MOBO and Black Blossoms have teamed up to bring you 4 #BlossomsOfTheMoment; a monthly spotlight dedicated to celebrating the work of talented black women and non-binary people working in the creative industries, shaping the future and challenging the lack of diverse representation in the sector. Highlighting the various professions within the creative industries, we hope to enrich and inspire aspiring creatives, effect change, and champion the success of our peers.
Edem Barbara Ntumy
Barbara is an International Relations, Peace and Conflict Graduate. She was previously involved in student politics and has campaigned for a number of issues including Free Palestine’, abortion rights, as well as the fight against cuts to public service and education.
What inspired you to start Sassy Tees?
I was inspired by left progressive political activism and pop culture people consumed globally.
The aim was to get across a political message, one that was about fighting racism, uplifting the black community and celebrating people who had contributed to black struggle by linking up with pop culture, which has a huge global reach in our society.
Why do you think it is important for people to support black businesses?
I think it is important to create a culture where we support and uplift each other. This should not be only for economic purposes but to build communities and talk about liberation.
What opportunities has Sassy Tees opened up for you?
The biggest opportunity has been politicising people and raising awareness on social justice issues. It’s given me the opportunity to work with lots of different community groups such as Africanist Magazine, No Fly on The Wall, Tribe, Unmasked Women, Project Embrace, Curls and Curl Box, to name but a few. This business and my work has taken me to the National Theatre, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Annual Black Women's Conference.
How does black female activism play a part in Sassy Tees?
In the words of Civil Rights activist Angela Davis, “If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night.” We do this because patriarchy continues to write women, especially black women, out of history. So it is our job to reflect on black female activism in the products we sell, whether that be from our tees, tote bags or events. The overwhelming support I have received has mostly been from black women who have supported and or purchased from Sassy Tees.
What words of wisdom do you have for other young black women who want to start up their own business?
Starting a business can be frustrating but trust in your vision, especially if it is beyond making money and about serving your community. Listen to your customers and create products and a brand that people can connect with. Get advice, collaborate and understand that there is always an opportunity to learn.
What words of wisdom do you have for other young black women who want to get involved in social justice activism?
Fighting against injustice and for liberation is a struggle. I use the word struggle deliberately because I want to illustrate that you will encounter defeats and you must learn from them, but there will also be triumphs. I believe strongly that my activism is guided by love and that to be a revolutionary one must be truly selfless in their contribution to the struggle. I want to stress that this selflessness I speak of is not in opposition to taking care of oneself or taking time out of the struggle, but rather a reflection on your actions and contribution within the struggle.
Seyi Akiwowo has been a Labour councillor in Newham, East London, since 2014. She is a fellow at The Royal Society and also writes and speaks on diversity in politics, social and economic inclusion, as well as methods to improve civic and political participation of underrepresented groups.
When did you become passionate about advocacy and Politics?
My first engagement with representative positions was at Maryland Primary School where I was a school monitor, and then at my local secondary school in Forest Gate where I was a School Council Representative. Once I left school I decided to become a member of the local Labour Party and have been ever since. I am now Chair of both my Branch Labour Party and the Women’s Forum, as well as Executive Officer of West Ham CLP. As the Women’s Officer, I’ve increased young female engagement in party politics, raised and advocated local women issues to the Council, and raised funds for charities such as Bring Back Our Girls.
Outside local politics I developed a strong passion for UK and international education and subsequently took a few courses as part of my BSc Social Policy degree at LSE. I knew I wanted to, and eventually did, work abroad for a season in Brussels, where I had a fantastic experience working for the European Youth Forum, a European IYGO (international youth non-governmental organisation) advocating for youth rights as a Youth Policy Monitoring and Communications Officer. In this role, I lobbied Members of the European Parliament on youth issues such as youth unemployment across Europe, informal education and increasing youth participation in democracy.
What tips would you give a young woman wanting to get involved in Politics?
Granted local politics isn’t as sexy as national or even international politics but it is so important. The closer something is to you the more impact and influence it will have on you, right? That’s exactly the same for local politics.
If we look at how far right groups increase their political power they start off with gaining as many local council seats as possible, local politics is super important. Young women are underrepresented in politics and for democracy to truly work, our democracy, our parliament, our councils and our assemblies must reflect our diverse society, at the very least the other 50% of the UK population.
You’ve previously spoken about bullying online. In your opinion, what needs to happen to stop trolls from inciting hate and other harmful views?
Many social media users, particularly women of colour, have and are being targeted by trolls online. Social media can and should do more to stop the trolls. I want to use what was a horrendous, intimidating and menacing experience to put pressure on social media companies to do a lot more to tackle online trolling. No other social media user needs to go through what I have been dealing with – let’s change the game!
This is not about imposing restrictions on how we use social media or censoring on our human rights or our freedom of speech. These recommendations are solely about protecting everyone from trolls who hide behind anonymity.
Trolls know that the way social media currently responds to abusive behaviour means they will never be held accountable for their violent words and criminal acts. These recommendations are about ensuring online platforms are a safe place for all to use and express themselves free from hate speech, harassment, bullying and any personal abuse.
If you were prime minister what would be your top three priority areas and why?
What is the best thing about being a Councillor?
Using my stubborn and loud voice to do some good, not only in the community I grew up in but also around the world. And to make those marginalised members of our society have a much better standard of living.
After one of her best friends was murdered, Temi Mwale started 4front, a social enterprise tackling youth violence and gang culture. She recently graduated from London School of Economics (LSE) and was named one of the most influential social entrepreneurs under 30 by Forbes.
Everyone who works for 4 Front is under 30. Do you believe this gives your organisation a stronger impact within the communities you are working with?
When I first started The 4Front Project, I was 16-years-old and the idea at the time was that young people who are closest to serious violence should be driving the change. I recognised that it was people my age; friends were being killed and it was our friends who were going to prison. The rest of society needed to listen to us to get a better insight into what is going. No change will be possible without the young people who are most affected being involved in the process. That is the organisations ethos and that is why the organisation is youth-led.
To us, being youth-led means young people are integral to every aspect of what we do. From our board of directors, volunteers, workshop facilitators, to our network of collaborators, young people make up our entire team. This, of course, gives us a stronger impact. We are providing a mechanism for young people who are involved in and affected by serious violence to actually do something about it themselves, which is both inspiring and empowering for them. They can see other young people like themselves who have used their initiative and taken the lead.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a social enterprise?
Do it. I didn’t know everything I know now when I started. You never will know everything you need to know and there will never be a perfect time, so just get started. When I was 16 I was told by adults that I should do everything else other than set something up myself. We never tell young people ‘you can do it yourself’. In fact, when I did tell people that I was going to set up an organisation, I wasn’t taken seriously by many. I’m so happy when young people approach me now and tell me they have set up a platform or an organisation, I am honestly so proud of them. I think what we are doing is creating this shift in thinking and I am so happy to be a part of that - young people can do anything they want, they can lead things.
Funding has been cut, budgets have been cut, the narrative we have now is DIY - we can’t rely on the government, funding or councils. The work needs to be done so we have to generate the resources to carry out the work ourselves. If you think you have an idea that can make a difference, what are you waiting for?
Why do you think it is important for young people of color to get involved in socio-political issues?
Everybody in this world has a different perspective and we all occupy a different space even though we are all living on this earth. You cannot assume that someone else has your perspective. We need to be at the forefront of addressing the issues that affect us. If they affect us then we are the most important voices that need to be heard in relation to that issue. Who better to tell your story than you. Who better to help others understand what you are experiencing than you. A lot of decisions in this country are made based on the assumption that young people of colour are not engaged, or are apathetic and are not getting involved.
I think that sometimes the sheer weight of our struggles and the issues affecting us makes it difficult to be active all the time, as it can be draining. But it is absolutely essential that young people are teaching other young people how to campaign, how to advocate and how to fight because we still have a lot of fighting to do.
What is your most rewarding moment?
That is impossible. I can’t single out one moment. Over the last five years, there have been so many challenges and obstacles but so many fulfilling moments which is why I am still doing this. I have received many accolades and been recognised by many, including the prime minister, Forbes magazine and Cosmopolitan magazine. I’m sure many people would think that I would regard those as some of my most rewarding moments but that actually is not true. It is the recognition I have had from the young people I work with, the young people that tell me that The 4Front Project has made an impact on their life. That we have changed the way they think about things, the way the think about and see themselves.
Melissa Owusu, also known as Melz, has just finished her term as Education Officer at Leeds University Union. During her tenure, Melz ran the ‘Why is My Curriculum White Campaign’ prompting the university to establish a new black history module. Melz has received a full scholarship to undertake her PhD this upcoming September. Her research will focus on: How a history of shared colonial oppression and knowledge suppression effects Black British Mental Health. In her own words, she is doing it "For the Culture." David Lammy recently named her one of the most influential Black students in Britain.
What motivated you to get involved with Student Politics?
I’ve always loved education and learning, and I’ve always believed in the transformative power education can have over individuals and more importantly, societies; so it was this belief, coupled with a deep sense of dissatisfaction with what I had been taught up until the end of my undergraduate degree. I began reading more widely and realising that there is so much more out there, especially work created by non-white people. So even though I had completed my degree, I believed that students that go after me should not undergo the erasure I endured. Student politics was the mechanism through which this could be realised.
You use grime as a creative outlet to convey political messages. Why is it important to fuse academic and political theory into your rhymes?
For too long, we have been told that only a certain type of knowledge production should be valued in our society, and I want to disrupt this discourse. So, by fusing academic theory into my music, I want to challenge people to think differently about music, especially grime, and then, challenge themselves on valuing knowledge production that takes place in this music genre already. Our community is often seen as one without the propensity to create knowledge and so, I want to uproot the idea that the only valuable knowledge produced has to be produced by academics and written in books. But to demonstrate that grime, drill and hip-hop music being produced in Black Britain today is a valuable source of knowledge about our experience and that of our loved ones.
You led the 'Why is why is my Curriculum White?' campaign at Leeds University during your time as Education Officer, which successfully led to the start of the history department developing a Black British History Module. Why is important for universities to focus on changing the Euro-centric curriculum?
Euro-centric curricula can cause real harm in our society, especially within communities of colour. Universities, like most institutions in our country, are built on colonialism. However, what makes the university space especially important in decolonising is that it is the cornerstone of knowledge production. Universities are sites where theories are constructed and some of those theories go on to change and mould the world. Alongside that, universities are also spaces that people can go on to be some of the most influential in our society, and their time at university often shapes their beliefs in later life. Universities essentially have the power to change a lot within our society, so it’s imperative that we decolonise so that colonialism stops being perpetuated and that real change can come about.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a campaign?
It is going to be tough, never fool yourself about that but never forget why you are doing it. The aim is far greater than yourself, it is a big challenge we undertake, but focussing on the larger goal should give you purpose, structure, and direction.
What part can you play in the wider discourse? What is unique to the space you occupy currently and how can you mould that to your greatest benefit? Do not try and take on Goliath if you know you don’t have the necessary stones in your satchel. But remember this is not giving in or falling short, provided you keep the end goal in mind and do the work.
So your term as education officer has ended, what will you be doing next?
I have been doing a full-time Masters in Social and Political Thought over the past year alongside my role as Education Officer, so for now, I am completing my dissertation that is due at the end of summer. Then, in the new academic year, I am going to take up a place as a fully funded PhD candidate at Leeds University to research how knowledge production and colonisation affects Black British Mental Health, with the hope of becoming a Doctor in about three years and pursuing a career in Academia. I’m also working on a series of talks that I will be delivering at universities across the UK from October, with the first in series titled “Decolonising Knowledge Production: Epistemology in Endz,” so watch out for that!