2020 – albeit with all its pitfalls – has been a remarkable year. One in which millions of people, like never before, have engaged in conversations surrounding race and racism. The concept of ‘anti-racism’ has caught the imagination of Britain’s young people, and books discussing Black history and race have risen to the top of the bestseller lists.
Our celebration continues this week. We’re learning about Aretha Franklin’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, Adwoa Aboah’s judgement-free platform that encourages discussion around mental health, and Harriet Tubman’s time as an armed spy. We also introduce you to South London rapper, Vinch.
An incredible talent, Franklin is widely regarded as the Queen of Soul, as well as being an actress, a pianist and a Civil Rights activist. Making her start as a church choir Gospel singer, where her father was the minister, she went on to gain commercial success following her signing with Atlantic Records in 1966. From there, she released a plethora of hits that led to the inception of the nickname ‘Queen of Soul’. Franklin remains one of the best selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 75 million records worldwide. She has 18 Grammy awards in her collection, and in 2010, Rolling Stone magazine ranked her number one in its list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”.
Despite being widely regarded as one of the best musicians to ever grace the planet, Franklin spent a lot of her years immersed in the Civil Rights battle as well as fighting for her rights as a woman. She would often provide money to Civil Rights organisations and their payroll. She’d also perform at protests and benefits.
When Political Activist Angela Davis was jailed in 1970, Franklin told Jet magazine that: “Angela Davis must go free… Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up, and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. She’s a Black woman, and she wants freedom for Black people.” Some of her biggest songs, such as ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ and ‘Natural Woman’ became anthems for the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. She’s also one of the many artists that refused to play at Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony.
British fashion model and activist who claims that her advocacy ‘changed her life’. Despite self-medicating with drugs and alcohol as a teenager as a coping mechanism for her poor mental health and depression, Aboah has strived to turn her life around and now actively helps others. She has modelled for many top brands, including the likes of Versace, Fendi, Alexander Wang and many, many more. As well as covering magazines such as Vogue and i-D, she’s since been voted model of the year 2017 and has recently been added to the Power List of most influential Black British people across all industries.
Leading from her personal experiences with mental health, Aboah founded Gurls Talk, a platform on which anyone can share their experiences in a judgement-free, safe zone. Founded on the basis that people are stronger collectively as opposed to individually, people who are struggling with their mental health can start an open discussion to inspire each other and create a positive impact. Her platform collaborated with renowned music platform Boiler Room to give a really cool all-female line up for International Women’s Day. During lockdown, her #creativetogether initiative connected creatives as a way to cope with the anxieties surrounding the pandemic.
An American abolitionist and political activist whose work helped save hundreds from slavery. Born into slavery herself, Tubman spent her early years being beaten and abused by her slave owners. After escaping and freeing herself, she subsequently made 13 missions aiming to rescue other enslaved people, including her family and friends.
During the American Civil War, she served first as a cook and a nurse and then became an armed scout and spy, making her the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. The expedition was a huge success and liberated around 750 people from slavery. Her work for the women’s Suffrage movement proved fundamental in inspiring a wave of strong women who demanded the vote and stood up for what was right. Her endless contribution to others had left Tubman in poverty. Since her unfortunate passing in 1913, there have been several operas based on her life, including Harriet, and The Woman Called Moses. There’s even a jazz band named after her!
Vinch is a rapper and producer that resides in south London. His style of conscious and emotive hip hop can be found littered throughout all of his releases, with some moving more into a trap or modern rap sound. He started rapping in school where his peers encouraged him to pursue his talent and take his art more seriously. His song, ‘Black’ talks on many issues relating to his identity and treatment as a Black man.
“They say the stars shine brighter in a black sky,
But everything seems to matter except a Black life.
But we still here, we still rise,
The world is going up in flames but there’s still time.
They can never understand what this feels life,
Black Pride, black love and we still fight.”