Celebrating The Heroes Of 2020

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When I first thought of writing this, my inclination was to write; ‘Heroes and villains of 2020’, but as quickly as that thought came to me it was instantly banished. Given all the heartbreak and awfulness that many have endured, some much more than others, I thought it best to focus on the remarkable people who have emerged during this dramatic year, not the nasty, heartless unforgiving individuals who seem to take centre stage even when we are trying to celebrate.

I would finally just say this list is random and not scientific. Many of these individuals are unsung heroes who have come to the fore in a Covid setting or Black Lives Matter space. They are individuals who have sprung to my mind in these past months. I’m sure when it goes live, I’ll want to add more voices and maybe you will too. Feel free!

To the heroes of 2020, thank you!

Patrick Vernon and Angellina Osborne

Authors of 100 Black Britons: In this year of Black Lives Matter, Patrick and Angelina engaged in an impossible task of documenting individuals who they thought had greatly contributed to Britain and beyond. Necessary and timely.

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu

If you know what the British TV and radio is like when it comes to issues of race equality they often look for a ‘bogeyman or woman’ to wheel out often so they can ridicule our race equality  position as being preposterous, or unreasonable. Dr Shola is acutely aware of that and still enters the media lion’s den. The result often ends with the lion either eating out of her hand like a domestic pussycat, or if the mood takes her, she’ll eat the lion. Her new book, ‘This is why I resist’ is sure to be a best seller.

Dr David Olusoga

The mild manner of Dr David Olusoga is probably his number one weapon, that and his forensic analysis to historical documentation. Faux culture wars, cancel culture poison, statues and their historical context have all needed detailed explanation during this Black Lives Matter debating space. Olusoga has been able to inform, disarm, and teach us all our own brutal complicated, need-to-know real history.

 

Alexandra Wilson

In this young politicised fearless barrister we can be sure that we have a new generation of Black activists who have found their voice and their place amongst emerging leaders. Her book, 'Being Black and White: A Young Barristers’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System', thrust her into the limelight during this Black Lives Matter’s space. Her passion for justice has made her an instant role model for other young women Black and White.

Prof Kevin Fenton

When the Government and Public Health England appointed him to find out why Black people were dying in greater numbers it didn’t start great. Some voices had already written his conclusion. Fenton was having none of it, and went about listening to hundreds of Black peoples stories, and lived experience. Prof Fenton, not what you’d readily describe as an activist of the Lee Jasper mode, nonetheless, cometh the hour cometh the man. Fentons’ report was groundbreaking, laying bare socio-economic determinants as a deeper understanding as to why BAME individuals were more likely to catch covid, become more ill with it and dying in greater numbers.

Nadine White

When the young journalist got enlisted as a reporter to ask a Covid related questions to the Downing st briefings, Nadine seized the opportunity to make a statement about Black Lives Matters even before she had spoken a word. Whilst asking her question to the Minister for Health, behind her was a portrait of Marcus Garvey. Black twitter went wild. Her questions were pretty special too. “If Dominic Cummings were black, it is statistically more likely that he would have been stopped by police". This young journalist has not stopped asking the questions Black Britain’s demand to be answered.

(Sir) Michael Eboda

Most of Black Britain does not know Michael Eboda. He prefers it that way. But we all should know that for the past decade and more the ‘big man’ has dedicated his life to promoting and elevating people of African descent with his annual Black powerlist. Not content with showcasing Black talent, he also has Black emerging talent which gives profile to the next generation of those doing great stuff. By way of saying thank you, he should be Sir Michael Eboda.

Ash Sarkar

Nobody wants to be hated, vilified, held up to ridicule, especially when you are one of a few Black or Asian mainstream journalists. But this powerhouse Ash Sarkar has had to endure all this and more on many occasions when she engages in mainstream political debate. Her recent battle ground was with the ‘rent a Muslim basher’ Julie Burchill who spewed so much Islamophobic bile and hatred even some main stay backers - her publishers - called time on her poisonous vitriol. For Ash Sarkar, it’s business as usual, holding truth to power.

 

Dr Sonia Adesara

In the early days of Covid, I was doing so many public zooms trying to make sense as to why so many Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals were dying, and on every other zoom would appear Dr Sonia Adersara. This young doctor was thoughtful, dynamic, and unafraid to speak truth to power. At a time when the Government was in deep denial mode of the devastating impact that Covid was having on our communities, Dr Adersara was able to give frontline matter-of-fact information about how this disease was affecting BAME staff greater than white staff. Some nine months later she’s speaking truth to power whilst simultaneously saving lives.

Serena Simon & Bernadette Thompson

The double pandemic of Covid -19 and George Floyd and the protest that followed drove certain individuals to do things they had never even dreamt they could do much less do them.

Out of nowhere these two women used the new zoom style to pull Black public sector worker and others across 32 london boroughs to talk race inequality issues, covid 19 and Black dignity. I was on that first meeting, I expected about 40 people - you speak to 40 people in a meeting its a good turnout. In that first meeting 1000 showed up. Because of these women we came together as never before. It wasnt the last others would follow . A powerful network was born.

(The great) Arif Ali

Towards the end of this year publisher, activist and friend Arif Ali really gave us something to cheer about. Arif celebrated 50 years in publishing, and when the zoom celebrations began, his/our stories unfolded, chronicling Black British history from the position of an activist. Angela Davis, Muhamed Al, Caribbean Prime Ministers, Black politicians and activists were all inspired by this wonderful man. Arif also reminded this generation of Black Lives Matter activists that protest is not for a day or week or even a year, it's for a lifetime.

Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna

Unlike the UK government, the Welsh Government did not try to shackle the author of their BAME Covid-19 report. On the contrary, he was empowered to lay bare the nation's uncomfortable truths. This rather quiet but brilliant man did just that, pointing to the social economic determinants that have contributed to the devastating impact the disease had on Welsh BAME communities. Thanks to Professor Ogbonna, the Welsh Government is engaging in deep analysis as to where the racial systemic problems are and how they can be fixed.

Deeba Syed

In this year of political activism, political activist, Women's Rights advocate and campaigner, Sexual Harassment Lawyer Deeba Syed also came into her own this year.

In 2019, Deeba joined the legal-rights charity Rights of Women as Senior Legal Officer to help set up the Sexual Harassment at Work Advice Line, a free legal helpline for women experiencing workplace sexual harassment in England and Wales. In late 2020 Marie Claire named Deeba as a young leader to watch out for.

Patrick Hutchinson

Who could forget the heroics of Patrick Hutchinson. He and his four friends went down to a central London Black Lives Matter protest to protect young Black men, often from themselves in a guardian angel type role. Never did Patrick expect to be saving the life of a man who had probably come to London to do people like him - Patrick, harm or at the very least abuse him. But again, cometh the hour cometh the guardian angel who’s act of bravery and compassion saved a hateful man’s life.

Mia Morris

For as long as I can remember I have mainly associated Black History Month and its annual magazine with Mia Morris OBE. This year she told me, “it has to be bigger and better, this year we have a lot to talk about and a lot to organise”. For me, if there is one unsung hero above all in this group it’s the tireless campaigning of Mia Morris

Niousha Roshani and Nyeleti Honwana

These two dynamic women don’t know how to do ‘small’, so when they contacted the OBV’s offices for support, even we were bowled away by their ambition. The aim of ‘Global Black Youth’ (GBY) is to convene and invest in the world’s most innovative, disruptive and entrepreneurial young Black leaders and support them in generating knowledge and solutions that transform their ability to impact the world. In early December they convened their first Global conference with 40 countries and tens of thousands of individuals. Watch this space, this is going to be enormous.

Lewis Hamilton

What can you say that’s not been said about Lewis Hamilton? Not much really, except perhaps to say that like the true sporting greats such as Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, they are able to rise above their sporting brilliance and give greater meaning to life and justice.

Marcus Rashford

To have one global sporting hero - Lewis Hamilton - with a conscience and passion for social and racial justice is great, but to have two at this time of Black lives matter is just fantastic. Marcus Rashford is that truly reluctant hero who almost single-handedly forced the government to feed millions of young children who otherwise would have gone hungry during school breaks. Not content with feeding millions and scoring goals for fun, he also bought his mum, who gave him the values that made him who he is, her own home.

Afua Hirsch

If you’re going into battle with race inequality deniers, there is one person you almost instinctively want at your side - Afua Hirsch. Afua is another Supasista, who uses her platforms; newspaper columns, podcasts, or political programmes to give our communities the strong thoughtful and passionate voice we need. Many of us who know Afua have often said, “why do you engage in debate with these naysayers, race inequality deniers because they’ll just drain your soul. Her answer, “My soul is strong because I have friends like you, and these bigots need to be told”.

Femi Oluwole

This brother eats, drinks and sleeps everything Brexit and the European Union, especially the lies.  He unpicks the half truths, lies and deceptions particularly those from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior politicians for fun, only as he puts it, the consequencies are not funny.  I love watching the forensic way he dismantles the Brexit myths.

Mete Coban and Swarzy

If 2020 was really about young people then Mete Coban, Swarzy and their project ‘My life my say’ gave them a global platform to speak, share and from time to time be angry. Week after week they would organise lockdown debates about Covid, Black Lives Matters and the US elections. Mete is a big star in his own right, but on the biggest event with one of the biggest individuals in American Black politics, Rev Al Sharpton, Mete adopted a ‘behind the scenes’ supportive role. I thought at the time true leaders know when to be seen and when they need to take a back seat, let others shine. Mete Coban is one of those leaders.

Simon Woolley

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