Celebrating Black Artists and Activists
Updated: Jun 8
We’ve all watched the scenes in America with heavy hearts and have been bearing witness to the outpouring of anger, hurt and pain of Black people (and their allies) here in the U.K.
None of us are immune to racism - it is built into our education system, our political system, it’s engrained in our businesses and popular culture - we need to do better.
I’ve been listening to Black people, asking questions and thinking about what I can do to support the fight for Black equality.
And I realised how little celebration of Black culture and history we had at school - OK, so we learnt a little bit about colonialism and the slave trade - but what about the civil rights movement? What about Black contribution to music, to art, to politics?
So here in this blog, I am going to highlight some of the Black artists and activists that have had an impact on me over the years.
Their work is important, their visibility matters - it’s not much, but it’s something I have in my power to do right now.
Everyone on the list has given their permission to be included - I am awaiting replies from some people and will add them when I get them.
Follow them, buy their book, donate to their campaign, support their cause, buy a ticket to their next show - it’s a small start, but it is something.
Of course, I couldn’t list everyone here and there are so many more that could be on this list - please comment below celebrating the Black artists and activists who have made an impact on your lives!
(Some of the people mentioned in this list have active campaigns raising funds for their important work - if you can donate, please do, but in the interests of fairness, I haven’t included any links in this blog)
Handles shared are for Twitter unless otherwise stated.
Suriya Aisha - Writer and Creative Producer
I have heard Suriya speak at a couple of events and was suitably impressed by their no-nonsense approach to talking about institutional racism in arts venues. Suriya is the founder of Unmuted, a network for people of colour who identify as LGBTQI+ based in Birmingham and is the Co-Leader of Colours Youth Network, supporting people of colour to explore and celebrate who they are. Suriya is awesome on Twitter.
@SuriyaAisha | @UnmutedBrum | @ColoursYouthUK
Nathan Powell - Director and Writer
Nathan is currently Trainee Assistant Director at Liverpool-based 20 Stories High on the Artistic Director Leadership Programme - a programme designed to nurture artists of colour to become leaders of the future. He creates theatre that is accessible to people that are not regular theatre goers and champions creating work with young people. His most recent show, The Spine, tackled the difficult topics of hyper-masculinity and racism in the football academy system and received rave reviews on it’s tour. He has an impossibly cute daughter.
www.nathanpowell.co.uk | @NathanPowell141
mandla-rae - Writer and Performer
mandla-rae is an emerging performing talent to be reckoned with. Their show, as british as a watermelon, is a visceral spoken-word journey through shame, trauma and displacement and seeks to navigate the shocking brutalisation of Black bodies through history and in the present day - you’ll never look at a watermelon in the same way again.
Christian Asare - Multi-Disciplinary Artist
I met Christian on a creative arts project I supported that helped people living with HIV to tell their stories with pride. Christian provided a beautiful piece of art work that became the backdrop for portraits of the storytellers. A British Ghanaian artist, variations in culture, origin and identity influence and inform his creative expression. He’s also a fierce vogue dancer and choreographer.
www.creativedebuts.co.uk/Christian-asare | @xtianasare (Instagram)
Chloe is a lead youth worker for The Proud Trust, an organisation that supports young LGBTQ+ people. Chloe is also the strategic lead for Rainbow Noir, a social and community action group for people of colour based in Manchester that aims to create spaces away from activism to socialise and celebrate QTIPOC identity and culture. Away from work and activism, Chloe recently won at the House of Suarez Vogue Ball wearing a pair of of vulva trousers that brought the entire venue to the ground. Chloe is a total badass Black babe - honestly, head to Insta, you won't be disappointed.
www.rainbownoirmcr.com | @ScreamGoddess (Instagram)
Keisha Thompson - Writer, Performer and Producer
I’ve known and admired Keisha for a number of years through my work at Contact in Manchester. I was mesmerised by her most recent show, Man on the Moon, which delicately explores her relationship with her (mostly) absent father through the books he used to send her. It must surely win the prize for most beautiful image in theatre when the sofa takes off and she journeys to the moon in plumes of dry ice. Keisha fuses live music and spoken word in her work and her tracks can send me into a blissful trance in an instant. She is also the Young People’s Producer at Contact, Chair of Future’s Venture Foundation and ais a Fellow of the MOBO x London Theatre Consortium. A busy and very talented gal.
www.keishathompson.com | @Keke_Thom
Shirley is a performance poet and teacher of creative writing. She directs poetry group Young Identity as well as supporting new writers in schools and community groups in Manchester. Shirley has worked for years to make poetry and spoken word relevant to young people and is responsible for supporting the careers of many young Black artists and activists helping them to free 'de inna voice.' Her peers are Lemn Sissay, Kei Miller, Kate Tempest, Roger Robinson and Saul Williams. A visiting Fellow of Manchester Metropolitan University, she affectionately describes herself as a 'dyslexic poet', offering hope and inspiration to those who think the written and spoken word is beyond their reach.
www.youngidentity.org/our-team | @TheGirlDreams
Dorcas Sebuyange - Actor, Writer, Vocalist, Dancer
Where do I start with Dorcas? We met back in 2012 when I joined the participation team at 20 Stories High. Dorcas had just joined the youth theatre and I instantly knew she was destined for greatness. Since then she has bagged roles in 20 Stories High touring shows ‘I Told My Mum I was Going On An R.E. Trip...’ (which was also broadcast on the BBC) and Big Up! (co-produced with Theatre-Rites) as well as touring in Black Men Walking, an Eclipse and Royal Exchange Theatre co-production. She also creates immersive performance pieces that fuse projected visuals with music and vocals, most notably in SLATE commissioned piece Vice Versa. Her brother Daniel Seb (Blue Saint) is equally as talented.
Tobi Green-Adenowo - Disability Activist and Dancer
I met Tobi whilst filming a short documentary for MTV. We spent a day together talking about how we had overcome fear in our lives and honestly, I’ve never laughed and felt so much in one day (the documentary was called ‘Feels’ which was apt). Tobi is an advocate and campaigner for disabled care leavers and despite facing some traumatic experiences growing up and breaking 75 bones thanks to her condition, she has achieved incredible things. Tobi is a dancer and has performed on Britain’s Got Talent, has appeared on the Undateables and This Morning and has taken part in fashion shows celebrating diverse bodies. Her energy and no bullshit attitude to improving Black and Disabled representation on TV is totally infectious. Watch her do her thing on Instagram, you won’t be disappointed.
Watch the MTV documentary HERE | @toughcookietee (Instagram)
Darren Pritchard and The House of Ghetto
Darren is a force to be reckoned with on the Northern Vogue Ball Scene and is House Mother to House of Ghetto - an all Black vogue house that celebrates the origins of vogue ball culture in the Black and Latino LGBTQ communities of New York. House of Ghetto promotes: Grace - Honour - Etiquette - Talent - Tenaciousness - Originality. Darren is your go-to person for the vast history and variety of dance styles that come under the umbrella term vogue. Darren also created Rent Party, a show about being Black, fierce and poor inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renasissance Rent Parties of the 1920s - it won a string of five star reviews and was so good I saw it twice. Darren has spread his love of vogue across the country setting up no less than five more vogue houses that celebrate Black LGBTQ culture.
www.darrendancer.wixsite.com/my site-1 | @houseofghetto_mcr (Instagram)
Some Other Companies and Groups To Look Out For...
Eclipse Theatre - one of the U.K.s leading Black-led touring theatre companies at the forefront of delivering diverse programming in theatre, TV and radio | www.eclipsetheatre.org.uk
Talawa Theatre - another of the U.K.’s leading Black-led touring theatre companies, Talawa create outstanding work by cultivating the best in emerging and established Black artists. Their production of Guys and Dolls at The Royal Exchange was quite possibly the best piece of musical theatre I have ever seen | www.talawa.com
20 Stories High - Liverpool-based 20 Stories High are one of the countries leading young people’s theatre companies and their work focuses on celebrating the best of Liverpool’s diverse communities | www.20storieshigh.org.uk
The Barbershop Chronicles - not a company, but a show that I couldn’t not mention - a play by Inua Ellams (produced by National Theatre, Fuel and Leeds Playhouse) that covers six cities across one day with thousands of stories giving a heart-warming and hilarious insight into tales that are the glue keeping Black men together | www.barbershopchronicles.co.uk
Rainbow Noir - a volunteer led social peer support and community action group that celebrates and platforms people of colour who identify as LGBTQI+ | www.rainbownoirmcr.com
Young Identity - not exclusively a group for Black people but one that certainly centres and celebrates Black voices. Led by poet and writer Shirley May, Young Identity deliver dynamic poetry and spoken word workshops for young people | www.youngidentity.org