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Inspirational Black British men – celebrating men’s week

inspirational Black British men

BBE has always been keen to push positive stories of Black people to the front of everyday narratives. Earlier in March we celebrated Women’s History Month so we thought to do the same for inspirational Black British men.

This week, we celebrate inspirational Black British men in the lead up to Father’s Day (which is celebrated on the 21st June in England) honouring 7 men & 3 Black-owned organisations whose achievements have succeeded in changing the perception of young Black boys and men of young Black men/boys in the UK context.

As the saying goes: ‘not all heroes wear capes’ but that doesn’t mean we cannot recognise and applaud the heroes whose hard work is changing the future of Black British men/boys. Without further ado, below are the heroes we’ve nominated for this year’s Men’s Week.

JOHN BOYEGA

Look I don’t l know if i’ll have a job after this. But f*** that.

– John Boyega, 2020 BLM UK March

We couldnt resist making this gentleman our first honoree and mascot for our Men’s Week campaign. John Adedayo Bamidele Adegboyega famously known as John Boyega rose to global fame leading the popular franchise Star Wars and hit the headlines last week leading the Black Live Matter movement peaceful protest in Hyde Park (London). He left the crowds in tears with his powerful and fearless approach to speaking out against the death of George Floyd and institutional racism. Rather than shying away from the conversation, John spoke to the crowds like a Chief rallying his audience to action. He was everyone’s physical manifestation of the collective grief and anger we all felt. He was a broken man. But one who was ready to risk it all echoing the words ‘Look, I don’t know if I’m even going to have a career after this…’ They say hell hath no fury for a scorned woman but that is no match for a man risking it all for the advancement of his people: Black people.

It’s unimaginably nerve wrecking for celebrities to publically speak out against racist institutions for their practises because, for some, it results in being blacklisted by major corporations and decision-makers/gatekeepers who have influence/stakes in the entertainment industry. One can’t even begin to imagine what was going through John’s head when he wrapped his hands on the megaphone and delivering this message despite being aware of the professional backlash his career may receive. While he was always pro-Black and regularly calls out racists on social media, it was refreshing to see the actor using his platform and fame by publically speaking out and fighting against inequalities in our communities. Thankfully, actors and directors including Star Wars director Taita Wakiki and Get Out director Jordan Peele have shown public appreciation and support for John’s activism promising him to work irrespective of Hollywood’s stance. Great to know our hero won’t be losing his cape any time soon.

Imagine being scared to loose your job because for the sheer fact that you’re simply protesting for rights for your people? It’s the reality for alot of Black people and we’d like to take this moment to thank every person who has ever protested for our civil rights.

MENTIVITY

“All these ‘experts’ don’t have a clue because they are not living it.”

Sayce Holmes-Lewis co-director of Mentivity

Mentivity is a Black owned organisation founded and run by 3 friends from North London: Sayce Holmes-Lewis, Leon Wright and Tyson Holmes-Lewis in 2016. This organisation was founded because they were passionate about mentoring male and female youths and providing them a platform to flourish through continued support, guidance, and self-education. These men grew up in impoverished areas and therefore use firsthand experiences to connect with and mentor youths appropriately as they understand the environments these young people grow up in: heavily influenced by societal pressures, peer pressure, poverty and (recently) social media. Unlike mainstream organisations, Mentivity delivers a bottom-up ‘youth centered’ approach whereby their program is based on the needs of the youth rather than what the government (or the rest of the world) thinks should be done. The Mentivity team delivers sessions via conversation-based learning by engaging youths in through 1:1 mentoring, engaging them in thought-provoking conversations on issues they face and other dilemmas with the aim of fostering greater educational attainment. By doing so, Mentivity is using a ‘big brother’ vibe to actively keep youths from participating in delinquent behaviour. They are creating a safe place desperately needed following the closure of 90% of London’s community centres, as per the spending cuts to public funding by the Tory government. 

In essence, Mentivity is a grass roots organisation that serves to educate, protect and inspire youth and we couldn’t resist commemorating these inspirational Black British men.

56 BLACK MEN

56 Black Men started off as a campaign by Cephas Williams in 2018 as a way of dismantling the media and Hollywood’s portrayal of Black men which have condensed into 4 categories: gangsters/criminals, absentee/useless fathers, brutish/threatening and ‘the coconut’ or ‘not like those Black people’. Cephas gathered a few of his friends and other men to show that Black men aren’t monolith (i.e. they don’t JUST fit into the 4 categories above), a necessary reminder that they’re more than the stereotypical presentations portrayed on the news or in the media/film industries. Why 56 men? According to UK crime stats 2018, 56 Black men were murdered in 2018: around the same time, the news outlets reported an increase in knife crime which heightened unjust police searches towards young Black men/boys. 

“We need to change the narrative black men and black boys need to start seeing positive images of black men”

Cephas Williams (Founder of 56 Black Men)

This idea was to photograph a compilation of Black men wearing black hoodies with a caption stating each of their job titles and achievements listed. The message is to highlight a few things namely, that Black men are not a mere statistic or crime figure but rather encompass a variety of roles in society. The campaign aimed to change the public’s perception on the criminalisation of clothing: equating/associating certain clothing with crime or to be worn by criminals. To wider society, Black boys wearing [black] hoodies automatically makes them criminally suspect and Cephas used this notion to challenge society’s thought process because the items are worn as fashion.  

Cephas wanted to highlight the importance of representation of the positive attainments and job roles Black men have to achieve in regular life: a portion of life that Western media seems to ignore. This campaign was aimed at acknowledging Black men and their accomplishments to the economy and to only be judged by the hoodies they wear. It was a chance to not only decimate lazy and old stereotypes of Black men, but to also appear as inspirational Black British men to boys without constraining it to those in the media/sports industry. Representation in all facets of life is important in helping fuel young people’s self-esteem, therefore, if young Black boys continually see themselves represented in the media with negative and damaging stereotypes, this does not give them much else to look up to, neither does it help to change the trajectory of their life and the decisions they make. Thus, Cephas’ campaign aims to change public perception of Black men and the 56 Black Men now look to continue to push the boundaries for Black men in the world of media, culture and within the community.

KREPT AND KONAN

“If they’re blaming the music, then a lot of us wouldn’t be here – we’ve changed our lives, so it would be bad for us to watch them ban a form of music knowing that it’s how we got off the streets”

Krept & Konan

Croydon rappers-turned-entrepreneurs Krept & Konan who are best known for their influence on the rap/drill music scene. The duo gained popularity after releasing the mixtape ‘Young Kingz’ in 2013, which reached the Top 20 in the UK Album Charts; put them in the Guinness book of records for the highest-charting UK album by an unsigned act, and won best International Acts at the BET Awards. Krept & Konan also have hands in multiple pockets as their business endeavours span from restaurant ‘Crepes and Cones’, record label & events ‘Play Dirty’ and producing their own BBC television show ‘The Rap Game UK’ which has been nominated for a BAFTA this year!

Casyo ‘Krept’ Johnson & Janayd Karl ‘Konan’ Wilson’s both shared a love for music which started from a young age, but neither would take the craft seriously until 2007. Krept & Konan met in their mid-teens after a friendly competitive game of football between their schools. They bonded over their shared love of So Solid Crew and Eminem, exchanging beats via Bluetooth on their mobile phones. Once Konan discovered Krept could rap, they both decided to seriously pursue a career in music. Their musical career spans over a decade and the duo have accumulated much respect from their fellow grime MC’s. The “second wave of grime” has been quite instrumental in the UK music scene because it challenged the way mainstream listeners absorbed and accepted the sound, and Krept & Konan are very crucial players in this movement. It wasn’t until their third EP ‘Young Kingz’ that people began to take notice, however. While some praised the MC’s, other forces were desperate to put an end to this genre of music.

Rap music has suffered tremendous scandals and censorship dating back from the 90s when Hip Hop was at its peak. NWA was heavily chastised and subjected to brutal censorship following the release of their ‘Fuck the Police’ record which was in response to the beating of Rodney King and censorship of 2 Live Crew’s rap music. Their lyrics were deemed to “derail the minds of young Americans with the bad language” and censored but ‘Uncle Luke’ (1 member of 2 Live Crew) appealed this censorship which would have seen their music taken out of stores, subsequently making it illegal to listen to their rap music. Luke successfully won his case in 1990 as the censorship was against their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and subsequently birthed the Parental Advisory sticker that is now used to inform parents of music that contains explicit lyrics. Without Luke’s fight, there would no Rap, no Hip Hop, and no Drill as we know it today.

UK rappers have had their fair share of issues around censorship with the removal of Drill music videos from YouTube in 2019 and the controversial introduction of Form 696: a live music risk assessment form which allows police to stop and search live rap shows/performances they deem likely to be a danger to the public. Both initiatives disproportionately stifled progression of the youth, Rap and Drill rappers as musicians because it allowed the establishment to censor working-class Black British talent from thriving. While the form was successfully appealed and removed from UK law in 2017, the government introduced a new crackdown on Drill music. In response to this crackdown, Konan wrote a heartfelt letter to Parliament explaining that whilst the content in Drill lyrics is aggressive and describes very dark scenes – much like Hip Hop – it was a way for some young Black boys to express their issues and channel their angst about personal situations, emphasising that these youths make music to escape their harsh realities. He went on to highlight the effects of Tory government closures of youth clubs, community schemes and the education system that consistently fails these youths who now, instead of looking up to drug dealers, have icons that were raised in the same bleak environments but have used their musical talent to leave it.

The duo stood up to the government’s plans and teamed up with Rapman to create a short film titled ‘Ban Drill’ which showed the danger of banning the genre as the music allows young Black men to become vulnerable: a privilege that doesn’t come easy for Black men, let alone the youth. Much like ‘Uncle Luke’, Krept & Konan were successful in campaigning against the silencing of Drill music, landing themselves a seat in Parliament to discuss ways of preventing the proposed measures. Multiple Drill artists supported their initiative.

“We don’t want them just looking up to us: We want to actually give them something to do.”

Krept & Konan

Krept & Konan recently launched the Positive Direction Foundation: an after-school program which aims to educate and encourage young minds to take part in professional workshops learning how to produce music and function in the industry. The Positive Direction Foundation teaches on various aspects of the music industry beyond Rap; it shows the youth how to create an entire industry. They are taught about the business behind music, graphics and artwork, videos, songwriting, producing, engineering, programming, mixing and mastering.

Krept & Konan started this program to inspire youths to direct their energies into something meaningful and fill in time after school for the day – a vital action in response to the massive cuts to public funding of community programs (including the closure of 90% of youth clubs). It gives youths the chance to explore and develop technical skills in something they love as well as soft skills like confidence, teamwork, building interpersonal relationships.

Krept & Konan also opened their flagship restaurant ‘Crepes and Cones’ (a play on their rap names) which received unprecedented support from the music industry and the general public. They are the first rappers in the UK to branch into the hospitality industry and this serves as an inspiration to young Black boys to pursue different careers and interests regardless of their background or upbringing. Crepes and Cones has been running for 2 years and we pray to see this turn into a franchise across London and the UK. The duo also founded Play Dirty events organising the dopest parties in the capital and attracting UK music royalty as part of the Play Dirty record label which scouts the hottest talent in the UK.

Krept & Konan rose to become a respected and outspoken rapping duo in the British underground and mainstream music industry, fighting censorship all the way to Parliament, helping to pioneer and change the perception of Drill rap. Their desire to give something back to their community by facilitating opportunities for young people is what makes them stand out to us.

AINSLEY HARRIOT

Any true 90s kid will remember our next honoree from his days presenting absolute classics like Ready, Steady, Cook and Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook. Ainsley Denzil Dubriel Harriott (MBE) the Chef, Television Presenter and Entertainer was born in Paddington, London. His family were part of the Windrush generation of Jamaica and Barbados that moved to London in the 50s. Ainsley is a national treasure and famous for his BBC cooking shows Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook and Ready Steady Cook which was the most prominent prime time cooking show landed by any Black person in the UK. He was awarded an MBE for his broadcasting service and culinary arts. Before TV and radio, Ainsley built a reputation as a chef in top London hotels and was head chef at Long Room at Lord’s. He has sold two million books worldwide including Ainsley’s Barbecue Bible, the Meals in Minutes franchise, Friends and Family, Ainsley’s Caribbean Kitchen and his latest Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook.

Although singing and performing was his first love (he co-founded the Calypso Twins in the early ’90s pic) Ainsley’s cooking career began when he was offered an apprenticeship at an East End restaurant at the age of 16. Food was an integral part of his upbringing and he frequently helped his mother create some memorable dishes experiencing the patience and love that went into preparing, cooking and serving food. His sister organised cooking lessons and his brother was always cooking so it is no surprise that Ainsley wanted to pursue a career in culinary arts. He now has over twenty years of experience working in professional kitchens including The Dorchester, Browns, The Hilton, The Westbury, New Bond Street, Caf Peilican and Quaglinos. While at Lords he was asked to present More Nosh, Less Dosh on BBC Radio 5, he then secured a small role in sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf in 1993, and eventually became a resident chef on Good Morning with Anne and Nick. Once Ainsley became the main presenter of Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook and later Ready, Steady, Cook, he was a household name and these shows allowed him to become one of the most famous TV cooking faces in the country.

“We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance”

Ainsley Harriot

Till date, Ainsley remains the most high-profile Black chef in the UK and he fights the perception that Black people do not belong in the kitchen cooking gourmet food. When he started his career people were taken aback that a Black man was working as a professional chef cooking gourmet French cuisine and was asked: “Shouldn’t you be cooking jerk chicken?”. He has stated that every time he went into the kitchen on camera, he felt that he must prove why he belonged there: in a non-deprived, space frequented by White men. Only 6% of head chefs across 165 top restaurants are Black (none prior to 2006) and only 2 Black chefs have a MICHELIN* star (the equivalent to an Oscar in culinary industry) in the UK which goes to show the lack of diversity and recruitment/retention of Black chefs in gourmet culinary.

It is worth noting that Ikoyi restaurant (London based) broke the mould, becoming the first restaurant serving African dishes to receive their first MICHELIN in 2019 which offers hope for the future. African and Caribbean food can be bought cheaply as takeaways, therefore it is not taken as seriously or seen to be as sophisticated as more expensive European cuisine in the assessment process, neither are the people who hail from these countries. This is partly due to the classist and racist nature of the culinary industry where racial bias wears down aspiring Black chefs looking to break into the industry and makes established Black chefs work that much harder to prove themselves. There is also a perception that the job too much resembles Black people’s historical role as rich people’s servant. Therefore, Ainsley’s show ‘Can’t Cook, Wont Cook’ not only changed the perception of primetime viewers that Black people aren’t interested in cooking gourmet food, but also reinforced the idea that anyone is capable of perfectly executing gourmet food regardless of their ethnic background.

After 30 years of service in the culinary arts industry, Ainsley Harriott was awarded an MBE in 2018; celebrating and recognising his influence in the industry. His legacy of being the only Black chef to have a cooking show spanning 16 years on national TV helped to change the perception of Black chefs in gourmet kitchens and has served as a major inspiration to future generations. Ainsley has got a successful line of self-titled products, with his very own couscous, soups, risotto and rice dishes being sold in supermarkets. He also hosts a show called Mediterranean Cookbook, Sundays, 10.30 am, ITV.

SIR TREVOR MCDONALD

“How are you going to represent people nationally if the people who do your work are not exactly representative of the national picture?”

Sir Trevor McDonald

Sir Trevor McDonald (OBE) is a Trinidadian-British Newsreader and Journalist. He is best known for his career as a news presenter with ITN presenting the News at Ten. It made him one of the UK’s most recognisable broadcasters and the first Black newscaster to become a household name in 1992.

Born in Claxton Bay, Trinidad, his father Lawson worked in an oil refinery and raised pigs. They lived in a small house with cracks in the walls, which they used to paper over with newspaper. Sir Trevor was an avid lover of Cricket – the second most popular sport on the island – when he started his career in journalism in Trinidad. His father paid for him to study at the elite Naparima Secondary School where he started writing for the school’s magazine and later started a weekly radio program that kept students abreast of current events. The program was called the Blue Circle Network and was broadcasted over loudspeaker into classrooms in the school compound. At Naparima school he read widely and won public speaking contests, partly thanks to listening to BBC World Service Radio. There were only two “Islands Scholarships” to Oxbridge (Oxford/Cambridge universities) for the whole of Trinidad – and approximately 1,000 people applied yearly but Sir Trevor couldn’t apply because he wasn’t in the social league. Sir Trevor started working part-time at Radio Trinidad and got a Second Class in International Relations at the University College of the West Indies but he felt pressurised because there was no fun in education. In 1962 he started covering news in the local press on TV, radio and newspaper. He joined the World Service’s Caribbean section as a producer before relocating to London in 1969 to work for BBC Radio.

Sir Trevor McDonald started working as a Producer on BBC Radio but later worked for ITN becoming their first Black reporter years later in 1973. He steadily rose through the ranks becoming diplomatic editor in 1982 and finally got his big break presenting as a newsreader on ITN’s early evening news in 1989! He became known for his catchphrase “and finally” before reporting a light-hearted story at the end of each bulletin.

Shortly after becoming Diplomatic Editor and several visits to South Africa, in February 1990 Sir Trevor went back to Johannesburg on assignment to report on Nelson Mandela’s release: the first British television interview with the ANC leader for ITN. This made him THE first journalist to interview Nelson Mandela following his release from Robben Island. If this was in today’s time the achievement would have gone VIRAL and broken the internet. Sir Trevor went on to present News at Ten in 1992 and anchored the Late Evening News until December 2005 and by then he had received more awards than any other news broadcaster in Britain. He was named Newscaster of the year in 1993, 1997 and 1999 and has regularly topped the polls as the most authoritative and trustworthy news presenter with polls showing that he was the best loved figure in TV news. Sir Trevor garnered almost as many votes as the next four nominees combined; the BBC’s Moira Stuart came a distant second. #BlackExcellence

“You know, we’d really like to have you because we have come under pressure by the Race Relations Board (established by the Race Relations Act in 1965) to hire more black reporters,”

Sir Trevor McDonald

He opposed the idea because he didn’t want to be employed solely because he was Black: he wanted to be employed on merit.

During his time as a TV presenter, Sir Trevor McDonald has worked at the biggest TV stations in the UK: BBC, ITN and Channel 4 News interviewing some of the biggest names in show business, the most influential and most powerful people in politics. He has risked his life in some of his interviews and is THE only British journalist to ever interview Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Sir Trevor’s own experiences – from interviewing everyone from Nelson Mandela to Saddam Hussein – have taught him to appreciate and acknowledge a diversity of viewpoints and opinions.

“I remember being in the Middle East during one of the wars against Iraq and it was stunning to learn how they thought terribly, terribly differently from us about what was going on.”

Sir Trevor McDonald

Sir Trevor has conducted many notable interviews and was awarded a knighthood for his services to journalism. In 1999 Sir Trevor McDonald was knighted for his services to journalism. In the same year, Sir Trevor McDonald was awarded BAFTAs Richard Dimbleby Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television.

REGGIE YATES

One cannot name Britain’s best presenters of the millennial generation without mentioning this honoree. Imagine standing face to face with a neo-Nazi, sitting beside a hired killer in Mexico or more terrifyingly spending time as a prisoner in a Texan jail? Neither could we. The presenter immerses himself in situations that any ordinary citizens wouldn’t and allows us to experience these moments in the comfort of our home. 

His domination of our TV screens turned him into a household name however many aren’t aware of Reggie’s unique biological background. He knew he was mixed race on his father’s side but the connection goes back a lot earlier than he would have imagined! Read below:-

Reginald Jojo and Felicia Asante both of who were born in Ghana but came to live in London in their teens. Jojo was born in Ghana and his father Harry Philip Yates was half- English in nationality. Harry’s parents were George Yates and Dorothy Vardon. George (Reggie’s great grandfather) was the son of a railway clerk embarked on his own career as a ‘stockbroker’s clerk’, living in his home area of Uxbridge later marrying young wife Ethel. By 1911, George took advantage of British colonial rule in Africa becoming ‘Accountant with a mining firm’. The gold rush in South Africa meant George and his family were relocated to South Africa in the early 1900s later returning to Middlesex. His job working for a mining company took him to Ghana this time because the country had started to attract major investment in gold mining which allowed George’s company to exploit the major resources of diamonds and gold there. Ghana had produced and exported gold for centuries, but in the early 1900s, modern mining in the Gold Coast area became big business and was pursued as a large-scale venture, requiring significant capital investment from European companies. George’s British mining company was deeply involved in developing strong working links with Ghana which in turn kept him away from home for large period of time. During this time, as well as his family back in Middlesex (wife and 3 children), George began a relationship with Dorothy and started a family with her in Ghana. Reggie Yates is descended from this relationship between George and Dorothy. 

It’s a truly international tale of relationships between cultures in colonial times for one of Britain’s rising television stars.

Like other Black people in the media industry, Reggie Yates is very aware of his heritage and being the only Black man on TV (not in music or on the news) was demoralising as it was empowering and he blasted TV networks for not employing more prime-time Black presenters being the only non-white person working in Saturday night entertainment. “It’s not something I ever thought I’d do because there’s never been anyone like me – a young Black guy fronting a Saturday night programme.” He said: “There’s more opportunity in America – and a bigger Black audience. But what’s to say there can’t be more modern dramas that feature a broader spectrum?”

“It’s not something I ever thought I’d do because there’s never been anyone like me – a young Black guy fronting a Saturday night programme.”

– Reggie Yates

It’s not uncommon for child stars to become trapped in the cycle of alcohol and drug abuse as adults however Reggie Yates has always maintained maturity that allowed him to progress throughout his 20+ career without scandal. He became restless with entertainment TV and began making documentaries and awhile he initially he wasn’t sure whether he knew enough about current affairs to make factual TV. Decades later and Reggie has travelled to the extreme edges of life trying to find meaning to some of the world’s toughest conditions bringing to light the effect of issues like poverty, the impact of power, modern 21st century masculinity, societal inequalities, crime & punishment and more. His most recent documentary was ‘Reggie Yates: Searching for Grenfell’s Lost Lives’, which prioritised the stories of the Grenfell residents over the political debate that has consumed the British media since the tragedy. In all these shows, Reggie’s strength comes from a mix of non-judgmental curiosity, and a relatable impulse to intervene with his own opinion. 

Since 2011, he established himself as an award-winning documentary filmmaker and documentary maker for the BBC with his documentary series Reggie Yates: Extreme World,  adding to his collection which includes a BAFTA nomination, Best Presenter award from the Royal Television Society. From presenting on CBBC to confronting neo-Nazis, Reggie Yates has proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with in the journalism industry. His second short film, Date Night, starring Daniel Kaluuya, won best UK Short at the London Independent Film Festival. In the last 5 years, he has become juxtapositioned with critically acclaimed documentaries, collecting multiple awards including Best Presenter for the critically acclaimed Extreme Russia, Best Factual Programme at the Edinburgh TV Festival and Best Multi-channel Programme at the Broadcast Awards to mention but afew.

After years of fronting primetime documentary strands on the BBC and Channel 4, Reggie has moved to LA to investigate the emergence of Black talent across the TV industry (Atlanta, Insecure and Dear White People) to better understand the diversity boom, reflecting on the success of programmes with primarily Africa-American teams. 

DOPE BLACK DADS

“No one showed me how to do this so I am doing the best I can”

Marvyn Harrison

Our next honoree is a man who felt there were no positive conversations about what it means to be a Black father today and he wanted to change the ‘missing baby father’ stereotype which has been attached to Black men: one that isn’t representative of all Black fathers. Marvyn Harrison is the name in question and he realised that there was a lack of positive conversations about what it means to be a Black father today which inspired him to start a brotherhood based on strengthening the relationship between fathers and their children called the Dope Black Dads. This would lay the foundations for a safe space: almost like a fraternity to help men become better fathers to their children in abid to prevent generational trauma for Black men/boys. 

The success of the Dope Black Dads group and podcast launched Marvyn into the limelight and he was interviewed by powerhouses in the entertainment industry like Forbes magazine, Pride Magazine, Vogue notable news outlets like The Guardian, BBC etc. Before that Marvyn, has had a long career in the advertising industry spanning over 10 years and he started out in music supporting artists like Drake and Ed Sheeran get their first shows in London. He was also instrumental in setting up Manchester City Football Club’s branded content division but realising a number of him and his peers were going through this, he started an initiative to help other Black dads navigate fatherhood with support from other Black men. 

The Windrush generation is described as time period during the 50s and 60s whereby the British government created a campaign and invited people in Caribbean countries (otherwise called the Commonwealth countries) to come to work and permanently live in the UK in an attempt to rebuild and strengthen the UK economy and infrastructure. They were promised a better quality of life, good jobs, accommodation however when the migrants arrived the reality was much removed from the promises. Tickets were £24 at the time (now £600+) and hundreds and thousands of Caribbeans flocked to Britain in search for a better life. The migrants were met with low wages, menial labour & racism both in the workplace and general society with ‘No Blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ ‘Go back home’ proudly posted all over Britain’s restaurants and homes. As a result, the mental health of the Caribbeans was massively affected which filtered into the livelihoods and parenting styles in Caribbeans families because the bread winners (fathers) were resentful as they felt they didn’t belong in Britain. This manifested into disruptive behaviour resulting in drinking, hanging around the street, in betting shops then coming home and taking it out on their wives and children. Marvyn’s dad is one such child who was affected by this parenting style and believes that (like many others) these issues coupled with not wanting or not being ready to be a dad, affected his father’s attitude towards fatherhood and parenthood. 

“Growing up without a consistent father figure has taught me what I want to be for my boy and my future kids,”

– Cyrille Yao Sokpor, a Dope Black Dads member.

It’s important to understand the legacy of slavery and an institutionally racist unjust system and the impact it has had on Black families in the diaspora, remembering that the issue of absentee fathers doesn’t come natural to the Black community. This is rather a  misconception that was made possible and it goes without saying that the media has long perpetuated the image of Black men as dead-beat, absentee fathers completely ignoring the mass of amazing Black fathers who do an amazing job: it’s a shame the media doesn’t highlight these stories equally. Stories of men like Marvyn. 

As a growing man, Marvyn didnt lack anything but he did however have anger and resentment towards his father, who left when he was 18 months which motivated him to become a better father following the birth of his son. Father’s Day 2018 prompted Marvyn to send a text to a group of his friends expressing his appreciation for what they were doing as fathers. The response was overwhelming which prompted him to setup an initiative that would help Black men navigate fatherhood easier, become better and active fathers in their childrens lives. 

And suddenly, Dope Black Dads was born.

Recognising that men don’t share their true feelings about marriage, relationships and parenting, Marvyn is working on helping Black men become more proactive in raising healthy adults, not just children. Dope Black Dads has since evolved from a Whatsapp group into more structured, formal meetings with topics ranging from managing finances to managing how to cope with some of the problems children may encounter in school. Dope Black Dads podcast was later created to give a voice to the movement, allowing men to express themselves openly with successful entrepreneurs and politicians sharing their knowledge. It’s not surprising that the platform received a number of inbound inquiries which allowed for expansion to the US and South Africa setting up ‘franchises’ with Dope Black Men for men who aren’t fathers (yet) and Dope Black Mums, an open forum where Black mothers can discuss many of the topics that are specific to them. With the growth of a Black middle class/upper-middle class emerging in Britain, Marvyn is very positive that this shift allows the men to take their role as fathers more seriously. 

Dope Black Mums

While raising children is deep rooted in matriachal and excludes fathers at times, what Marvyn hopes to achieve is an attitude shift of Black fathers and he is certainly headed in the right direction. His contribution to providing a safe space where Black fathers can openly have these types of discussions will most certainly change the narrative and ensuring that labels attached to Black fathers become more positive because it is just as important to raise healthy adults not just good children which will have a positive lasting impact for generations to come. In the coming months Marvyn will be releasing a book under Dope Black Dads which will help to amplify the message and we can’t wait to pick that up.

LENNY HENRY

“Diversity makes television better but it is not just about diversity in front of the camera.”

Lenny Henry

Sir Lenworth George Henry CBE, also famously known as Lenny Henry, is a British stand-up comedian, actor, singer, writer and television presenter who has brought joy to millions of Brits over the decades when he first shot to fame after winning talent show New Faces at the age of 16. Henry was the fifth of seven children and life was very noisy, busy, and there was endless commotion in the house. He suffered racist jibes at school, countering them with humour, developing random impersonations of a Jamaican Scooby-Doo and Deputy Dawg from Dudley, moving on to David Bellamy, Tommy Cooper, Max Bygraves and Frank Spencer. He honed his impressions to entertain punters at local pubs, clubs and got himself an agent – and an audition for New Faces: an opportunity that would later propel him into the Britain’s limelight as one of the top comedians of all time. An achievement that was unimaginable for a Black comic in the UK. 

Decades since he hit Britain’s screens, he was selected for the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2015 for his services to drama and charity and was awarded a special BAFTA the year later for his services to the entertainment industry. Unbeknownst to many, Lenny is also one of the co-founders of the “Comic Relief” charity which was founded in 1985!

Born in Dudley, Lenny Henry is the son of Windrush generation Jamaican immigrants who came to Britain before he was born in search of a better life. From an early age, Henry distinguished himself more by his comic talents than his academic ability. Lenny’s mother Winnie was the rock of the family whose humour first introduced Lenny to what comedy was and art of making people laugh. He was the school jokester and his science teacher recognised his gift for humour encouraging him to record his jokes (the two even made comic tapes together). He left school at 15 to start an engineering apprenticeship with British Steel as he had little qualifications but continued working on his comedy. 

In the early stages of his career Henry performed a comedy act in local nightclubs, which led to a successful appearance on the television talent program New Faces and when he won the talent show in 1975, it was unimaginable that he would go on to fix his place on our TV screens as nation’s favourite comedian charming his way into British people’s hearts for the next 30 years. The national exposure he gained from that show helped to secure him a role in The Fosters (1976–77): the first British comedy with an all-Black cast. He later went on tour with a Black and White minstrel show and while the general population took to his impersonations, they also drew criticism for playing up racial stereotypes which were seen to be exploiting minority groups out of bigotry or ignorance which Henry would later agree had been ‘self-detrimental’ as they played on stereotypical mockery of the Jamaican community. Henry had taken his cue from an older generation of Black comedians, building his act on self-deprecating humor aimed at a white audience but later explained how that was somewhat forced into the stereotype of the Black comedian because in those days, it was a fertile environment for humor based on race (aka casual racism). His popularity with White audiences was at an all time high however this affected support from Black audiences. 

Henry established his prowess during the 1980s and he took the ‘alternative comedy’ route: heavily influenced by his marriage to Dawn French who caused Henry to re-examine his comedy act, remove the stereotypical jokes and adopt a style of humor that addressed the issue of race in a more constructive way. Black audiences finally became interested in his comedy because up until that point Lenny was performing a white comedian’s act which was deep rooted in ignorance and racial bias. In 1987 he introduced one of his characters – Delbert Wikins: a hustler from Brixton – to the public around the same time as the Brixton riots which was an overt signal that Lenny’s comedy was becoming more political. Whilst the general public was very welcoming of this character, the British government opposed the character because it was glamourising pirate radios (one of Delbert’s jobs) and requested for the character to be removed from the show. 

He finally landed his own show which was aired on primetime TV: an achievement that is unheard of for a young Black man in racist Britain in the 80s. The Lenny Henry show was birthed in 1984 (the same year he married Dawn French) which was a mix of stand-up comedy and sketches/routines (similar to Mo the Comedian’s IG videos or Michael Dapaah’s videos) and he retained his pioneering edge becoming the first British comedy performer to make a live stand-up movie: Lenny Live and Unleashed. Following on from the success of this show, offers from Hollywood flooded and in 1991 he made True Identity – a Mafia-hunted Black man who disguises himself as white and consequently experiences life differently – which flopped massively leading him back to the BBC.  

Lenny’s always been a strong advocate for diversity in TV/theatre this could partly be due to the racism he experienced whilst touring with the minstrel show. He launched an independent production company in 1988 called Crucial Films showcasing and encouraging Black writers and performers in the industry and later released their first drama series titled Funky Black Shorts, six ten-minute films mainly by Black filmmakers. The series focuses on issues, such as racism at school. Lenny became involved in making documentaries about Black culture exploring of funk + soul music and documentary Darker Than Me, a film about the roots of Black American comedy—which it locates in white racism and touches on Henry’s own involvement in the Black and White Minstrel Show.

Lenny advocates that infact diversity makes television better and has gone as far as meeting with Parliament delving into the importance of diversifying production teams because diversity doesnt end with on-screen casts. The writing, directing, editing, production teams need to be diversified to make sure stories are told accurately otherwise nothing will change if the deciders remain the same. As Chancellor of Birmingham City University, Lenny has a new research centre dedicated to researching diversity in the media and is also co-founder of a project which aims to represent minorities and urges for faster change.

Read up on our past campaigns

2020 IWD/Women’s History Month  – https://www.bbeldn.co.uk/womens-history-month-nominees

Did You Know? series  – https://www.bbeldn.co.uk/did-you-know-series-celebrating-the-achievements-and-inventions-by-black-people

2019 Black History Month honorees  – https://www.bbeldn.co.uk/black-history-month-honorees

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