On 8th March and beyond, this campaign aims to “Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.” I think these points are so important and pride myself in being a female in a male-dominated industry (graphic design), so I often share my journey and achievements on social media to hopefully inspire other women to join this industry.
This year, I was asked to speak to FMM Collective (a Croydon-based marketplace in which my greeting cards are stocked) about my experiences as a female business owner/entrepreneur. We discussed whether I have come across any bias or challenges because of my gender and/or ethnicity.
…as a female, I don’t think we are taken as seriously in entrepreneurial positions as men unfortunately. I’ve had the question “How’s your little business going?” or when I say I design greeting cards and gifts, I’ve had a response of “Awww Bless!” which both come across as really patronising.
I think it’s so important to make female professionals visible and love that days like IWD highlight the work we do in a patriarchal society. If young girls can see the success of women, it can inspire them to enter fields that they might have previously viewed as closed off for them. #representationmatters
My advice for other female entrepreneurs would be to, of course take inspiration from others, but focus on your own journey to avoid comparison.
We should all be proud of who we are, right? But sometimes, straight people take the fact that we can celebrate who we are and who we love freely for granted. For the LGBTQ+ community, it isn’t always that easy with some places in the world still deeming homosexuality and being transgender illegal! Even in the UK, we rarely see this community represented in art and design (specifically the greeting card/stationary industry) in an open and loving way.
In this blog, I will be talking to two people from the LGBTQ+ community about the way they feel they are represented (or not) in creative industries, as well sharing my greeting card deigns that celebrate Black Pride with you all.
Meet the speakers
I’m really excited to be interviewing Nena, a therapeutic counsellor and founder of Crown Mi Ltd from South London and Ashley Conrad, a broadcaster also from South London for this blog. Swipe across to get to know them a bit better…
Nena: “I’m a qualified therapeutic counsellor and am passionate about the wellbeing of those who are often ostracised in society. I’m the founder of the Mental Health initiative Crown Mi Ltd. Crown Mi Ltd is dedicated to creating platforms geared toward the empowerment of Queer Black Womxn who require support with their Mental Health in a safe space free from the stigmatic gaze.”
Ashley: “I am a broadcaster and typically specialise in light entertainment. I host a radio show for Gaydio; one of the UK’s biggest LGBT platforms and am on London radio station, Maritime Radio. I also work as an online reporter and presenter. I create entertainment news bulletins for an an online platform and, before the world broke, I attended many events as a video reporter.”
Let’s get to know Nena and Ashley’s thoughts on the representation of the LGBTQ+ community. They’ve had different experiences growing up which shows that there has been some progress but there is still work to do…
What have been your experiences within the black or asian community surrounding your sexuality?
Nena: I came out quite late in the game. I spent a large part of my dating life as a heterosexual woman but not from fear of what people would say; I genuinely was only interested in men and wasn’t exposed to Queer relationships. I started to work on loving myself which allowed me to love someone’s energy regardless of gender (and haven’t looked back btw).
The older I get, the more I find that acceptance isn’t alway a given. Family/friends from my (Black) community whom I thought saw past my sexuality, showed their true colours. Their acceptance comes with heteronormative beliefs, therefore, it’s important for me to surround myself with humans that love who I am in front of me and behind my back without restrictions.
Ashley: When I was younger, before I was in the media, my sexuality was quietly accepted… maybe even ignored. No one said anything openly negative or nasty to my face. Later, when I started working in media or attending fashion shows for work, I think it was almost encouraged. Everyone loves and needs positive representation in whatever form that comes in.
Which industries do you feel represent the LGBTQ+ the most/least and why?
Nena: If I had to choose I would say the community has had a huge impact on the Fashion industry. However, I find that true or genuine ally-ship is questionable nowadays as Pride and “Queerness” have quickly become pawns for capitalist exploitation in the mainstream.
Ashley: The most – definitely fashion and music and for the least; sport – the stereotypical industries!
Have you seen your sexuality and/or skin tone represented on greeting cards before? If so, in what way?
Nena: There was a black-owned business in Catford that used to sell many black greeting cards (sadly they have closed down during the pandemic), which I spent many times purchasing greeting cards and bookmarks – anything Black really. However, seeing black cards that celebrate same sex couples or celebrate my love is a very new thing and greatly appreciated.
Ashley: Growing up, definitely. When we would go shopping in certain areas as a child, I’d see black people on greetings cards and it was always something of amazement and it felt incredibly special to receive one.
What do you think of the Pride cards designed by Leanne Creative?
Nena: I think the Pride Cards designed by Leanne Creative are amazing. It was lovely receiving the ‘My Queen’ card as a Valentine’s card from my fiancée last year. I felt like our love was important and celebrated.
Ashley: I adore them! It’s about time. Looking at LGBT media, it’s still very very white ,so seeing a card that represents me is amazing. I feel included.
Is there any imagery/wording you’d like to see more on greeting cards?
Nena: Would love to see wording around fiancé/fiancée birthday/Christmas/anniversary. Congratulations to the happy couple wedding cards.
Have you supported or heard of UK Black Pride UK and Stonewall UK?
Nena: Yes, I’ve heard of both UK Black Pride and Stonewall UK. I’ve had the pleasure of attending many events that have been delivered by both organisations.
Ashley: Yes to both!
Tell us about your proudest moment!
Nena: There have been many, but to name a couple, I will say when I arrived at a place of complete acceptance around being gay and letting my mum know was one of them. Also, sharing a written piece at a Queer event regarding my personal experience with Mental Health and having others identify is another.
Ashley: I don’t believe that has come yet; there’s still so much more I want to do!
Last year, I released two greeting cards featuring illustrated portraits of same-sex couples. It was an initiative inspired by ParliREACH and ParliOUT. ParliREACH is a Workplace Equality Network (WEN) established to increase awareness and appreciation of race, ethnicity and cultural heritage issues in Parliament. It aims to provide a platform where under-represented groups can find support and where equality objectives can be progressed. ParliOUT is another WEN in support of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people in Parliament, with the goal of making LGBT role models more visible and accessible.
£1 from the sale of each of these cards goes to the UK Black Pride charity – Europe’s largest celebration for LGBTQI+ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern-descent. UK Black Pride is a safe space to celebrate diverse sexualities, gender identities, cultures, gender expressions and backgrounds and they foster, represent and celebrate Black LGBTQI+ and QTIPOC culture through education, the arts, cultural events and advocacy.
A further 50p from each sale goes to Stonewall UK – a charity aims to let all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, in the UK and abroad, know they’re not alone. Stonewall UK believes we’re stronger united, so partner with organisations that help create change for the better.
As a designer who prides myself with creating representative greeting cards and gifts, I am committed to expanding my range and shedding light on representation issues. As it’s Pride month coming up (June), please share this post, buy some cards, follow my guest’s Instagram pages and let’s make it the most prideful month ever!
It’s October and that means it’s Black History Month in the UK! I (and many others) believe that Black History should be learnt and celebrated all year round, because black people have made huge waves in history since the beginning of time (…and not just during slavery and Civil Rights movements) but let’s make this month a big one!
In this blog, I will be exploring the origin of Black History Month and sharing with you how I plan to celebrate…
How did Black History Month begin?
Black History Month originally began under the name of Negro History Week in 1926 in the USA. Carter G Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History established this week because they believed “it was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society.”
If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor… and it stands in danger of being exterminated.
Carter G Woodson
It was first celebrated as Black History Month (BHM) in the UK in 1987 – organised through the leadership of Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a Ghanian analyst and is now also observed by Canada and the Netherlands.
Is Black History Month important?
I believe learning about black history and culture gives us, as black people, a sense of pride and understanding which we can then instil in future generations. As we pass on our knowledge of traditions and customs, it will help protect them and keep them alive, so that the African diaspora can continue to grow strong.
For non-black people, I think it is an important time to educate and inspire and should be included into mainstream learning so that we aren’t seen as ‘extra studies’ or ‘other’. It will also help to avoid cultural appropriation and lead to more appreciation of cultures outside of their own.
Learning about Black History and Culture
Growing up in West London and going to a predominantly white school (I was the only black child until year 5), it was important to my parents to involve me in black and multi-cultural activities. I joined an amazing children’s charity and youth group called Descendants from the age of about five and it is still going now!
At Descendants we learnt about African and Caribbean history, did team-building exercises, wrote poems about our cultures, learnt dances and even performed at the Queen’s Jubilee and the Royal Albert Hall with the likes of Gabrielle, Cliff Richard and Boni M. We even made a short film called Forwards Ever, Backwards Never which was part of a Sir Steve McQueen project with Art Angel and Pogus Ceaser!
It was an amazing time of my life that I will never forget and I made life-long friends there (I also illustrated their recent mascots). Please follow them and get involved in their sessions and workshops.
Black History Month 2020
This October, I will be working with The Sunshine Foundation for Children with Special Needs to create their Black History & Culture Quiz! As their designer and marketing co-ordinator (and my mum being the Chair) we have brought back the annual quiz… but this time we are going online!
Join us on Saturday 24th October from the comfort of your own home (via ZOOM) and celebrate this special month whilst raising money for this great charity!
Get together with your bubble (teams of 1 – 3 people) and make sure you have TWO devices between you with strong internet connection to take part.
Ticket Price There is no set ticket price. Please donate as much as you can to take part. All proceeds will go towards supporting children with special educational needs in the UK and Grenada.
Thank you for reading and please make noise this Black History month to get our voices heard. 2020 has been a rough year in so many ways and we need to make changes to the way black people are being treated in society across the world. I aim to empower and inspire the black community through my greeting cards and gifts but also will continuously work behind the scenes within my community to make differences to the black experience in the UK.
We need to work together to make history today and always because WE ARE BLACK HISTORY.
As a self-taught illustrator, I’ve really enjoyed working on a variety of children’s books by new and established authors. Being able to dive into their stories is always a great experience and I love getting to know the authors’ visions.
In this blog, I will be interviewing three of the authors I have worked with to share the stories behind their books and a little more about them personally.
Barbara Adu-Darko Author of The Magic Bubble Wand
Hi, I’m Barbara; a South London based children’s picture book author. Before I got into my full-time role as an account manager, I had applied for an internship at ITN which was a great experience that propelled my interest in publishing. I wanted to write but I wasn’t sure about which genre to focus on. I started with a fictional book (which is still in the works) but was then inspired to write my first children’s book, The Magic Bubble Wand which is about my nieces!
Izzie Kpobie-Mensah Author of Adjoa’s Paddling Pool and Adjoa Goes to Nursery
Hi, my name is Izzie and I would class myself as multifaceted. I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandma, niece and aunt. I am an equality, diversity and inclusion specialist, an author, jewellery maker and love all things that involve creativity and community. Professionally, I have spent most of my career working in administrative and people engagement related roles in healthcare and education.Adjoa’s Paddling Pool is my second book!
Hello, I’m Richmond; husband of one amazing and supportive wife and father of three intelligent, beautiful and energetic daughters. Oh yes, I’m also the author of a children’s book, Dylan’s Dilemma. After nearly 15 years of being caught in the proverbial rat race, I’ve finally reached a stage in my life where I feel as though I’m exercising the treasures that have been buried deep inside of me. This phase of my life is an exciting time!
Dylan’s Dilemma is available on Amazon and if you’d like some special signed copies, check out Pop Up United.
Thank you to Barbara, Izzie and Richmond for sharing your journeys and thoughts with me. It has been a pleasure to work with you all and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for your books.
If you are an author looking for an illustrator, please do have a look at my work here and get in touch to start your journey with me!
In the Black community in particular, our hair is a huge part of our identity – it is our crown – so the way we choose to wear it often comes with connotations, which can make us feel judged. For example, the Afro was deemed militant and the weave was (and still is) considered by some a signifier of self-hate!
Personally, I have tried it all; I’ve had relaxed hair, weave and extensions. I’ve even had blue highlights at school to match my blue braces – I know, what I was thinking!? Now, I wear my hair in locs and, for me, it’s been the best decision, not only for the health of my hair but also my self-confidence and current idea of beauty, but I was fully aware that I may be judged for it – we all know what that news anchor said about Zendaya!
Don’t touch or judge
Afro hair is indeed beautiful and magical but strangers should know by now, that touching it (and just people in general) without permission is a big no-no! There are many songs, books and hashtags that have warned the world about touching but in an image-conscious world, unfortunately some of us are still being silently (or not so silently) judged.
In this article, I will be exploring how and why this happens through an interview with Cristina – a mother of a young boy with long hair. In the Western world, it is deemed ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ for boys to have short hair, so I wanted to find out if there are any challenges he and his mum face for having a crown that’s outside the ‘norm’.
Meet Cristina & Joylen
Cristina is a mother of two, journalist and documentary filmmaker, originally from Cape Verde Islands. Her hobbies include reading, watching documentaries, baking, and spending time doing fun activities with her children.
Her son, Joylen, is four years old and he enjoys playing football, dancing to African music, baking delicious cookies, watching cartoons, drawing and playing with his older sister in the garden. Joylen’s favourite superhero is Black Panther, and when he grows up, he wants to be a football player and a famous super hero to save the world!
Tell us about Joylen’s hair story. Has he always had long hair?
Joylen’s hair story started, when he was two years old. He had short hair at the time but after seeing his sister as a character in the book I‘ve Got My Hair, he was inspired and asked “Mummy, can boys have long hair too?”. From that moment, I promised him that I would not cut his hair and explained that Kings can have long hair.
How does he feel most confident wearing his hair and why?
Joylen loves his hair and he became more confident and happy when he realised that he can do a lot of different hairstyles; from ponytails to braids. When I am doing his sister’s hair, he always asks me to do his hair too. Sometimes I ask him if he wants to cut it and he always says no. He truly believes that his hair is beautiful and gives him super hero powers!
Have you or he ever felt judged (positively or negatively) by the way he wears his hair?
Yes, I receive both positive and negative comments. Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative stereotypes and assumptions made about boys who wear their hair long. When Joylen wears a ponytail some people would say “What a cute little girl?” or ask me why I don’t cut his hair. Others may say that he has a beautiful hair, so it depends.
Do you think black boys and girls are judged more based on their hair?
Definitely. Brown boys and girls are judged based on their hair because it is much more than a style; it’s political. There is more flexibility in accepting girls with long hair than boys, because in society’s eyes, the norm is that boys should have short hair.
What does Joylen say about his hair?
Joylen always says that he wants long hair because he wants to look like mummy and his sister. Furthermore, Joylen loves football and after watching some footballers with long hair, he is much more confident. Sometimes when I am combing his hair and it hurts, I ask him if I can cut it and he starts to cry, saying “No I don’t want to cut my hair!”
Would you cut his hair if he asked?
It depends on the intention. If he wanted to cut his hair because he was tired of it, or for any positive and natural reason, I would cut it. But if he asked to cut his hair because he was being bullied, I would not cut it but teach him that he should be proud of his hair and explain that it is more precious than a crown.
Do you let people you don’t know touch yours or your Joylen’s hair? Why/why not? Why do you think people want to touch afro hair so much?
No, I don’t let people touch mine or my son’s hair because some people look at our children as museum pieces. When they see a mixed-raced child, one of their focusses is the hair and making comparisons between the white and black side. I think people like to touch afro hair so much because they consider it exotic or a trend.
What do you think about the Western social standard of boys having short hair and girls having long hair?
Unfortunately, the Western social standards of beauty doesn’t reflect us (black people). I feel as thought they want to transform people into “ginger bread men”; copying and pasting standards but we should all have the chance to choose our hairstyles. Hair also represents culture, religion and power relations. For example, in certain groups wearing their hair bald is celebrated and in others having long hair is a sense of pride, like in the Rastafarian religion.
Do you see Joylen’s hair texture or length represented in the media?
The media tends to represent a stereotypical image that boys are less sensitive and their short hair is symbol of strength and masculinity. Joylen’s hair is fine and is closer European hair types, so I can see Joylen’s hair texture represented but the length is not.
What do you think of Leanne’s Crown & Story campaign?
I think that Leanne’s Crown & Story campaign is phenomenal because it raises awareness of an important conversation; the need for representation of different hair types and lengths. It is absolutely inspiring to watch the combination of digital art and hair politics and this art is a crucial tool to fight against discrimination.
If you are interesting in my Crown & Story campaign, please read other interview here. I sell a range of greeting cards and gifts featuring men, women and children with different hairstyle and textures, so let’s celebrate them all. Visit my online shop here.
Written by Leanne Armstrong Interveiw with Cristina (@thecriolamum)
The Black Girl Magic social movement began in 2013. Founder CaShawn Thompson gave birth to a concept that gave millions of women and girls around the world ‘permission’ to express their blackness freely and confidently. We started to celebrate our power, beauty and strength louder and the world listened.
Fast forward to 2020 and #BlackGirlMagic continues to trend on social media platforms and marketing campaigns worldwide, with celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Kelly Rowland and Beyonce promoting black female greatness consistently in the mainstream media.
With all of this positive endorsement and (slightly) increasing acceptance of our melanin, it is little wonder black Queens, young and old, are feeling empowered and magical right now… but what about our Kings?
It is a sad statistic that, according to Mind UK, young black boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with severe mental health problems and struggle with self-esteem. It is such a big problem that in March 2019, they launched a specific Young Black Menprogramme to support black males aged 11 to 30. Even more recently, Idris Elba released a song addressing mental health in the black male community. This suggests that we need to do more to empower and uplift black boys too. We need to remove the stigma of mental health problems, break down cultural barriers and highlight, with the goal of completely stopping, systemic discrimination in order to give these boys the support they need. These are all huge steps that will take years to fully address but there are things we can do individually to make a difference in the same way #BlackGirlMagic did.
We see you, we celebrate you
In 2017 I released my first set of greeting cards. They all featured black women and I must admit that it took almost a year for me to produce cards that featured male portraits. Thinking back, I understand why I did this; my largest customer base was women and they tend to buy and receive more cards than men, but I can now see that leaving men and boys out during my mission to empower the BAME community could have made them feel forgotten or unseen…but I promise…I see you!
Since the growth of my business (and seeing my brother grow into a young man), I’ve made a conscious effort to produce more products that feature black males. These include Father’s Day cards, magnets and birthdays cards with illustrations of men and boys of different ages and skin tones. It was also important to me to include some portraits of these men smiling because, as the #BlackBoyJoy movement highlighted, we rarely see black boys happy or expressing a jovial spirit in mainstream media.
A step in the right direction
After doing some research, it was great to find that there are many organisations and charities with specific goals of empowering black men and boys. Groups such as 100 Black Men of London, the Up My Street project and 56 Black Men are doing amazing work with this section of the community and I know they will make a huge difference to many lives.
I am also starting to see black boys represented in more areas such as advertising, theatre and literature which is great to see and I am personally proud to have recently illustrated a book featuring black male characters only. Dylan’s Dilemmaby Richmond Osei-Akoto is a beautiful story of a father and son’s relationship, expressing love, openness and honesty, so it was a pleasure to be involved in this project showing black males in this way.
At the end of the day, our young princes will grow into Kings and we need to nurture them in the same way we do our Queens. We can’t expect them to innately value and empower themselves (the stats say it’s not working), so let’s keep celebrating them and talking to them with the same positive energy we do with our girls.
So to my friends, my brother and all of my male family members; I see you, I celebrate you, I support you and I see your MAGIC!
2019 was a great year for black beauty and achievement. I rarely watch beauty pageants but last year I couldn’t help but pay attention to the fact that the major winners were all black for the first time…ever! Miss Universe, Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss World were making waves with their #blackgirlmagic, with Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa vowing to wear her natural hair to promote natural beauty. This would have been unheard of a few years ago, so it was refreshing to see the diversity of beauty being celebrated and having black women win…several times!
My lack of knowledge about beauty pageants made me think that they were very superficial and purely based on Eurocentric ideals of beauty that many women of colour couldn’t live up to. Beauty Queens were deemed vain and 2 dimensional but after watching the Miss World competition, it did open my eyes to how much more is involved in the judging – although I did wonder what all the dancing was about!
Black Beauty Queens or Black Queens?
We as a society have broadened our definition of beauty, which is great, but I still feel that, as black women, we are placed on a ‘scale of blackness’. Women with the stereotypical beauty queen image i.e. straight hair, lots of make-up, straighter noses, well spoken and lighter skin are perceived as ‘less black’, whereas those with darker skin, broader noses, louder voices and natural hair are often portrayed as ‘real black Queens’. This is unfair and hurtful to many. I have even personally been told I’m “not that black” (despite having dark skin and natural hair/locs) purely based on the fact that I am articulate and softly spoken. It’s crazy!
We are blessed with a spectrum of blackness, so both ends and inbetween should be celebrated and respected as black women equally. We have the right to experiment with hair and make-up and still be considered black. Our complexions and music taste doesn’t definite or quantify our connection to our ancestry and whether we are beauty queens or not, we all still black and treated as such by people outside of our race.
The Black Spectrum
I understand that my illustrations represent just a tiny portion of black society. I endeavour to be fully diverse and inclusive, but it would be impossible to represent every shade, size, age and hair type of the African diaspora, so bear with me as my collection grows!
I take inspiration from my followers and the people I meet at events, so I hope that there is at least one item that you and your friends and family can relate to. The goal is to expand my range and empower women (and men) right across the ‘black spectrum’ one card at a time… because after all we ALL descend from royalty!
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