 4, Al Jazeera, Sky News, ITV, Financial Times and other national and international high-profile media organisations. Highlighting their mission, London-based non-profit organisation One World Media said:

Brummie charity worker Selbin Kabote spends his days working with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to arm them with the tools needed to create their own media platforms. Teaching and training in special Media Labs across Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, the local Migrant Voice Project Worker shares skills he has acquired as a journalist in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the UK, spanning several decades. 8 | BEYOND


“One World Media’s mission is to support strong, vibrant and independent media coverage on developing countries that empowers citizens, promotes justice and creates social impact. We believe that the media can be a powerful force for good. For over 30 years we have been working with partners in the UK and internationally to support international journalism and promote media coverage of global issues.”

SELECTED: Migrant Voice project worker and journalist Selbin Kabote was chosen to be a judge at the One World Media Awards earlier this year


NEWS MiFriendly Cities nominated for European political innovation award MiFriendly Cities has been chosen as a finalist in The Innovation in Politics Awards 2020. MiFriendly Cities was selected as an outstanding example of political innovation in Europe. The decision was made by 1058 jurors from 47 countries! Out of the 398 entries, MiFriendly Cities ranks amongst the 10 best in its field, and amongst the 90 best in Europe. There are nine categories and MiFriendly Cities is a finalist in the ‘Human Rights’ category. Being a finalist is a wonderful tribute to the hard work and accomplishments of everybody who is a part of the project. The winners will be announced in November. Some of the highlights include: Syrian refugee wins ‘Best Student’ award Share My Language goes camping! Health Champions update Black History Month Upcoming MiFriendly Cities art exhibition If you would like to find out more about the work MiFriendly Cities is doing, you can visit the website:



Network meeting for EU nationals


Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips joined a meeting with migrants discussing the concerns of EU nationals in the UK post-Brexit. Migrant Voice hosted the meeting online, jointly organised with Polish Expats Association and RUDA on Wednesday 14 October at 4pm - 6pm. The Member of Parliament spoke alongside a number of speakers from community organisations representing or working with EU nationals and provided an opportunity to hear about their current experiences and concerns. As the deadline for submitting applications to the EU Settlement Scheme nears, new immigration rules will be in effect for anyone wanting to move to the UK from January 2021. The meeting also offered legal updates on what this will mean for migrants. Speakers included Jess Phillips MP, Alicja Kaczmarek from the Polish Expats Association, Ionut Matei from RUDA, Fartun Mohamud from Ileys Community Association, and Shantel Murray who is active in Migrant Voice’s visa fees campaign. BEYOND | 11


UBUNTU Coventry to host UK’s first ever pan-African cultural festival By Ben House

Described as a “jamboree of all things Africa”, Ubuntu Pride will celebrate a fusion of African culture through traditional music, arts, dance and food. The event is expected to take place outdoors in Coventry on August bank holiday weekend 2021 - depending on the COVID-19 situation at the time - as organisers continue to plan for the inaugural event. Ubuntu Pride will be the first of its kind on such a scale as it celebrates many African nations in one festival, bringing together people whose heritage spans across the African continent. According to organisers, the West Midlands is already home to various festivals catering for the Asian and Afro-Caribbean community but has never held a similar event exclusively celebrating the African diaspora. Sazini Malaba, founder and co-ordinator of the event, says, “This is an absolute first in this country – a solely African festival, celebrating identity and culture. There will be music, dance, cuisine, as well as a wealth of interactive, engaging and immersive experi12 | BEYOND

ences including African expressive arts and cultural creativity. “This is an event for all – regardless of age, gender, origin – anyone can get involved. We have a rich and vibrant African community in this country but with nowhere to proudly project and amplify our voices, our culture, and our unique history. “This is why I’ve come together with cultural ambassadors from across the African nations and we are launching this inaugural festival with a bang, which we hope will become an annual part of the region’s events calendar. “We are also looking for creatives, artists, and will have great opportunities for volunteers, so if anyone wants to get involved, they can get in touch.”


The UK’s first annual African cultural festival is set to be held in the West Midlands next summer.


CULTURE: Sazini Malaba (pictured) is aiming to bring together migrants from across Africa

Sazini hopes the free public event will echo the atmosphere and vibe of national events, like the Notting Hill Carnival and Black Pride. There is a population of 64,253 people of African heritage in the West Midlands, not including the 86,794 who identify as being of Caribbean heritage. The Afro-fest is being supported by Migrant Voice, a national charity organisation which invests in highlighting the experiences of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Selbin Kabote, who works for Migrant Voice and is originally from Zimbabwe, said: “We are supporting this event as we work

to empower and equip migrants of all backgrounds by providing networks, training, and opportunities to bring people together. “We are proud of being part of Sazini’s efforts in putting together Ubuntu Pride and look forward to joining other individuals and organisations who come on board to make this a resounding success!” Although showcasing African culture and identity, the Ubuntu Pride festival will be open for all to enjoy.

Follow Ubuntu Festival for updates: BEYOND | 13

Being Joshua


Proud Brummie Joshua Williams is a journalist, broadcaster, presenter and also an ambassador for several high-profile city-wide initiatives and brands. He’s also been crowned Mr Birmingham, is an avid fundraising fashionista, a vocal social activist and was elected President at his university’s student guild - and he’s still only 22. We caught up with him to find out how he manages it all... 14 | BEYOND

You’re a journalist, presenter, city ambassador, social activist and local public figure. How do you juggle all of these commitments? So many choices in my life were made for me. So many experiences I couldn’t control as much as I may have tried to. At times, it felt like I was just an extra in some awful comingof-age movie without a real sense of purpose, worth or direction. These commitments gave me something to work towards. Something to make me not only feel of value, but feel like I was giving something of value to the people and the world around me. To me this isn’t work, it’s core to who I am and who I hope to be. There isn’t an end goal because there doesn’t need to be one. I want to know with all my heart that I am trying to leave the world just that little bit better than how I found it. You were most recently President at the Guild of Students at the University of Birmingham. What did that involve and how was that experience? This was an elected sabbatical year where I represented the voices of the 38,000+ students within the University. Some of my proudest achievements are reforming Birmingham’s offer for care leavers, launching the Black Voices campaign - a campaign shaped and run by Black students to elevate the Black student experience as well as implementing a new democratic structure within the union. Often, positions of leadership - especially elected positions - seem out of reach for so many outside of the typical white, middle class mainstream. I am not your typical President. I am a proud Black, gay former care leaver from a council estate. My election was a testament to the fact that there is a place for all of us. No longer will marginalised voices be silenced. We can, and we will, carve our own future.

You’re also a journalist, news and showbiz presenter, and a media personality. How did you get involved in this? It started with a little column with a local paper just talking about my thoughts, current affairs - and even my grandparents! Following this, I stumbled across an advertisement for I Am Birmingham who were looking for someone to cover an event in the city. I wasn’t very experienced but I had nothing to lose and I sent over my details. They took a chance on me and it led to me working with them for around four years on a whole host of things happening in the city. I think we often sell ourselves short - be it for employment, education or even relationships. We often tell ourselves we can’t or we shouldn’t or this is as good as it gets. Tear apart that mindset. Take a chance. I Am Birmingham took a chance on me but I would have never even had that opportunity had teenage Joshua not put himself out there.


What have been some of your media career highlights so far? I’ve worked quite a lot with the BBC and other organisations over the years on a whole host of things - from the EU Referendum to actual Brexit, student politics to Black Lives Matter. I have a big mouth and a voice and I will always use it wherever I can to advocate for change.

in my life - not just the extra. Around the same time, I had begun working quite closely with Time To Change and Mind on welfare service usage and reform - particularly BAME welfare and youth involvement. Here I saw an opportunity. At the time, Birmingham’s fashion scene had stagnated and I wanted to bring that London or Manchester level fashion production back

“There isn’t an end goal... I want to know with all my heart that I am trying to leave the world just that little bit better than how I found it.”

Your first foray into the public limelight came through fashion and charity fundraising. What was the inspiration behind that? I’d always had a fascination with fashion as a teenager (although my outfits wouldn’t have told you that let me tell you!). I’d started modelling after being scouted at around 16 and it was energising to me. It was a whole different world and for the first time, I felt like the lead

to Birmingham but for a purpose. For three years, I founded and managed the largest independent fashion show in Birmingham that put mental health at its centre. The fashion world is an environment that seems so far removed from talking about mental health and I wanted to change this whilst platforming some of the city’s fantastic talent. The show saw international designers come to the city but also those with a lived experience of mental health issues walk the runway alongside the models showcasing these garments. The show saw performances from some incredible rising stars but also speeches about the stark reality of overcoming mental ailment.



I must say my biggest media highlight though would be presenting and covering Birmingham Pride for I Am Birmingham. Interviewing some of the artists I grew up listening to - or still listened to in many cases - was quite surreal albeit very terrifying at times.

It saw the fashion world meet what it had been scared to confront whilst raising thousands for charities over its three editions. As a not-for-profit event, I didn’t make a penny from it and I have no regrets about that. Its purpose was to change the game in the city, and years later I can still see the impact it had on those involved. That’s priceless. As a young person, you experienced homelessness. How did that shape who you are today? That experience marked a fundamental shift in my life and how I viewed the world. I was still in school at that time but it demonstrated the need for me to take my life into my own hands. Sometimes things happen that are completely outside of your control. They may be unfair. You may be mad at the world - but you have to pick yourself up. You have to keep going. Despite everything, I genuinely think I got lucky. Others in a similar position to me have gone down a completely different route because they have no more fight left. We have to keep fighting for them, however we can. And that goes for all the people we meet within our lives. You identify as LGBTQ+ and are very socially active in the LGBTQ+ community. Do you feel there is an added struggle as a gay person of colour? Absolutely. As queer people, we advocate for

equality and acceptance no matter who you are. More often than not, the LGBTQ+ community fails to extend that same courtesy to people of colour - in particular those who are Black. The fetishization of Black men is still running strong - that is if they haven’t been blocked on Grindr yet. Black language and culture is still appropriated as a means to look ‘sassy’ and ‘quirky’ yet Black individuals are demonised and viewed as the other for the exact same thing. Black transwomen are still at the bottom of the queer social hierarchy. Many of our queer spaces are not inclusive to those that are Black and queer. As we’ve seen with the success of Black Pride and local queer groups such as UnMuted, those that sit on the intersection between black and queer are constantly having to create their own spaces as the existing ones are either unwilling or too slow to place value on their inclusion. This is all an extension of the cultural and family barriers that people of colour will experience when coming to terms with their queer identity. Change relies on all of us playing our part to make things better. L-R: Between 2015 and 2020, Joshua Williams has been crowned Mr Birmingham, been a successful runway model, launched his own charity fashion show, become a published journalist, presenter & broadcaster; and was elected student guild President at the University of Birmingham (above).


Staying on social activism, you’ve been campaigning for Black Lives Matter and against racism. Why is this important? Simply put, because enough is enough. It is 2020 and we are having the same conversations and the same rebuffs that have been going on for decades. Despite the constant petitions. A Government enquiry. Another Black name trending on twitter. Nothing seems to change. This is not just about police reform. Our society was built upon racial inequality. Many of the things we pride ourself on as a nation - our education system, our criminal justice system, our healthcare - all of these things were created, built and moulded at a time where Black bodies were not seen as equal. And they have grown and evolved. Yes, there has been reform (to an extent). Yes, they have been tweaked around the edges. However, at its core, they are still rooted in inequalities that to this day see Black bodies devalued, dehumanised and seen as less than their white peers. Enough is enough.


The Black Lives Matter movement is now the largest civil rights movement in history with its impact being felt around the world. This is not just a moment. This is all or nothing. If change does not come from this, change will never come. If this global movement cannot make our leaders place value on Black bodies, what will. 18 | BEYOND

Simply put, we have no choice but to keep fighting and keep shouting as loud as our lungs will allow that Black Lives Matter. We do not have the liberty of a choice because that choice has been taken from so many of our brothers and sisters. Blissful ignorance is betraying them. Silence is betraying them. It is our responsibility and our duty to continue the fight and demand justice. Demand true reform across all our structures. And build a society and a world that is no longer built upon racial inequality. Are race relations in the UK and US at a pivotal crossroads right now, do you think? A crossroads would suggest that our elected Governments are listening and there is two paths they can take. As it stands, they have tunnel vision - even after all of this. They have done the bare minimum to demonstrate that they are listening. That they understand. That they even desire to make things better for racial minorities within their countries. We have to keep momentum. We have to keep pushing. Our respective Governments have already demonstrated that they will whip up racial unrest for political purpose. They have already demonstrated that they will do the bare minimum and call it progress. They have the power to change things but none of the desire to do so. Keep pressuring them. Keep in contact with your MPs. Register to vote. This isn’t a crossroads, we are still mid-game. Why is Black History Month important to you? We as Black people have a shared identity. A shared culture. Due to colonisation and historical oppression of black bodies, so much was taken from us. At the forefront though was our history - outside of the watered-down version we are taught in schools. (Or the weird fascination the UK education system has with teaching American Black history opposed to British Black history.)

To me, Black History Month is an opportunity to educate others about Black history - but also continue to educate myself on my heritage and my culture. Black history is fascinating and I’m eager to continue embracing this.

we need to amplify the diverse voices within our communities. Hear their stories. Understand their journeys. Stand in solidarity alongside them. And fight to make this country a country for each of us - not just for the elite.

During Black History Month, you’ll be joining Migrant Voice and MiFriendly Cities to help inspire refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to amplify their voices. Why do you feel this is important?

Finally, what are your plans for the near future, and what is your passion and mission in life?

Over the past few years, we have seen populism explode within our political spheres - capitalising on the things that make us different and exploiting them to turn the masses against the most vulnerable and those already marginalised. Rather than focusing on what unites us and working to bridge this divide, our Governments have willingly widened this gap, throwing minorities under the bus to cement their own power and objectives.

“Our society was built upon racial inequality. Many of the things we pride ourselves on as a nation our education system, our criminal justice system, our healthcare”


We see this with Brexit. Trump. Boris. Marine Le Pen. Andrzej Duda. To name a few. It is more important than ever that we platform the voices of those that are repeatedly attacked by our Government’s and political figures for their own benefit. As we become more isolated as a country and more protectionist,

I am currently studying for my Masters degree in Poverty, Inequality and Development at the University of Birmingham but honestly? I have no idea. I don’t have a set direction or a set path or end goal. My mission in life? It’s to know that I have left things just that bit better than how I’d found them. I just want to be the best person I can be and know that I’ve made just a small difference to those around me and my community.

LEFT: Joshua is a journalist and presenter for news website I Am Birmingham. RIGHT: Joshua with Rebecca Tayler-Edwards leading a students’ Black Lives Matter rally earlier this year.


POETRY Imagine By Althia Barnett Imagine I was back home walking in my home town with my family and friends Imagine I am home cooking dinner with my pots black with soot from the burning wood. Imagine smoke from the fire burning my eyes ‘til they water Imagine the aroma coming from the cooking Imagine the different varieties of food in the pot: yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, green banana, dumplings Imagine meat hanging with smoke curling up to cure it like in the old times Imagine the whole family and friends sitting down to eating, laughing, telling stories Imagine ripe fruits falling from the trees, oranges, mangoes, apples, naseberries, breadfruits, tangerines, plums, jackfruits, star apples and many more fruits Imagine street foods: jerk pans with chicken, pork, fish, roasted corn and many more foods Imagine festival times the music, singing, dancing, jonkanoosu Imagine “nine nights”: the old men in the villages singing in their beautiful melodious voices Imagine going to the beach listening to the waves crash against the rocks and the laughter of everyone on a very hot day Imagine sitting down to a nice cold fresh fruit juice or sky juice on crushed ice

As I celebrate Black History Month, I imagine all this then I drift off to sleep I can only imagine.



Imagine a nice cold beer from the ice box

POETRY October’s Children By Selbin Kabote I never really knew my father. He was the serious looking, pensive man, who had a taste for sharp-looking Savile Row suits and the stylish Dobbs hats that he bought in Pritchard Street in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, where he lived and worked as a migrant all his life Father only came home on New Year’s Day every year Rumour had it that he could not celebrate Christmas with us at home in Zimbabwe, as he had another, second wife named “Magwenya” who lived in the sprawling Alexandra township on the outskirts of Johannesburg Father always departed Zimbabwe for South Africa at the end of January every year By mid-June, mother’s tummy began to bulge out And by July the tummy protruded out By October, mother gave birth Two of my siblings were born in October products of economic migration and its impact on procreation among Zimbabwean economic migrants While October’s Black History Month is a celebration of the African diaspora, the month has a personal link with me and my family’s migration history Two of my siblings are “October’s children”. BEYOND | 21



The challenges and emotiona By Selbin Kabote As we mark the October Black History Month, it can be noted that as a result of the social, political and economic problems being experienced in many African countries today, there has been a marked increase in the number of people migrating from sub-Saharan African countries to the UK and other parts of the world. Following concerns raised particularly at some African-dominated diaspora church forums in the UK, at community group meetings and other gatherings that I have attended where issues of loss and the emotional cost of migrating to the UK were discussed, I decided to conduct interviews and discussions with some African men and women, many of them Zimbabweans, in Birmingham, London and Nottingham. Through these interviews, I established that some African men, particularly the new African diaspora or those who immigrated to the UK during the past 20 years, continue to suffer in silence as they reflect especially on the material possessions, life savings, pensions, dignity and the professions that they lost as a result of their decisions to emigrate, often under difficult circumstances, from their countries of birth. Since traditionally from a young age, many


African men are taught not to show emotions by for example crying as an emotional outlet or to seek counselling or any form of emotional support when experiencing stressful situations, many men often live with the pain of loss perpetually. Marco Ruzvidzo, a former freelance journalist in Zimbabwe, whom I interviewed extensively for this article, summed up his story of loss and broken dreams by explaining how in 2012, he was listening to a song about remembering Zimbabwe by Thomas Mapfumo, a Zimbabwean musician living in exile in the US, and he found himself in tears. He had a similar experience towards the end of the same year, when another Zimbabwean musician who was touring the UK, Sulumani Chimbetu, was singing about Zimbabwean musicians who had passed away in difficult circumstances during the past few years. “As a man who grew up in Africa where men are discouraged from crying since it is considered as a sign of weakness, I found myself fighting hard to keep tears in my eye sockets, as I was supposed to be taking photos during the music group’s local UK show in Nottingham,” Marco said. STRUGGLE: Sulumani Chimbetu has been singing about Zimbabwean musicians who died after being forced to flee the country


al costs of migration Marco told me how he had left Zimbabwe many years earlier due to fears of political persecution as a journalist. Since no one was quick to lend him some cash to purchase an air ticket, Marco sold his house and travelled to the UK. He departed Zimbabwe on Saturday 8 December 2001, and his British Airways flight landed at Gatwick Airport the following morning. “Little did I know that this was the beginning of another long chapter of the story of my life,” Marco said. He told me that after making his application for political asylum, everything happened so rapidly that in less than one and a half months, his stay in the UK was regularised and this marked the beginning of another journey of his life in the UK. After about one and half years in the UK, he lost his mother back in Zimbabwe after a short illness.

that I sold in Zimbabwe to raise my air ticket, thinking that I would replace the house with a better one once I had settled in England,” Marco explained. We can view Deborah Ncube’s story against this same background of loss that also includes regrets over lost time, broken dreams, lost years of hard work and lost initiative. Deborah has lived in the UK for ten years after immigrating from her native Zimbabwe to seek political asylum as she feared for her life as a political activist. She said she experienced emotional loss in the sense that when her livelihood in Zimbabwe became untenable, she had to leave her small children, a parent and siblings who very much depended on her both economically and emotionally.

“I suffered a sense of loss especially during the first couple of years of being here “I was left devastated as I had plans to invite because I could not afford to go back and her for a short holiday with my family,” see them,” Deborah said. She said that she Marco lamented. He noted that the situation believes that the education and emotional dewas made worse by the fact that he could not velopment of her son whom she left in Zimbatravel to attend her funeral. bwe when he was only six years old suffered due to her absence. Deborah said that she “Going down memory lane, I am still haunthas not yet recovered from that experience. ed by the thoughts of my failure to attend my mother’s funeral and the loss of the house “My mother has always felt very lonely



She noted that although immigrating to the UK can cost a lot of money, the emotional cost cannot be quantified since it is a high price to pay. The underlying concern that I noted among many of the African migrants that I talked to is that they are increasingly getting anxious, since many of them find themselves still doing some menial jobs in the UK, despite the good educational qualifications that they attained in Africa. A Ghanaian friend, who preferred to be identified only by his Christian name Peter, said he has been working as a support worker by day and as a security officer by night for many years and is almost losing hope of finding a professional job in the UK, despite the fact that he has a degree from a distinguished university in Ghana. Peter said he is now planning to do another degree at a local university so as to improve his chances of getting a professional job in the UK. He added that he is finding it hard to make ends meet after remitting some funds to his family in Ghana. “I am increasingly finding myself sinking deep into debt, since due to financial problems I find myself at times taking some loans that charge very high interest rates in order to meet my financial obligations in the UK,” Peter said. Another skilled Zimbabwean immigrant,


Vongai Pasipamire, said that when she immigrated to the UK, she was unlucky to be severely impacted by the surging inflation in Zimbabwe at that time. Foreign currency was effectively legalised as a de facto currency on 13 September 2008 and the Zimbabwe dollar was replaced by the US dollar and the South African rand. Vongai lost all her life savings which were in Zimbabwean dollars due to the dollarization of the economy making the Zimbabwean dollar largely irrelevant. “While I try as much as I can to forget the past and move on, the loss of skills, my life savings and the loss of my loved ones in Zimbabwe affects me so much at times,” Vongai said. Vongai explained that although she has managed to cope with loss in her life due to the emotional support that she has received from supportive friends and her church leaders in the UK over the years, her husband who is also a skilled migrant is always regretting his decision to immigrate to the UK, especially when he thinks about the pieces of land that were sold behind his back by trusted friends and relatives when he was not able to travel to Africa due to immigration problems. She mentioned that she struggles to sleep at times and finds herself crying uncontrollably due to a feeling of loss. She mentioned that she is intending to consult her doctor as she may be suffering from stress and anxiety. As researcher Liliana Munoz explored back in 1980, the psychodynamics of exile is akin to that of bereavement, and must be understood in terms of loss followed by EXILE: Zimbabwean music star Thomas Mapfumo is living in exile in the US


because there have been several deaths in the family since I left home and I have also lost out on seeing the children growing up and on playing a part in caring for them and for my aged mother,” Deborah said.

adaptations to the new and often hostile environment. “My husband has now become an alcoholic as an avenue of escapism from the harsh realities of life,� Vongai told me. Another Zimbabwean economic migrant, Margaret, said that she is of the opinion that the people who suffer most are asylum seekers as compared to professional economic migrants. When asylum seekers migrate, most of the time they will be going to an unknown land to escape political persecution with the hope of starting a new life after escaping conflict. These are the people who in her opinion sold their houses, borrowed money and left their children under the care of relatives. She explained that the situation of economic migrants is different since their immigration pattern is more organised or planned and they take their time to prepare for the journey since most of them immigrate after securing jobs in the UK or other European countries. The experiences of Marco and Deborah, Peter and Vongai, are likely emblematic of many others. According to a Pew Research Center report, analysis of the latest United Nations data on the number of emigrants, or people living outside their country of birth, sub-Saharan African nations account for eight of the ten fastest growing international migrant populations since 2010. The research center noted that the number of immigrants from each of the sub-Saharan countries grew by 50% or more between 2010 and 2017.

Some harsh realities of life in the UK An analysis of the realities of life in the UK based on the interviews that I had with the Africans mentioned in this article reveals the realities of immigration and its accompanying frustrations. Although many Africans manage to improve their education and experience what life can offer in new and often very different communities, a sense of what has been lost stays with them, whether they are asylum seekers or economic migrants. If the responses of the African migrants that the writer talked to are anything to go by, it is not always easy to fund the journey into exile and to settle in the UK as an asylum seeker or an economic migrant. And life in exile, the frustrations of separation from the homeland and the trials and tribulations of settling in a new country, including for example the pain caused by immigration problems, can also contribute to the significant stress that is experienced by many asylum seekers due to the long periods that it takes for their immigration cases to be processed. During my survey for this article, I observed that some of the asylum seekers that I interviewed harboured a lot of anger and frustration due to the pain of living in limbo for a long period.

*Names have been changed to protect identities



Looking Up to Abena...

Abena Eyeson is a Ghanaian author and Coventry University graduate, who released her first novel last year. Morshed Akhtar caught up with her to find out more...


Throughout Abena Eyeson’s education she loved acting on stage - though she was the only non-drama student in her university productions. She says that the ability to imagine being someone else helps her to write fiction. Thirteen-year-old Esi, the main character of her debut book, Looking Up, is reluctantly on her way to London. After many happy years with grandma in Ghana, she is joining Maggie, the mother she hasn’t lived with since the age of six. Perhaps this fictional character Esi reflects some of Abena’s own experiences: Abena is an author of Ghanaian descent, based in the UK, writing contemporary fiction for children and young adults. She has a BA (Hons) in law and sociology and a masters in industrial relations from Warwick University, as well as a PhD in development studies, but wanted to become a writer. “My love of books, drama and writing led me to start creating fiction. I aim to create strong central characters dealing with the challenges that life has presented them with.”


The success of Looking Up (published in 2019) has encouraged her to write more books. Why and how did you become a writer? I have always had a love for books and

writing. It took a while for me to decide to write my first novel but when I did, Esi, the spunky but conflicted main character of Looking Up, came to me. Her character was so clear to me that after some research I developed a story around her. What are the key themes you explore in your writing and your current novel? Looking Up explores migration and some of its challenges, family - what is family? - friendship, absent parents, bullying and finding a way to deal with the problems life throws at you.


I was aware of anecdotal stories of children who had been left with relatives in their home countries when their parents emigrated abroad to find work and settle before they called for them. I wanted to explore this through the eyes of a child. As the story developed, it became one about family separation and

What does your day-to-day job role involve? My other profession is human resources management. What are your main interests or projects? I have two writing projects that I am working on now, which keeps me busy. BEYOND | 27

I was in my twenties and had no responsibilities, so studying for my degree and masters was fairly straightforward. It was difficult in parts but I enjoyed it. Doing my PhD was far more challenging. I worked before I went back to do my PhD. I had to get back into the swing of academic life. Also, doing a PhD is effectively a self-propelled project – the PhD student has to make things happen. Doing the research, writing my thesis and doing my PhD viva was more difficult than anything else I had done academically before. I read a lot too – that helps to improve my writing.

How is your academic background reflected in your creative work?

Other than that, being a mum of three, with all that comes with it, means I don’t have much time for anything else. But I enjoy going out to eat when I get the chance as well as watching films and plays.

I guess I know how to research and develop my own ideas and write. The difference is that writing creatively requires me to use my imagination to develop a story. Also, as a creative writer you have to learn to create characters that are authentic and believable plus a plot that is interesting and will hold the reader’s interest from the beginning to the end.

You are quite a family person. How do you prioritise all your activities? I have learnt to be quite organised and to get on with things. I have a supportive husband as well. However, that doesn’t mean that life doesn’t get crazy at times and things go wrong. But my approach is to focus on what I’m dealing with today and deal with tomorrow’s problems tomorrow. You have studied law, sociology, industrial relations in your university. You also have a PhD in development studies. Was it difficult to prepare for all that and write? 28 | BEYOND

What message would you like to pass on to the next generation? Use and develop the gifts that you have been blessed with. See setbacks and mistakes as learning opportunities and don’t let them defeat you. Be resilient and keep going. Being a black woman, how different or difficult was your venture as an author? There are challenges to getting traditionally published as a Black person. I believe that Looking Up was seen as being too niche but it was a story I felt strongly about.

So when I couldn’t find a publisher willing to publish it I used an editor, a cover designer to create the cover and I self-published the book. Doing it this way I have learnt a lot, including learning about book marketing. It remains my goal to be published traditionally. In the current climate of Black Lives Matter, it seems that mainstream publishers are trying to be more inclusive, but there are still many hurdles to overcome to get published. What message would you like to pass on to the Black and ethnic minority communities for Black History Month? Black people have done - and are doing - a lot of things in the UK which don’t always get recognised. The message that I would pass on to people in the BAME communities is that we should read a lot to keep learning and informing ourselves.

In creative writing you are told to start by writing about what you know. So as well as researching the various themes in the book, the main character and her family were Ghanaian because I am Ghanaian. Most of the story is set in London because I have lived in London for many years, although I now live just outside London. So, definitely, who I am has influenced my writing.

There is so much you can teach yourself now. Read non-fiction, but also fiction. Novels like my book provide entertainment but they also make you pause, reflect and, sometimes, remember experiences. When you think of writing, as a member of a diaspora group what cultural influences come to you first, and how does your diasporic background affect your writing?

‘Looking Up’ by Abena Eyeson is available to buy online and at select bookstores. BEYOND | 29







Founder of the UK Black Female Photographers (UKBFTOG) organisation, Jemella hopes ‘We Are Here’ will amplify the voices of Black female creatives ‘We Are Here’ is an exhibition of the work of new and established Black female photographers in the UK under the umbrella of UKBFTOG. The exhibition seeks to challenge the lack of representation in the sector. This is the first exhibition they have ever held, beginning in Walsall from 25 to 27 September 2020 and continuing in Birmingham. Following the exhibition launch, Morshed Akhtar had a highly informative interview with a leading photographer in the group, Jemella Binns. How did you get into photography? Where did it all start for you? It started when I was a young child growing up with my mum always having a 35mm film camera. I fell in love with seeing all the photographs being printed. I got into it at the age of 15, when I saved up to buy my first camera to capture my last day of secondary school. When I attended college, I found out that I was dyslexic, so I thought I would go and study photography as it was more practical undertaking as opposed to theoretical subjects. That’s where my journey into photography really began. Why is Black History Month important and how can or do you use your photography to raise awareness about Black excellence? I will always highlight and raise awareness of Black female photographers and their excellence throughout the entire year. How did you make the leap into turning photography into your professional full-time work and passion? After finishing studying for my degree in photography, I applied for jobs in established photographic studios but was unsuccessful. So, that is when I took the leap to start my own business instead. How important was family support when pursuing photography? It was very much a motivation as they supported my career. A lot of the time, they were actually my photographic subjects as I have a love for capturing special milestones in people’s lives. What were some of your main obstacles getting into the industry? Initially, finances. Photography equipment can be very expensive. Also, the lack of seeing myself in the industry. It would often make people think I was doing it as a hobby rather than as a profession as I was not the norm to see a Black female photographer.



SELF-PORTRAIT: Jemella Binns, the founder of Black female photographer group UKBFTOG




PORTRAIT: Jemella Binns’ work includes unique approaches to potraiture


How would you define your own work in terms of genre and style? I don’t necessarily feel like I have a definitive style, but many may say otherwise. Genre - I focus on capturing people’s milestones. For example, maternity, newborns, cake smashes and weddings. I have a passion for my clients existing in print to last for generations. I want their old photographs to tell their own stories. What do you primarily aim to highlight or showcase through your art? My main aim is to capture memories, so they live on physically rather than on our phones or social media. What are some of the highlights of your career? Some of my career highlights would be, having my work published in newspapers and magazines. Also, the number of clients I have been able to shoot over these years. Capturing them as they grow. I really feel like it has allowed me to serve my purpose within photography. And what is one of your favourite images that you’ve captured? It’s really hard to pick a favourite image of mine because after each booking, I always have a new favourite. You’ve co-organised the ‘We Are Here’ exhibition in Walsall, how did this come about? I am the founder of the UKBFTOG community. For the last three years, I have organised meet ups both social and educational for ‘UK Black Female Photographers’ to grow in their photography career and also grow a network. One of the members, Denise, contacted me about the space and suggested it would be a great idea for the community to host an exhibition. I always planned to have one this year, but due to the pandemic, we thought it would not be able to take place. But I guess anything is possible. What do you hope this exhibition will achieve? I hope this exhibition amplifies the voices of Black female photographers. I hope it will get these women more opportunities and also during these hard times give them something to celebrate. Was it extra difficult to organise an exhibition in such a short time and during the COVID-19 restrictions? Yes. Indeed, it was difficult because a lot of us were now out of work. So, when it came to printing for example, our finances couldn’t necessarily stretch so our capabilities were very limited. We had to make quick decisions due to timing and hope for the best as we barely had time to rectify mistakes. With COVID restrictions in place, it didn’t allow us to promote it in the way we wanted, and it made the task longer, ensuring we had everything in place in order to meet the guidelines. BEYOND | 35

Were you surprised by the exhibition’s success? I was very much surprised by the large number of people that turned up, as we had a short space of time to promote the exhibition. I was also heartened by the fact that many people managed to leave the comfort of their homes during these difficult times to attend the exhibition. The people who attended the exhibition surprised us by the great love that they showed us. Even though the exhibition is over, we have been flooded with emails from supporters. There are also some new opportunities and plans for future exhibition dates. You’ve given other Black female photographers, young and old, an opportunity to shine. Why is this so important for you? It’s very rare that we’re given a seat at the table so it’s time we create our own table and shine”. Will the ‘We Are Here’ exhibition be touring or continuing in any form? Most certainly. With all the feedback we have received, it definitely lets us know the people want more”. What’s your all-time favorite photographer and photograph? I don’t necessarily have one, I just get inspiration from different places and photographers.


In your opinion, do you feel the photography industry sorely lacks representation of women and Black women in particular? Yes, I do. When you look in the photographic industry, it is very rare that you’ll find Black female photographers. This could be both in photography panels or camera ambassadors. How would you remedy this? By continuing the growth of the UKBFTOG community. What words of inspiration would you like to pass on to fellow Black female photographers who want a career in this line of work? Always be open to learning new things - your full potential is limitless. Keep practising and never be too hard on yourself. Everything is a part of your journey.


You can find Jemella’s photographic work at or on her Instagram @mellzphotographyltd. To find out more about the UK Black Female Photographers group, visit:




Debuting her photography at Walsall’s first Black female photographer’s exhibition this year, the 24-year-old is already making waves with her stunning portraits



Tobi Shobom is a London-based architect and photographer with a passion for architecture and photography. The talented young artist from London is passionate about opportunities to explore ways to have a tangible impact on shaping cultures and communities through the built environment. She’s interested in exploring how concepts and theories developed through education can be applied to architecture. Her pioneering spirit has enabled her creativity to extend beyond architecture into photography, where she creates images that explore composition and contrast. Specialising in portrait and fashion photography, she is interested in investigating how her architectural education can further her exploration of art through photography. Tobi took part in a photography the ‘We Are Here’ photography exhibition, held at the New Art Gallery in Walsall. In her debut media interview, she caught up with Morshed Akhtar... Hi Tobi, how did you get into photography?

young Black women, or all young people in general on their journey towards development.

I have always been a creative person. When I was younger at primary school, I had to take a tape measure into school. I always wanted to measure everyone, and have design perspective. I was creative, and I was smart, so maths was a subject I took as well. Initially, I wanted to be a lawyer as my granddad was a lawyer.

What kind of photography interests you and how would you describe your work?

But then I thought about the things that I’m actually interested in, and architecture was one of these. They said that it is a combination of maths and science with arts and creativity. This is what I wanted to take.

I think that it is not as much of an issue now as it was before but it is still important. I would like to do more editorial photography.

With photography, I took it in my GCSE in year 10 and 11. I enjoyed that and found something that I was good at. So when it came to university, they suggested for architecture to have a DSLR camera. I wanted to do more with it, and so I took it more seriously, and then we are here today. One of my first projects was inspired by my feelings of insecurity growing up. That was my main aim was to inspire and empower the 40 | BEYOND

I’m doing beauty and fashion photography, and I mainly photograph Black women at the moment because they need more representation.

How did you find out about and get involved in the ‘We Are Here’ exhibition? I cannot pinpoint exactly when but I started to follow Jemella Binns who is the founder of UK Black Female Photographers group. I joined the group soon after when she started the community. This is my first physical exhibition, but my other exhibition was with Nikon. It was digital.


PHOTOGRAPHY: One of the pieces from Tobi Shobom’s stunning photography series exhibited at ‘We Are Here’




REPRESENTATION: Tobi Shobom is part of UK Black Female Photographers (UKBFTOG) community


What did you think of the response to the exhibition and your work? I think it was really amazing as a lot of people came out, a lot of press coverage as well. There was a photographer of only sixteen years old. People were amazed not only by the talents, but also by the range of ages and viewpoints as well. Black women are almost put in a box, so for a person like me who constantly doubts herself, seeing people coming in and encouraging made me confident. Do you feel inspired following the event? Yes. I can see where I am now and where I could be. I really want to keep going, keep working. If the platform is not for you, then create it for yourself. I found that really inspiring. Where do you hope to take your passion for photography now? I do love to dream big, I don’t like my passion to limit itself. I’d really like to be published in a big fashion magazine. I would continuously like to create projects, encourage people to love themselves. I am hoping to publish a book, like a coffee table book, with some inspirational quotes, to have more fun with photography.

some of those people to look like me, because how do you talk about the difficulties with employment or others due to your race with a white person? How do you talk about the struggle of being a woman in the workplace with a man? Some – not all – conversations need to be had with people that can relate to the discussion at hand. What would be your message of motivation and inspiration for other Black female photographers like yourself? Be bold, be courageous, and be confident even if the people you’re working with don’t look like you. Just be confident of your skill, and of your price. Find networks, stay with them. It is never too late to start anything. No need to worry about a professional camera, just start with whatever you have got. Where can people find your work online? My website is and Instagram @shobo_photography.

What do you think about the lack of representation of Black female photographers?

Why is it such a big deal? The answer for me is role models. Now I have had a certain amount of people that have helped me along the way. But it is important for


Not many photographers are Black women, same as in architecture. So, okay, there aren’t many Black women’s faces in architecture or in photography.


Co-founder of the ‘We Are Here’ exhibition, Walsall-based Denise runs Lensi Photography and has photographed Barack Obama and the Queen... Our very own Walsall-based Denise Maxwell is a talented, internationally published photographer. Her work has been featured in Woman & Home, The Guardian and The Mirror, with Denise being commissioned to work in places such as Rwanda, Kuwait and Las Vegas. She has shot for recognised names such as Yodel and the BBC, and covered events including The X Factor and the Brit Awards. Denise is also a London Fashion Week photographer, all that being said, she likes to be considered as a multi accomplished artist. She set up Lensi Photography after leaving a senior role in the NHS and is now also an educator working with the UK Black Female Photographer group, known as UKBFTOG. ‘We Are Here’ is the name of their first group exhibition. Morshed Akhtar caught up with Denise. How did you get into photography? Where did it all start for you? I had always loved photography. Before mobile phone days I was always taking photos, back then it was with my 35mm camera. I was always the person capturing memories at special events such as birthdays, days out with friends and at many other events. I therefore like to think I was a photographer before I became a photographer. How did you make the leap into turning photography into your professional full-time work and passion? I was forced into being a full-time photographer. As a result of one of the Government’s austerity cuts ten or so years ago, I lost my job. I had previously been employed in a job that I loved and could not see myself as doing anything different. When I lost my job, I needed to find something else I equally loved. I was looking for jobs online but could not find anything that I felt passionate about. It was at that stage that I made a decision to “try and make this photography thing work”. What kind of a personal support network did you when getting into professional photography? I had both friends and family that were supportive as well as not supportive. In the early days I guess the lack of support was because of doubts that I could be successful after taking photography as a career. I mean I did not know any full-time photographers and I am pretty sure most of my friends and family members did not know any either. So it just seemed so unthinkable for me to take on photography as a career. My grandmother actually said to me “Yu lef yu good good job fi guh tek picture” (English translation from Jamaican: “You have left your good job to take pictures?”) As time went on people realised that it was a viable career and became more supportive.


WE ARE HERE: Denise Maxwell at the launch of the exhibition she helped co-curate and organise





PHOTOGRAPHY: ‘Red on Black’ by Denise Maxwell was displayed at the ‘We Are Here’ exhibition

What were some of your main obstacles getting into the industry? Where do I start? Is this going to be a whole series? Lol! Getting your first bookings, understanding how to get into certain genres like sports and fashion and press, getting onto a press agency, standing your ground when other people try to push you around, having to prove your worth above some people. The other challenge was having to teach yourself since there are very few courses that actually teach photography. As a result of this, you end up learning online via YouTube and through practice. This was one of the reasons I set up my own training and courses, because I want to deliver meaningful courses. The challenges in this line of work include staying relevant, having to learn how to run a business on top of learning your craft, navigating around all the things you can spend your money on in the early days. Having to learn about PR and marketing... the list is endless. How would you define your own work in terms of genre and style? I describe myself as a photographer. I understand light, shape, forms, framing etc. I have purposefully not studied one genre only, as such I cover a wide range of genres. I cover weddings, press, fashion, portraits, products, newborn, landscapes, architecture, events, corporate, live music, festivals and documentary. I have had commissions in each of these areas and have substantial portfolios for each also. I would not know how to describe my style, maybe clean? What do you primarily aim to highlight or showcase through your art? I do not have a primary aim because I cover so many genres. Each genre will have a different aim, so for example with my portrait photography I aim to show people in their best light, find their best angles so they can look at photos of them and like them. With my documentary work I aim to show realities of aspects of life through my perspective of being a woman and a Black person. What are some career highlights, would you say? I have been incredibly blessed. This does not mean that anything has come easy, I have grafted and worked for every bit of my success. I have had many highlights, again how long do we have? I was commissioned to photograph the music artist Usher a few years ago on an engagement of his in the UK. Usher used to be a poster on my bedroom wall in my teens; I went to his first concerts in the UK. I introduced myself to him as a photographer and I had the opportunity of being in the same room as him, with him casually drinking some coffee next to me, then of course getting a selfie... well you can imagine what that day felt like. I have also had the opportunity of lecturing at my former college. I go back annually to speak to current students about my work, career and being a full-time photographer. If someone had told me some years ago when I first began that I would be at some of the events I have watched for years on TV, I would have laughed. I always believed I would be successful, but I thought that would mean me being an event, wedding and portrait photographer. If this had been my path this would also be fine; but never would I have imagined that my career would involve working at some of the biggest events, capturing some of the most well-known people in the world, flying to countries like Rwanda and America and now being able to teach others. BEYOND | 47

And what is one of your favorite images that you’ve captured? The image of President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron. It feels like an iconic photo now. You’ve co-organised the ‘We Are Here’ exhibition in Walsall. How did this come about? A colleague of mine Andre Reid asked me to come down to his new creative space. It is a space in Walsall that he hopes to get some investment into to make it into an accessible space for creatives. While waiting for the investment he wanted creatives to still use it for other creative ventures. There are so few quality spaces like this around for us, and the ones that exist are mostly inaccessible. When I saw the space I immediately could see it as a gallery space and Andre agreed. I called Jemella the group founder, who I did not know well at the time, pitched the idea, she loved it, and we agreed to try and make it happen! We had six weeks to put out a call for artists, go through submissions, get the space ready, secure sponsors, curate the exhibition, design and print exhibition guides, work on PR and marketing, all with the additional complications of COVID-19. We decided to call it ‘We Are Here’ because the concept was based on a response to all the times so many of us in the group had heard comments such as “Oh I do not know any Black creatives to hire” What do you hope this exhibition will achieve? It is about amplifying female Black photographers’ voices, exposing our art to wider audiences, extending the ladder to women coming up who are not as far in their careers. It is also about working collectively, everyone is stronger together. Photography can be such an isolating career, you shoot events alone, you do portrait shoots alone, you often do not have an office or colleagues to confide in, yet everyone needs this. By creating this community, and the community working together to achieve these aims we all win, and we are all able to face some of the hurdles and celebrate some of the successes together. Some of the emerging photographers have already got a huge boost from exhibiting. Having strangers confirm your skills and like your art, being featured on mainstream platforms such as The Guardian and BBC. Some have sold their prints as artwork. What an amazing boost to begin your career. Was it extra difficult to organise in such a short time and during the COVID-19 restrictions? Yes, yes and yes!


ICONS: Actor Chadwick Boseman (above) and The Queen (right), captured by Denise Maxwell


UNVEILING: (L-R): Denise Maxwell with Karyn Louise, Vanley Burke, Jemella Binns and Leeonda Alfred

OBAMA: Denise Maxwell captures the former US President at Downing Street in London



Were you surprised by the exhibition’s success? Yes. We knew it would be a success, I am the kind of person that kinda makes things happen. I have a saying, “If you don’t have a horse, ride a cow”. We made the decision to go ahead with just a venue. No exhibitors, exact plan, experience, funding or anything. It is now being talked about far and wide. Has been featured on too many platforms to mention, both in print and online, and continues to bear fruit of opportunities to all involved. You’ve given other Black female photographers, young and old, an opportunity to shine. Why is this so important for you? You never see yourself as a leader. A leader is always someone else. Suddenly I have realised I am in this position, and able to extend the ladder to others, so why not? I have had that in my own career. I have people such as a man that is now a friend Colvin Hazzard of Hazpics help me in my career of sports photography. People such as Iker Aldama who is an amazing London Fashion Week Photographer help me in my fashion photography career and many others. Not everyone is able to “ride cows” in the same way that I have, to seek and capitalise on opportunities. I have knowledge to share that can make their journey and practice easier. I want people to have meaningful courses and opportunities and workshops, instead of so many false flags that are out there. I have given opportunities to many people in different forms, including young people, young women, young Black women, young men, older people, and disadvantaged young people. All of these groups have been overlooked and underrepresented in some way or another. So I just do my little part. This is the turn of Black female photographers. Will the ‘We Are Here’ exhibition be touring or continuing in any form? Yes, the exhibition will now tour. Our first stop is in Birmingham at the Medicine Bakery and Gallery in New Street until the end of October. What’s your all-time favorite photographer and photograph? I do not have a single one, sorry this would be a long list of photographs! I generally do not follow celebrity photographers, my favorite photographers are the people around me. I love the wedding photography of Bandele Zuberi. I love the sports photography of Colvin Hazzard of Hazpics, he captures moments so many people miss, and his skills in anticipation and placement are amazing. I love the documentary photography of Vanley Burke, his images are so familiar to me as a window to what life was like when my grandmother and granddad were alive. I love the creativity of Simeon Quarrie, His work started in wedding photography and his pre-wedding work is still groundbreaking nearly ten years later. I love the press work of James Watkins, he makes everything look effortless. I mostly have male photographers around me, even as a female photographer, so you can see why working with emerging female photographers is so important. They/we are massively overlooked and underrepresented.




RED ON BLACK: Red on Black Travelling Dress by Denise Maxwell was exhibited as part of ‘We Are Here’


COVER STORY Why is Black History Month important and how can or do you use your photography to raise awareness about Black excellence? History is important. Black History Month is needed because Black history is excluded from history. If that history was taught it would not be needed. Yet Black people’s existence is always being written out of history even today. Black History Month is a small way of writing it back in. So for example I remember watching a documentary about Birmingham in the 80s, the film took us all around the city, past the old Bull Ring, down the ramp of Mark One, all around the markets etc. There was not one single Black person in the whole film. To someone viewing that in 200 years, history will tell the story of no Black people being in Birmingham in the 1980s. so just the same as people look at books of the 1800s and believe no black people lived in the UK because we have been written out of that history, people will still do the same in future years because this process is still happening. I go to Remembrance Day and the mainstream press have all left by the time the Black soldiers march so most of the country forgets this reminder that Black people also fought for our freedoms and independence in this country. We have local films like this to huge Hollywood blockbusters that are made in countries populated by Black people that feature no Black people. We even have films like The World Trade Centre made about current heroes such as Jason Thomas who was a black ex-marine decorated for this heroism, but who is played by a white actor in the film.


Because we all have a set of personal value filters every time we shoot. What and how a man will capture a picture may not be the same as woman, the same with colour and culture. Have you ever looked at a shot and automatically known something about the perspective of the person behind the camera taking it? Have you ever thought “a woman would not have taken that photo” “a Black person would not have taken that photo” “why did the photographer make that person look like that?” etc. This is to do with their perspective being different to yours. By having these different perspectives this raises awareness. Scenes will automatically be shot differently to each other, different things will be focused on etc. without many viewers even being aware of the fact that that is a filter being imposed on that image.


CELEBRITY ENCOUNTERS: (Clockwise from top): A shot by Denise of Stormzy on stage, then snapping movie star Will Smith, Denise joins Olympian Mo Farah for a shoot, and Denise chilling with music stars Shaggy and Sting. (Opposite page): Denise delivers a MiFriendly Cities media training workshop for refugees and asylum seekers with Migrant Voice


In your opinion, do you feel the photography industry sorely lacks representation of women and Black women in particular? Yes. Many women’s groups speak about the underrepresentation of women in photography. Their low levels of commission by major newspapers and magazines, this falls even more rapidly when looking at Black females. How would you remedy this? This is not for me to remedy. The people making the decisions, hiring and commissioning, need to hire people like me. They are the people to remedy it. The talent is there. The gatekeepers are choosing to not see it. What words of inspiration would you like to pass on to fellow Black female photographers who want a career in this line of work? If you don’t have a horse, ride a cow. Things may not always be perfect, you may not have the exact camera you want, the lenses you want, expensive studios with great lighting but find your way around hurdles. If you do not have experience in the field you want to go into, create that experience. Nothing will fall into your lap, you have to go out and find those opportunities. Practice practice practice. The whole world is your canvas. Never use the excuse “Oh I don’t have experience in ‘X’ type of photography” to miss an opportunity. Opportunities are never lost, they are just taken up by someone else. Find an avenue to get the experience you need, create your own shoots, create a studio in your bedroom or living room. Shoot a local sports event, do documentary photography following your friend around town. Create your own photography accountability group. Try to recreate a famous photograph. Set yourself challenges. You can’t wait for someone to give you an opportunity to perfect your craft. If I can do it, so can you. Finally, where can people find you and your work online? Email me at: My website is: I’m also on Instagram: @Lensi_Photography and



IMPRESSIVE: Denise Maxwell’s photographic portfolio is as diverse as it is inescapably enticing

SAMANTHA JORDANNE Although not a contributor at the first ‘We Are Here’ exhibition, Sam is inspired by what it means for the representation of Black female photographers... How did you get into photography? I got into photography through just growing up in general. I come from a family with quite a creative background, my sister taught photography, my mum studied filmmaking and cinema, and I was kind of brought up in and around that atmosphere. I started studying filmmaking at university and wanted to make short films and feature films. I just developed a passion for all visual arts and I found that with taking photographs I could almost create a still from a film that I would like to make, so every photograph I take almost has a film around it, like a wider sort of film that it comes from, like a snapshot from it. I think what I got a passion for was being able to tell stories in a shorthand way because all I’ve always wanted to do is tell stories. How would you describe your photographic style? So I think my photographic style is probably quite filmic, I’ve always had a love for cinematography and I get very passionate about seeing great cinematography in film so that’s something I try and recreate with any picture that I make. With any photo that I take I always try and give it a filmic undertone. I’m very inspired by colours, by shooting people as well and through conveying narrative through almost a neon like vibrance of lighting. What would you describe as some of your photographic highlights? I’d say one of the highlights of my photographic journey would probably be the first music video that I ever got to shoot and that was because I was able to really push the boat out and try new things I‘d never tried before. Whenever I start making anything, any sort of shoot, whether it be video or photography, I always start with a storyboard of images or a scrapbook of images. So often I’ll head to like Pinterest or Instagram and I’ll just absorb everything that inspires me and that was something I got to do with that music video and it was a chance to really try different things. I’m really proud of the things I accomplished with it because I was able to really push myself and reach a level that I didn’t realise I could. You’ve shot music artists and movie stars. How did that happen and were you nervous or did you just take it in your stride? So I’ve shot music stars and film stars and I guess when shooting them I just really took it in my stride. I think sometimes there is a point where you get a bit overwhelmed




and you can start to doubt yourself, but I think one of the great things is to build a proper rapport with them. If you relax, they relax, so it was always really important that whenever doing that we’d always have to have a moment where we just relax and talk things through bounce ideas around and just go from there. In a way that’s how I approach every project so filming artists and film stars is no different. It’s kind of the way that I like to approach things with everyone. What would you say are some of your favorite photographs you’ve taken? I think definitely one of the first ones where I started to find my footing in terms of style was a photograph I took of a friend of mine who’s an actor and model. We did a shoot with green smoke bombs and blue smoke bombs and all sorts of colours but particularly one I took of him with the green smoke I absolutely loved. Also there was an editorial that I did with actor Antonio Aakeel that was fantastic. That was a really really good opportunity to just build a nice rapport and then use that energy and put it into the shots. Then there’s a few that I’ve taken with musician James Indigo who’s an upcoming artist. We’ve been able to take quite a few different shoots together but one in particular that I really enjoyed was one where we wanted to really look at the contours of the body and have this really harsh contrast against this dark background. Again, that was just something that I always had in my mind that I wanted to do and it was really thrilling to be able to put imake it a reality. Which photographers do you look up to? I really like Braylen Dion, he’s an Atlanta based photographer. He shoots a lot of ethnic minorities, he has a really nostalgic sort of style, I absolutely love his work. I really like Jora Frantzis, she’s a photographer and filmmaker and I love her work, it’s got this absolutely punchy vivid sort of film quality to everything she does. I love Vanley Burke, I had the pleasure of meeting him at one of his exhibitions at the Ikon Gallery a few years ago. I also really love Greg Swales who is an editorial photographer. Again, I had the pleasure of meeting him and getting some tips. I’m really inspired by Nadia Lee Cohen as well, she’s a British-based photographer and filmmaker and she’s since gone to LA and made a lot of different sorts of campy style photo shoots and music videos. I absolutely love her style too. What is one of your favorite photographs of all time by another photographer? I think that’s probably quite difficult because I’m inspired by so many different genres, so many different styles, picking one would be incredibly difficult for me. This week I’m really, really inspired by the photographer Shonay Shote. She’s done a photo series of Black actresses, candid black and white pictures. I absolutely love candid shots and it really, really inspired me when I saw her collection.




EXPERIMENTAL: Sam Jordanne captures model and actor Akash


CONTRAST: Musician James Indigo poses for photographer Sam Jordanne

MANUKA HONEY: A00 stunning and bold | BEYOND piece by Sam Jordanne

‘We Are Here’ launched and exhibited in Walsall to celebrate Black female photographers. How do you feel about the lack of representation of Black female photographers and how has it impacted you? I think in the industry there is a definite lack of representation of not only Black photographers but in particular female Black photographers, and often we do get overlooked. I think it’s really important that we have exhibitions like this one in Walsall to really showcase and show just how versatile Black female photographers can be. I think there is a bit of a stigma that if you are creative from an ethnic background that you’re not as versatile as your white counterparts, which just isn’t true. Often, I do think there’s a stigma for minorities to only create art for ethnic minorities and that is not true. We are able to create art and creativity for everybody and I think it’s so important for things like this exhibition to just showcase and highlight this inclusivity that needs to be addressed and highlighted. Black History Month why is it important to you and how can your photography be part of awareness raising about black identity? I think when it comes to Black History Month, it’s really interesting because I’m Black all year round so I feel like it’s nice to take a month when there’s a snapshot of the potential of what Black creatives and Black academics can do. But I feel like it shouldn’t end with just a month. I feel like it’s something that goes on all year round, but I love the fact that we’re able to really come together and maybe bring it to people who are unaware of that; and I hope for the future that in doing Black History Month, we cannot only have it for a certain amount of time but continue that focus and engagement all year round. How can your photography be part of highlighting, celebrating or raising awareness about Black identity? In terms of my own photography, just highlighting awareness about minorities. I do like to shoot minorities, I do like to shoot a wide variety of people but in particular, I like to showcase what we can achieve as minorities. I think it’s so important because we can get overlooked as minorities so as we climb through the ranks, I think it’s important to hold the door open for other minorities to help them. I feel like, with myself and with the people that I’m working with, we’re all just trying to climb through the industry and as we are we’re bringing each other up and that’s the way it should be because it is so very difficult. I feel like my photography is definitely a good basis for that because it does showcase so many different minorities and the capabilities, and the different things that they can do. Where do you hope your photography will lead in terms of a career and a personal passion?


In terms of my career and my passions, I think in the future what I’d like to do is really hone my skills further and make a feature film. I’ve always wanted to make a feature film


and I’ve always wanted to make one to do with sci-fi and neo-racism. I’ve always had this thing inside my head that I wanted to shine a light on systemic racism in a progressive form and in a different sort of way, in order to highlight the battles that I think minorities go through. If I hold it up from a different perspective, I’m hoping that it will reach more people and maybe help them to understand the hardships and things that we can go through. So, in the long run, I would love to make a feature film, I would love to put my passions into moving images as well as still images.

Where can people find you and your work online? You can find my work on Instagram which is @samjordannephotography, and also I’ve got a website that lists all of the work that I’ve done at

HOLLYWOOD: Movie star Antonio Aakeel poses photographer 00 |for BEYOND Sam Jordanne


It’s also got my showreel on there as well which is a link to all the different work that I’ve done as moving image.

IN FOCUS: Sam Jordanne is a photographer and filmmaker



Campaign to keep Grandma in the UK A community in Smethwick, West Midlands, has jumped to the aid of 75-year-old Mrs Gurmit Kaur, who is threatened with deportation by the Home Office. In 2013, the grandmother received letters from agencies representing the Home Office for her removal from the UK back to India where she says she has no family. Seven years on, she is still fearful of being removed. Mrs Kaur said: “Being here in Smethwick is my true home, it’s where I work to help the community, it’s where I know and love the people who have become my family. This is the place I have made my home.” Mrs Kaur has been living in her Sandwell home for nearly 11 years since arriving in the UK in 2009. She is much loved and is very active in the community, but she does not have documents. Undocumented migrants in the UK are unable to work or register with relevant authorities and have no recourse to public funds. Campaigners are gathering signatures on a petition for Mrs Kaur to remain in the UK indefinitely, which has so far gathered over 62,000 signatures. 66 | BEYOND


An elderly grandma will be ripped from her adopted family and friends and be deported back to India if she is not given leave to remain in the UK.

GURMIT MUST STAY: A petition for Gurmit Kaur (left), 75, has attracted over 62,000 signatures

Salman Mirza from Migrant Voice, the organisation spearheading the campaign, said: “Our concern is that her status remains that she can and may be ‘forcibly removed’. Though we do not condone it, it is understandable that after such threats, people then do not pursue the Home Office.” According to Mrs Kaur, she has no family to return to in India and has made her home in Smethwick, including many friends within the Sikh community and temple, where she helps out with cooking and serving food to visitors on a daily basis. She goes on to say, “In India, I have nobody, absolutely nobody. I fear loneliness and the impact on my mental health if I go to India all alone.” Mrs Kaur’s plight was aired on the BBC on 25 July, in the hope that it will highlight the struggles this elderly lady is facing to get the relevant authorities to take note of what is happening, not only to her, but to undocumented migrants across the UK. It has additionally appeared on ITV News, in local newspapers and on Sikh TV channels in the West Midlands and nationally across the UK. Her campaign is also being backed by Sandwell councillor Ahmad Bostan, Warley MP John Spellar and Birmingham MP Liam Byrne.

Sign the petition for Gurmit Kaur to stay in the UK: BEYOND | 67


Hare and Peanut Butter:

The power of storytelling By Farisai Dzemwa

As a child I remember sitting on a mat on the floor around a glowing log fire listening to my loving grandmother telling us folk stories. My mind would run a marathon, painting pictures from the stories told. The stories inspired my imagination and my imagination inspired my creative storytelling, so that as a migrant mother (based in the UK from Zimbabwe), I told my son such stories too. Due to my experience as a migrant living in the UK diaspora, our children hardly have the luxury of having grandads or grandmas, even aunties and uncles, to keep the oral tradition of storytelling going. So at times I had to adopt their roles and tell the stories my extended family members told me when I was young. I have seen it inspiring my son’s own storytelling skills through hand drawing and graphic design. Here is one of the stories that set us all off giggling, though as I look back I see lessons hidden in the humour


STORYTIME Once upon a time in a small village called Manyika in Uzumba, part of Mashonaland, there lived two friends: Hare and Peanut Butter. They used to play together for hours and hours but one day Hare was very hungry and had not been able to find food in the bush, so he thought to himself, “I hear humans saying peanut butter is really nice and I am hungry. l could die of starvation right now.” As you can imagine, he decided to eat Peanut Butter but was creative about his approach. “Hey, Peanut Butter,” he said, “Can we play an easy game today as l have no energy for rigorous games?” Peanut Butter was eager to please his friend, so she replied, “Oh yes, let’s do that!” “How about we bite a little piece of each other? And see if what humans say is true, that we both are quite tasty? I am sure you have heard your people saying I make a mean tasty meal and l have heard my people say the same about you,” said Hare. Peanut Butter wasn’t sure she liked the game but because she didn’t want to lose her friend, she agreed. Hare allowed Peanut Butter to have a go first, knowing full well that Peanut Butter wouldn’t like the feel or taste of Hare’s hair sticking to her tongue, but he pretended that he was being a gentleman honouring a lady. One lick by Peanut Butter had her spitting and splattering, trying to expel the hair and she quickly said, “Oh, humans lie, you don’t taste nice at all, but I bet I taste way better than you. Try me!” This is where we would start to see how clever Hare was and be rolling around laughing, knowing what would happen now. Of course, within minutes Peanut Butter was no more because Hare had the whole jar. There are lessons embedded or hidden in this story/ngano/folk story. What are the lessons you pick? My grandma always asked us about the lessons we learned from every folk story and the one that stands out for me here is that not all that claim to be your friends are really your friends. At times they only tolerate you as long as they benefit from you but can betray you when push comes to shove. The second lesson is that there are a lot of wolves in sheepskin out there and we all need to be watchful always. This applies a great deal to our modern day society where some people will do anything to get what they want.



Interview by Morshed Akhtar

Inspiration from a fighter:


Cllr Sharon Thompson


INTERVIEW Sharon Thompson has been a Labour Councillor for the Birmingham North Edgbaston ward since 2014. Sharon has a genuine passion to improve her local area. Once homeless herself, and a single mother at an early age, Cllr Sharon Thompson is currently the Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods and on the WMCA Housing & Land Delivery Board. In her own words, she is not a “career politician.” She had a time when she was living on porridge only, often for a week at a time. Today, it looks like porridge gave her the strength to stand where she is today, to stand and speak strongly for homeless people, to speak for the larger BAME community as the diaspora representation. I had an opportunity to interview her for our Black History Month magazine Beyond. What does your day-to-day job role involve? This is a really difficult question to answer! It can change weekly depending on the priorities based on what’s happening locally, regionally and nationally. I am Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods, so effectively I have delegated responsibilities and decision-making powers in the areas of Housing, Homelessness, Bereavement Services, Registrars Services and Localism from the Leader of the Council. My day-to-day role includes reading and scrutinising lots of reports, high-level policy decision making, representing the city on various platforms from WMCA to EuroCities and being the spokesperson for the portfolio. Everyday I’m looking at casework and having meetings. I also get to visit organisations, groups and individuals in the community. I once said no day was ever the same, but in this pandemic every day is online meetings! You are quite a family person. How do you juggle all your activities with family life? Being a full-time politician whilst also mentoring others can be very time intensive. I often go through periods of ‘time poverty’ and, being very passion led, I have to say I can be a law unto myself. I have a very good core team who understand me, have my back and will challenge me when necessary. They basically keep me organised and we set aside time to go through the diary - present day to six weeks ahead. This helps me preplan! I can often work out when a busy or difficult period will arise. To avoid burnout, I will schedule downtime or something to look forward to. It could be a few days off with absolutely nothing planned and watch Netflix, read a good book or take a break. Juggling the community and political space against my home life can be some juggling act. I am very intentional with my personal time – self-care, time with the inner circle and hanging out with my son. You rarely see me at dinners and out networking in the evenings – I treat my personal time and private life as a treasured commodity. Although, if you ask my son or close family this same question, you may get a very different answer!



POWER OF PROTEST: Sharon Thompson supporting a People’s Assembly anti-austerity protest


INTERVIEW Your early life exposed you to poverty, homelessness, health issues and so on. How did you overcome these struggles? Some circumstances you never really ‘overcome’ but become able to better manage with resilience. I made an active decision not to be a victim of life issues but to be victorious through them and that mindset has got me to where I am today. I won’t pretend that I did it all by myself – I didn’t. I had a few organisations and individuals throughout the journey who invested in me, because they believed in me, when sometimes I didn’t believe in myself. St Basils and WAITS (Women Acting in Today’s Society) were instrumental, and I will forever feel indebted to them. There were individuals who walked me through some difficult times. Becoming a mother was a game changer. It was at that point I made an active decision to ‘be more’. I always said I didn’t want my son’s primary role model to be on telly. I wanted to show him you can achieve anything you put your mind to by using my life as an example. What brought you into politics, how did you get started? I often said ‘I don’t do politics’ without realising how involved I was already. As far back as 2005 I was attending consultations and roundtable discussions about barriers for women and ‘disadvantaged communities’ with Ministers at the Home Office with WAITS. I didn’t go because I was ‘political’ but because I was angry at the way things were for normal people like me!

Through WAITS I also contributed towards a national policy toolkit aimed at assisting policymakers in decisions that affect lone parents in the workplace. In 2007, I attended an Operation Black Vote programme and was sworn in as a Magistrate the following year. In 2008, I joined the Labour Party! I wasn’t an active member until I went on an educational programme for women with an organisation called Changes. Through them I learnt more about politics and visited the EU Parliament and EU Commission. I was very sceptical about politicians – thought they were all the same! I was lucky to be able to shadow one and realised how hard some worked. I had no ambitions of standing for councillor, until austerity really started to kick in! When you become really annoyed with politics that’s when politics needs you!


It can be very tough for women and I championed all-women shortlists in my local Labour Party branch (CLP). Through WAITS, I was a panellist on a debate alongside Speaker of the House John Bercow MP on the barriers for women entering politics. I supported my friend as she stood for councillor and became her campaign manager. Then I became the CLP Women’s Officer, Branch Chair and finally in 2014 I stood in my first election and was honoured to represent Soho Ward. Being a Black woman, how different or difficult was breaking into politics? It never stops being difficult being a woman in politics let alone faced with intersectionality! If you look at the trolling, abuse many women face in politics compared to men. Then add ethnicity and again you see the struggles. It is tough as a Black woman in politics, but I still encourage more to step forward to become councillors. In Birmingham we have six Black councillors out of a chamber of 101, so we are still a minority. However, over recent months we have all become stronger voices particularly throughout the pandemic and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Black, Asian and ethnic minority politicians have additional responsibilities to be a good (sometimes vocal) representative when it comes to their diaspora. Representation matters and given that it’s Black History Month I won’t expose the scars on this occasion – maybe that’s one for a book!

CAMPAIGNER: (L-R): Sharon with Labour activist Michael Thawe and Cllr Paulette Hamilton, Sharon appearing on BBC News, alongside Jack Dromey MP at 10 Downing Street, and speaking at a protest for peace in Kashmir


Apart from this political role, you’re involved in many other activities. What are some of the things that inspire you? There are so many things that inspire me and it is mainly to do with people. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate act but seeing growth, tenacity and determination in others. I never want to be a ‘ladder grabber’, so I like to support others in whichever way I can. Sometimes it can be as small as sharing a network or dedicating an hour a month of mentoring. Why do you think Black History Month is important? Black History Month is a great opportunity to celebrate the resilience, resourcefulness, experiences, achievements, culture and wisdom which can be found in the Black community. To educate, raise awareness and share with the wider community, breakdown stereotypes and have honest conversations in safe environments. There are differences between each Caribbean Islands, African countries and UK diasporas. Black History Month is a great opportunity to share our past stories and recent history - which is absent from the curriculum - and set out a vision for the future. Recent discussions around discrimination, injustice and inequalities demonstrate we are not close enough to an even level playing field. This makes Black History Month even more important in the current climate. What message would you like to pass on to the Black (and ethnic minority) community today? It’s been an incredibly challenging year, we have lost some amazing people along the way. This is the time to reflect on what is truly important and learn from what’s behind us. The next chapter will not be easy, and tomorrow is not guaranteed – be present, articulate and ambitious. Actively engage in politics because political decision-making actively affects us all. And what message would you like to pass on to the next generation in general? When this generation passes on the baton, we should be aiming to pass it onto you from a stronger position than when we picked it up. When you take the baton from us you need to continue to trailblaze, progress and achieve what was unachievable in my era. Don’t repeat the mistakes of previous generations; we made them for you to learn from not to repeat.

REFUGEES WELCOME: Sharon Thompson joins a convoy of volunteers to help refugees and migrants in the Calais refugee camp in 2015, which became known as ‘The Jungle’





The Women in Trees

Photography by Nathan McGill


A celebration of natural hair Photographer Nathan McGill – currently based in Birmingham – has been documenting what it means to be a Black woman embodying natural Afro hair; celebrating the beauty of African and Caribbean women through visual representation, in this case, photography. The standards of beauty within British society inflict Eurocentric idealism. These standards are constantly pushed through contemporary media outlets, forcing many women of African and Caribbean descent to conform to these European standards of beauty. Nathan’s visual research project titled “The Women in Trees” is an interdisciplinary body of work that combines both visual and oral means to highlight the individual experience of Black women. The 20-year-old creative has been using his creativity to collaborate with eight individuals to represent their often-neglected, African beauty, in a series of stunning black and white photographs. The ongoing project is part of a wider collection of work Nathan is currently pursuing, spotlighting the experiences of minority communities, including refugees, migrants, LGBTQ+ individuals and people of colour.

You can find more of Nathan’s work on Instagram


“I think European standards will always dominate because the powers that be are white, but I guess Afro hair will trend every so often.” - Ada

“The point is that we are our own standard of beauty, and that should be respected and not denigrated. European beauty is the only standard that requires the sublimation of other beauty ideals in order to be valid and feel superior.”



- Kadian

“My Afro means a lot of things to me; it’s a clear product of my ethnicity, a defining feature of my beauty and heavily symbolic of my heritage.” - Zaynab

“My Afro hair means resistance. It means embodying my natural spirit and living out of intent rather than habit.” - Sameera


“I’ve had a lot of people who are generally intrigued, people will ask lots of questions like how does it stay up like that? It’s a conversation starter and I love that. Sometimes people will touch my hair without permission which makes me feel like some sort of artefact.” - Olamide

“I feel growing up in a mixedrace family we always had a positive image of Afro hair, dark skin, noses, dark eyes, Black features. My mum took extra steps in buying both white and Black dolls, Black children’s books, teaching us self-love and making sure we knew we are beautiful so before we had any influence from media we already had a positive view of Black beauty.”



- Sharda

“I believe that Afro hair shows a part of our history. For Black women and men, Afro hair also shows power and unity. For so long, Afro hair was never accepted which made Black people feel small.” - Chi Chi

“Black people have worn braids for hundreds and hundreds of years and it’s been overlooked for a great deal of that time. But just a couple of years ago when a famous Caucasian female started to wear them, gave them a different name, they all of a sudden became the ‘in thing’. I think lots of Black features will at some point be thought of as beautiful by the media but it will remain as ‘those features look good on white people.’”

- Alia



From the West Ind

Memories of my first plane journ By Louise Andrews You never know the value of a moment, along with all who made it memorable, until it has passed. I was six years old when I migrated to Britain. This story is not just about the migration, it is about my personal experience as a child, and how the experience has affected my adult life. I was born in Saint Kitts and Nevis, in the West Indies. I am the fifth child of a family of ten and the last child in my family to be born in the West Indies. On the day that I departed from my country of birth, both my grandmother and older sister took me to the airport. I remember them trying to get me on the plane, and I remember resisting their efforts, but I do not remember what I was thinking. Just that I did not want to go on the plane. Perhaps I did not want to leave them; not knowing where I was going would have been quite scary, and the enormity of the plane may have intimidated me. My sister and grandmother eventually found a way to get me on the plane – telling me that the plane was going on a test run and it will be back. Still, in my tiny little mind this made sense, so I was passed over to the flight attendant since I was a minor travelling on my own to England. The lady placed me on the plane between an elderly woman and a teenager, both of Caucasian descent, who looked after me throughout the journey. As the plane took off and reached for the skies, I started to feel sick, so I followed my grandmother’s advice and inhaled the “Alcolada” she had given me. At that moment, I remembered her words vividly. “This will make you feel better,” she had said to me. I quickly started to feel better, and the plane journey was as comfortable as plane journeys can be. “Alcolada” is a mentholated splash-on lotion, green in colour, and used in the Caribbean and in England, prominently by Caribbean people for headaches, colds or general nausea. It wakes up your senses and gives you a feeling of comfort and reassurance. But for me it is much more than that; when I smell the “Alcolada” I feel loved and secure, and it also gives me a sense of belonging.


dies to England:

ney and early years in England Whilst travelling on the plane to the UK, I found myself reflecting on the life that I was leaving behind in the West Indies where I loved the rain – I used to run out, jumping, splashing and spinning around joyously. My grandmother would stand at the door and call me in and eventually she would have to come out to grab my arm and pull me into the house. Since St Kitts is a very hot Caribbean Island, the rain was warm and inviting.


I also reflected on life ahead of me in England. I was going to be living with my mother, who was already living in the country and waiting for me at Leicester Airport. I remember very well that I was very close to my grandmother and did manage to spend long periods of time with her as well as my father and his family. I was the last one to get off the plane; since the flight attendant had to follow all the health and safety measures as I was a minor, I waited patiently until the flight attendant was ready to take me off the plane and she checked my details and those of whom I was to be handed over to. After going through the immigration formalities, I was handed over to my mother. I was taken to what was to become new home. I was introduced to my brothers and sisters, who were born in England and were as total strangers to me as I was to them. This marked the beginning of my new life in England. Reflecting on my life in England, I can see it has been bittersweet. The journey has been very difficult – at times it has been cold, unfamiliar, and grey. Some of this derived from getting used to living with my mother, which has had a knock-on effect on me as an adult woman.


HERITAGE See, when I was younger I actually dreaded school holidays, as this meant I had to stay at home to clean, cook and do laundry. There was no escape from my mother and siblings. My mother would see this as preparing me for being a wife and mother, and not necessarily in that order. To this day I don’t like breaks from work as it makes me feel like I must be doing something with my time. Most of the negatives in my life I can turn into positives. I think that this is a decent survival mechanism. It’s not always been that way and has taken years of experience and life well lived. My life after immigrating to England has also made me reflect on the trials and tribulations of parenthood. When we become parents, we don’t know what we are getting into: no one gives us wisdom, knowledge, or understanding. These gifts are acquired over time. During the many seasons of my life as I grew into an adult, I tried hard not to be like my mother, in behaviour or in life choices. But our features are similar, and since I could not change my features, I made a conscious effort to ensure that I could control other parts of my life. Whether it was for the right or wrong reasons, it became a consuming factor. We cannot change our past but it’s our past that defines our future. As I continued my life in England, the seasons of my life that comprised some bad experiences built me up to be a compassionate person towards fellow human beings, reaching out to those who have been afflicted by similar experiences. “What does not kill you will make you stronger”, and this I feel is very true in my case as this has been a personal mantra of mine and has helped me in dark times. This is a gift from God. I believe our journey’s path is mapped out from the time we are born until our death.

THE ‘ALCOLADA’ EXPERIENCE: Louise Andrews is a community journalist with Migrant Voice from Birmingham. (Previous page): Louise at home in Birmingham (top) and with family in the Caribbean (bottom).


We are like daisies, delicate and strong at the same time. Relying on the need to be together as one forming a chain, reaching out towards each other. Lifting and encouraging each other. We stand stronger together accepting our fate.


Sixty seconds with

Mamoyo Mavis By Farisai Dzemwa Power of the Mind Networks is a storytelling community that exists to encourage social inclusion amongst BAME women and men experiencing social isolation and loneliness. Farisai Dzemwa met up with Mamoyo Mavis, the host of Power of the Mind Networks, to find out more about the primary purpose of the charity... Can you tell me more about Power of the Mind?

The storytelling community provides a platform for people to come and share their stories, thereby bringing understanding between people from diverse communities. The sharing of stories is therapeutic to the person talking about their experiences. Power of the Mind has a captive audience who are keen to listen to stories as a recreational activity. The storytelling community network is giving a voice to marginalised people since by sharing stories people manage to build their confidence. Sharing stories also alleviates stress and other mental health issues, as people from other support groups are there to help with whatever challenges an individual is going through. What events do you hold every year to celebrate Black History Month?


Every year in October, the Power of the Mind charity holds a Black History Month event to celebrate its achievements as a BAME community group. This year, its focus is on its community leaders. These are individuals and groups making a positive impact on our society, especially in relation to COVID-19. One of our events entitled ‘Our Unsung Heroes’ focuses on those people making a difference in society but remain unknown and unappreciated. Power of the Mind is therefore inviting our community leaders to come and talk about their work and to discuss how the community can help them to reach more people. There will be music, dance, dress up at this event. The dress code at the event is African attire. The charity’s events are being held online due to COVID-19. Power of the Mind Networks’ Black History Month event will be held online (via Zoom) on Saturday 17 October form 3pm until late. For more details, see page 103. BEYOND | 87


TARIK O Spoken word artist Tarik Ross-Cameron certainly has more treats than tricks when it comes to lyrical delights. He shares his passon for poetry with BEYOND... How did you get into spoken word poetry? I always had a love of words and stories as a boy, and developed a love of writing during school years. Over the years I’ve also grown to appreciate rhythm and lyricism across many genres of music, and I especially love hip hop, through which I gained my appreciation of the art of rhyme! I started writing and reading a lot more when I was at university, but I never considered performing until I signed up for one of Beatfreeks’ BACE academies in 2014. That was ten weekly sessions with Joe Cook and Jasmine Gardosi which helped me to realise that I had some poetic skill and prepared me to perform. My first performance went well, which gave me confidence to keep doing it. How would you describe the feeling you get when writing or performing poetry? The feeling I get when writing can vary greatly. Sometimes it’s quite pressured work, especially if I need to finish the piece by a certain date or deadline, but other times it can be very cathartic, enjoyable and fulfilling. Occasionally, I can get into a flow state which is a wonderful feeling of channeling words from somewhere in the subconscious or beyond. Either way, I feel a sense of completion, and often a deeper feeling of release, when a piece is finally ready to be read or performed. You get to know your own work, so I know when I’ve expressed and crafted something as well as I can or when it isn’t quite there yet. Performing is a different feeling! I do usually feel nerves to different degrees, but I ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ (to borrow the title of the well-known book). I always have a pre-performance ‘no.2’ and as long as I’ve had time to rehearse, I just do my best once I’m on stage. During and especially after a performance, there can be a euphoria, but always a sense of connection with the live audience after sharing part of myself, which is very special.



CONFIDENCE: Tarik was inspired to perform after signing up for Beatfreeks’ BACE Academy sessions





LYRICAL FLOW: Tarik honed his performance skills with Gallery37, an arts initiative run by Punch Records

What are the key themes that you’re most passionate about in your work? I write about anything that I feel the need to or the urge to, which can be personal subjects or societal phenomena. I also like to retell stories through some of my performance work. Based on life experiences, a lot of my writing deals with themes that are familiar to many in the Afrikan diaspora - identity, history, family, self-knowledge, belonging and being Black and Brit(ish) - to borrow the title of another book! Who are some of your spoken word or performance artist influences? Some that have influenced and inspired me are Gil Scott-Heron, Jay Electronica, Guru, Rakim, J. Cole, Ghetts, MF DOOM, Phonte, Kano, Lemn Sissay, Joni Mitchell, Saul Williams, Aliyah Denton, Leon Priestnall, Joe Cook, Jasmine Gardosi, Truemendous, Inua Elams, Kojey Radical, Arinzé Kene, RTkal, Bones, Yasmina Silva, Roger Robinson, Benjamin Zephaniah, and our late brother Lionel M. Macauley (RIP). You’ve been part of a lot of different projects. Which have had the most impact on you? With regard to my development, Beatfreeks’ BACE academies were the catalyst for me becoming a performance poet. Punch’s Gallery37 programme as well as Beatfreeks’ BAIT programme have impacted my writing and overall approach to being an artist. As an artist, I’ve gained and learned from every project I’ve been involved in. I feel blessed to have worked with theatres like Belgrade and The Lowry on very rewarding arts projects with young people. Tell us about your journey with Punch Records and Gallery37. In 2016, I was a part of the Spoken Word camp on Gallery37. It was the first time I’d been able to dedicate a whole week to working on my craft, and every fellow artist left an impression on me. Following that, I was commissioned by Punch/G37 to launch my first collection, Do What You Can, on a very special night for me at the MAC in Birmingham shared with family, friends and fellow artists. In 2018, I was invited back to G37 to support the Spoken Word camp as an associate artist. Again, the lead artists were excellent, the group was gifted and I enjoyed facilitating their collaboration with other camps. What is your involvement in the tradition of hip hop theatre? I can’t claim any involvement with the tradition, but I have become a student of it for sure. In 2015, I devised and performed a short piece of poetic theatre called ‘Eugene’, which is still my favourite piece to perform. In 2018, I created another called ‘The Name of the Game’, after which Roger Robinson told me that hip hop theatre could be my lane, which was good enough for me! I have been inspired by the work of Benji Reid, Arinzé Kene and Inua Elams among others. Before lockdown, I was really enjoying developing some draft theatre scripts with two brilliant artists at Birmingham REP, which I hope I will be able to continue in the future. It’s Black History Month during October. Why do you think this is important? It is important but it is also not enough on its own. It’s important because in the UK there’s BEYOND | 91

NEWS still a great deal of ‘Black history’ that is never taught, and the national curriculum continues to fail young Black people in very profound ways. My grandma always used to say ‘dem don’t even know dey own history’. Based on the example set by the current political establishment, she was not wrong at all. Black History Month alone is not enough though because there is a lot more education on ‘Black history’ needed here than can be crammed into a single month. Progress is still being fought for and won over many years however, and we now have Birmingham City University’s Black Studies course as a significant example of that continued progress. How much of what you do is about representation? A former colleague of mine who works in a school recently told me that he’s told his students about me as an example of a Black man building a career in the arts, which I had no idea about and really made me feel humbled. I can only say that I still remember the Black men and women who I looked up to when I was a kid, and if I can be that face or that example for any young person now, that is its own reward. There are many of us doing what we can. Additionally, a lot of my current work with Punch, Belgrade and now Maokwo in Coventry, is about building projects and programmes that improve representation in the creative sector. What have been your struggles as a Black artist? In truth, my biggest struggles have mostly been internal. Although I was already 23 before I really started practising my art, I feel I have been able to access a good level of support so far as an artist, based mainly in Birmingham. The internal struggles have been combating things that lots of artists experience such as motivation and self-discipline, as well as things that Black artists are likely to experience more acutely such as ‘imposter syndrome’ and the burden of representation in white-dominated spaces that can be very wearing. How did you overcome these? Although I wouldn’t say I have fully overcome these things yet by any means, what I have overcome so far has been with patience, with the support of loved ones, and with my own resilience and core self-belief. What would be your message for other aspiring Black spoken word artists? Do What You Can! However much or however little that may be, and whatever motivates you to want to be an artist or just to write in the first place, know that your mind and your pen (or keyboard) are MIGHTY and that time invested in your craft and your ‘artist mindset’ is a great gift to yourself, and to anyone who will encounter your work. You can find out more about Tarik Ross-Cameron’s work at 92 | BEYOND


Sixty seconds with

Beverly Johnson By Althia Barnett Miss Beverly Johnson is a woman with many hats. A self-made African Caribbean business woman and the CEO of JLB Shipping and Logistics Ltd, located in West Bromwich, Sandwell, Beverly has over 30 years experience in the shipping and logistics industry while also managing several other business enterprises. Althia Barnett caught up with her and asked her about her job and what it entails... Can you tell me a bit about how you got into the shipping and logistics industry? I entered the industry by mere chance, fell in love with it and decided to learn all I could about it. What does your job in the shipping industry entail? My job entails total management of a group of companies, providing logistics service of one sort or another as is required by our clients within the supply chain. From procurement to delivery or distribution at the foreign destination. Shipping services have a very wide sphere. From procurement, purchasing, packing, choosing suitable modes of transport operations, customs clearance, duty and tax processing, distribution and training personnel with the aim of equipping them with knowledge relating to shipping.


What does Black History Month mean to you? I celebrate Black History Month, not because I feel the need to celebrate my Blackness, as I am already proud to be Black. I celebrate Black History Month to impart the truth about our history and our accomplishment as a people.




By Loraine Masiya Mponela

Migrant Voice has been hosting a series of special online “Power Talk” presentations and Question and Answer sessions for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers from the West Midlands.

The Power Talk sessions were started as additional sessions aimed at inspiring or motivating Media Lab and newsroom group members to aim for higher success by granting them the opportunity to listen and ask questions to media personalities. They have all acquired greater success through hard work, good communication skills when it comes to advancing one’s media career as well as in winning and keeping a target audience or media following. In organising the Power Talks, Migrant Voice always tries to make sure that they invite journalists or media personalities who are powerful public speakers who can sell more or have achieved their career or personal goals as journalists, celebrities or social media influencers. The Power Talks have gone a long way in encouraging the trainee newsroom 94 | BEYOND

group members or citizen journalists to realise the possibilities of starting their own media channels despite having no formal journalism training. The guest at the Power Talk that was held online on the 18 June 2020 was Salma Yaqoob, a prominent figure who explained her journey as a campaigner, politician and media personality. The Power Talk, which included a question and answer session, was chaired by Migrant Voice’s Selbin Kabote, and it explored the engaging community leadership and activism of Salma Yaqoob. In her presentation, Salma mentioned that “for women, taking up space is a radical move since normally only men take up space.” Salma also noted that “When you are vocal you will be called bad, mad, extreme and that is OK, as you are speaking for those silenced.” Salma also touched on how we can bring real changes in our communities. She believes that bringing real change is about dismantling unfair structures.

L-R: Previous Power Talk sessions have been led by Salma Yaqoob and Sheikh Shahnawaz and the next one will be hosted by Joshua Williams

Her messages on racism were clear. She told the Power Talk participants, “Let’s challenge racism and all sorts of oppression in an effort to liberate ourselves”. The Power Talk also had a question and answer session from the attendees who contributed to the session through online comments. One of the comments on the chat section read, “Thank you, the session was inspir-

ing, informative and powerful”. Other previous Power Talks have included one by filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz. The Power Talk highlighted how persistence and hard work can help migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to push the man-made walls that are built around their lives. The Power Talk sessions are free and open to first and second-generation migrants. The next Power Talk event takes place online on Friday 30 October with special guest Joshua Williams, a journalist and presenter from Birmingham. Visit for more details. BEYOND | 95


“In order to bring real change, four questions are necessary to explore: WHO is benefitting, WHY the oppression, HOW can we stop that and with WHO. Then walk the talk.”

ART HERBERT WALTERS: A documentary photographer By Morshed Akhtar I met the documentary photographer Herbert Walters at an exhibition in Birmingham in 2018. I have been friends with him from that time. Herbert’s photographs at the exhibition attracted me most and this instant attraction resulted in the establishment of my friendship with him. Herbert does not only capture the moment, but he captures a narrative. Herbert likes to introduce himself as a documentary photographer. He had an early childhood in Handsworth, Birmingham, and is of Jamaican heritage. His work includes a project with the police to deter young people from violence. He has strong memories of growing up in Handsworth in the 1960s and 1970s. The memories include the growth and influence of Rastafarianism, police harassment and the Handsworth riot.

Herbert has lived in Birmingham for many years and he is also a distinguished international photographer. He has done photographic work in many places including New York, Norway, Scotland, London and Birmingham. He prides himself on being a documentary street photographer and has staged exhibitions in places including New York and London. But his most prominent photographic exhibitions have been in Birmingham. The three images below were taken by Herbert Walters in 2012 at Jamaica Square in Birmingham at a Windrush generation gathering to celebrate Jamaica’s National Day.



After completing his degree at Birmingham City University, Herbert was given the opportunity to work as an Artist in Residence at the university where he mentored undergraduate students. This experience gave him the chance to create a body of work without the pressure of exams and it enabled him to experiment with his photographic skills in the studios on campus.

ART JANE THAKOORDIN: Visual artist Jane is a Birmingham based participatory and textile artist, with over 30 years of collaborating with community groups and organisations to co-produce high quality art work. She is the founder of Birmingham Artivistas, a collective of women artists who create work with a social justice message. They are committed to making art as accessible as possible, and often place their work in public spaces such as park fences. Jane has worked with the Ikon gallery, The REP Theatre, Birmingham Museums services and many charities, using creativity to express voices. Jane’s arts practice is informed by her feminist and activist roots as well as her identity as a Black woman.


SPOTLIGHT Farisai Dzemwa’s thoughts... Diversity’s performance on 5 September 2020, staged on Britain’s Got Talent, had me glued to the screen mesmerised. A riveting and electric performance shown live on the popular ITV show, a work of art choreographed as a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, highlighted racial inequality, police brutality and hope for the future of Black people and their children. Yet, despite the widely praised and highly positive nature of the Diversity group’s act, anger mounted in some quarters as Ofcom received over 24,500 complaints about the broadcast. Ofcom, however, chose to defend the show, the integrity of the dance act and their performance; as did ITV. The complaints were dismissed and the performance praised by the regulator as a “call for unity”, and rightly so. Being this creative in storytelling got my attention indeed, as I am also passionate about creative self or community expression. It was with amazement and frustration I then heard that the performance had caused so much controversy. I was amazed that some people took offence. Britain is said to be an inclusive diverse country, yet thousands of people in our communities received the act with such negativity. The government goes to great lengths to convince the country and the world that we, as a nation, are pro-diversity, pro-unity and pro-inclusivity. But are we? How can we say we are getting equal chances and are included if we cannot express our views, our thoughts and our feelings creatively exactly as Diversity did? My thoughts are that those that took offence may have responded to this from a defensive perspective. The fear of triggering another stream of demonstrations such as those triggered by the loss of George Floyd’s life may put people on the defensive and could possibly also create animosity towards anything and anyone who is seen as a trigger. Yet I ask, shall our self expression then be muted? Should we hide our emotions when they are there willing to be expressed? This was clearly a creative general expression by Black people of what it feels like to be Black. Shouldn’t Diversity be applauded for choosing a creative and peaceful way of expression?


In defence of Diversity’s Britain’s Got Talent performance for...

r e t t a M s e #BlackLiv Althia Barnett’s thoughts... “This dance was creativity and acrobatics in its best form, depicting what is happening in society. The truth cannot be hidden. Therefore if it takes a dance formation to tell it then Diversity’s dance has spoken loud and proud.”


Morshed Akhtar’s thoughts... “This controversy reminds me of Banksy, ‘..nobody ever listened to me until they didn’t know who I was.’ This piece of work is artistic re-creation of an important underrated issue of the modern world, Black Lives Matter. Creating art cannot be based on other people’s wishes, it cannot be ordered. “Art is spontaneous, and it always tries to make statements. BGT Diversity performance might have annoyed a group of people, as individuals have their own way of interpreting things! Seemingly this group of people are afraid of accepting the truth that Black Lives Matter.” BEYOND | 99


How a disabled asylum seeker crowdfunded his PhD fees By Dickson Tarnongo Solutions are made to respond to challenges. My journey to raise £4,507 for my tuition fees in 43 days was my quest to proffer a solution to my PhD ambition.

Just like the late President Nelson Mandela titled his autobiography “Long Walk To Freedom”, the asylum process in the UK can be metaphorically likened to be a “Long Walk to Freedom”, even though many do not live to see their freedom after a “long walk” to acquiring the refugee status. Three weeks into my journey of “Long Walk to Freedom”, calamity struck the entire world like wildfire and of course the UK was no exception. It was the arrival of a pandemic known as COVID-19 with no cure and ready to kill whoever dared it. For asylum seekers,

100 | BEYOND

it was a double jeopardy situation. My challenges were all of a sudden multiplying at an exponential rate. To worsen the matter and add more salt to the wound, on the 23 March Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced strict lockdown in the UK. At that point in my life, my anxiety and frustration changed into a serious depression heading to a mental health breakdown. So, in order to help myself and prevent my mental health from deteriorating further, I was compelled to think outside the box and that was when my PhD dream resurfaced and I immediately knew it was a worthy undertaking that would keep me active and alive on my “Long Walk to Freedom”. I have been a development practitioner and a social activist with a special interest in disability rights for the past 20 years. I have a Master’s Degree in International Development Law and Human Rights from the University of Warwick.


It is a piece of common knowledge that when you apply for sanctuary in the UK, you have just embarked on a journey that is indefinite, unpredictable, but full of pains, anxiety, deep depression, convoluted and carefully designed to be a frustrating journey. This is the journey I started on 31 January 2020.

FEATURE Having written intensively on the rights of persons with disabilities, it was time to develop a PhD proposal on the subject and I came up with ‘’Disability Rights and Citizenship’’ as the fulcrum of my PhD research. It took me two months of research to develop my PhD proposal and when I was finally done, I reached out to six potential supervisors from six universities in the UK. Two months later, I got three rejections. I knew it was not over yet. Even though I was afraid of failure at some point, I knew I was going to be successful at last. I got two wonderful offers. One from a Russel Group university and another from the University of Leicester. Leicester has become a University of Sanctuary and therefore it was going to be a good choice for a student with my kind of status who is not entitled to mainstream student finance. Consequently, I applied for more than 20 scholarships and grants from charities, trusts and the University of Leicester Sanctuary scholarship, only to sit and watch my rejections roll in daily. As I watched my rejections drop without an iota of hope, I deplored my sense of thinking outside the box again and this time around, I remembered “crowdfunding”. I summoned the courage to speak to some friends and family members and the idea of crowdfunding was endorsed. But how do I start crowdfunding in a climate in which I have a limited network of friends? This was the first question that came to mind. But courage and determination pushed me out and I started. I spoke to some community

mobilisers and they all agreed to give me their platforms to spread my crowdfunding campaigns. The crowdfunding campaign was launched with £20 with the target of £4,507 on 20 July 2020. As days were going by, organisations and individuals began to reach out to me and pledges were rolling in daily. It was gradual but very steady. It was a very anxious experience as my last option to fund my PhD was playing out and I watched my crowdfunding campaign grow from £0.00 to £5,425 on 26th August 2020. I must confess openly that I received tremendous support and public goodwill. It was a bitter but sweet experience of watching hope restored to a person whose hope had almost gone with consistent rejections. As the crowdfunding campaign met its target, a friend from South Africa and Malawi who saw my crowdfunding campaign on I Am Birmingham and Coventry Telegraph, reached out to me and requested that I set up another crowdfunding campaign again for the 2nd and 3rd year tuition fees so they could help promote the page to rally support for my PhD. The friends unanimously advised that I should set up the crowdfunding page to last for 12 months in order to give adequate time to receive pledges that will advance the course of my PhD dream. This may not be necessarily for now but may be in future. I am very grateful to all my good friends and colleagues who are ever willing to help me. Following my experience, I believe that those who seek asylum in the UK must be encouraged by all to develop themselves in education and the creative industries. BEYOND | 101


May we always remember the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given that separates one person from another”. Mandela went further to say: “It is not beyond our power to create a world in which all children have access to good education. Those who do not believe this have a small imagination.” The UK is a great country and must be seen upholding and promoting the standard of living and the welfare of those who seek sanctuary in the country. Thus, any policy or laws that suffocate asylum seekers or cause them to live in squalor, pain and depression must be put on hold. Thus, the UK as a democratic nation should open opportunities for those who seek sanctuary in the country especially in education and employment. Let the hostile environment created in the UK against migrants be translated into a loveable and prosperous society where we are all our brother’s and sister’s keepers. Let the tears and depression of those who 102 | BEYOND

seek sanctuary in Great Britain be translated into an equitable society where colour, race and nationality become our history and all races are judged by just being human. I conclude by saying a ‘BIG THANK YOU’ to all my supporters. You are the best and always remember that you are all my heroes and heroines. In the words of my mentor and hero, the late Nelson Mandela, “as long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest”. It follows that we must always remember that, in Mandela’s words, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” If you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience, do follow me on the next steps of my “Long Walk to Freedom”. Dickson Tarnongo is a community journalist with the Migrant Voice newsroom team. He is a development practitioner and social activist with special interest in disability rights and immigration law currently seeking sanctuary in the UK.


I am proud of my skin I am proud of my skin. Yes! I’m proud of my body I am put in. Before the days of slavery, My ancestors have shown nothing but bravery. Our great fore-parents have not passed on in vain, For evermore we’re carrying their name. No matter how we’re battered and bruised, No more will we stand to be used. With our fists raised up high, Screaming…“BLACK LIVES MATTER!” Yes! I am proud of my skin.


Proud of the body I am put in.

By Althia Barnett 105 | BEYOND


How to join the...

Migrant Voice Newsroom By Selbin Kabote

As explained in this magazine’s welcome message by the community journalist Althia Barnett, the newsroom is an initiative run and managed by members of the migrant community, creating and publishing content sharing their own experiences and stories as migrants in the West Midlands. The newsroom sessions are held every week (usually on Tuesday from around 12pm to about 3pm). As part of the MiFriendly Cities project, Migrant Voice runs the newsroom and Media Lab sessions in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton and now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sessions are being held online for participants from the region. The interactive workshop sessions are aimed at equipping community activists with the skills that would enable them to become citizen journalists. As a result of the newsroom training sessions, many participants who had no prior journalism training have managed to get their articles and videos published on many media platforms. The Media Lab training sessions have been mainly full training days of one longer or two shorter sessions with guest journalists covering one or two related topics of media training. Time for practical exercises and one-to-one support has been built in as well as time for networking. The Media Lab contributes to two MiFriendly Cities communications objectives from the communications strategy, namely to empower refugees and migrants to speak for themselves to the media and to key stakeholders and to build understanding and encourage solidarity between communities across the West Midlands. The newsroom is a follow up to the Media Lab. The Media Lab sessions have all been stand-alone sessions and many participants have attended on more than one occasion. As we have been living and continue to live in unusual times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be noted that quite a number of people have now taken to social media in order to communicate with friends, relatives and loved ones. If you need more training to sharpen your social media skills, please get in touch with us.

MEDIA TRAINING Who can join? This project is open to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and their friends with or with no media skills as the activities will be tailored to individual needs and skills. Ideally, participants are willing to share their own story on at least one media platform. Participants do not need fluent English to participate, but they need to have a reasonable level to enable them to take part in a training conducted in English. We will speak with each participant to determine their particular skills and interests before they start attending the media training sessions. Participants are also expected to attend our follow-up small group and/or one-toone mentoring sessions to produce their media work. If you would like more information on the training projects that we are currently running at Migrant Voice, or any further media training or volunteer opportunities, please contact Selbin Kabote or Adam Ali.

You can also contact Selbin Kabote on the following telephone number: 07821147341.

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Our email addresses are as follows: and


Meet the Team The Migrant Voice news team who have been part of our activities for the MiFriendly Cities project in the West Midlands is made up of volunteers and eager media enthusiasts, many of whom are now community journalists. Here’s some of the team who joined us in the last year...

Althia Barnett Birmingham

Morshed Akhtar Walsall

Farisai Dzemwa Wolverhampton

Loraine Masiya Mponela Coventry 108 | BEYOND



Camiquea Bryce-Jordan Birmingham

Sazini Malaba Wolverhampton

Dickson Tarnongo Coventry

Petrona Clarke Birmingham

Louise Andrews Birmingham

BEYOND | 109

THANK YOU As you have read up to this page, I presume you have enjoyed reading our magazine ‘Beyond’. By this time I am sure you already know what Black History Month is all about, and why it is a necessity to celebrate it. It is not important how you celebrate it, the point lies in celebrating, and you do not need to be Black or of Black descent to celebrate Black History Month. Just to let you know, I am not a Black person myself but I am part of the Black experience, we share a common struggle. Everyone is encouraged to mark this special month. We are particularly grateful to all the people who have made this magazine a reality considering that this year 2020 has been a very unusual year and a big experience for its survivors. We have experienced a lot this year. Coronavirus has taken so many lives. The racially motivated deaths of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor and countless others in the US is another tragedy this year. Today, we are still fighting to justify the Black Lives Matter movement. It is indeed a shame. Thus, we can only hope that we will get there soon. Now let’s talk about Beyond. It is our first Black History Month presentation. We dreamed of making it very lovely, bright and colourful. We tried our best. You’ll tell us how we did, please be honest in making your comments regarding our efforts. It will help us to grow better. It is a universal truth that there is always a gap between a dream and the reality. So, it’s needless to mention that we experienced some challenges too. But the good thing is that Beyond is a reality now. A massive thank you to all the contributors, interviewees, advisors, illustrators, designers, photographers, artists, friends and family members. Many thanks to Migrant Voice and MiFriendly Cities for empowering us. You all are wonderful people, and all your contributions are greatly appreciated. You will remain in our hearts! We would love to work with all of you again soon.

Morshed Akhtar Co-editor, Beyond BHM magazine

110 | BEYOND


Thank you very much.

THANK YOU This magazine was created by the Migrant Voice newsroom as part of the MiFriendly Cities initiative. Thank you to all of our supporters and partners:

This project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Urban Innovative Action’s initiative

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