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What These Young Black Women Want To Change & Challenge In 2021

Jessica Morgan
·10-min read

It's been a long, hard year for Black women. But despite experiencing heartbreak, exhaustion, career wins and losses, they have continued to work hard behind the scenes to ensure that Black communities are supported, lifted and recognised for everything they do.

These incredible women have been ensuring we are represented in the fitness industry, challenging colourism within our own communities and campaigning to change the national curriculum to include Black history, as well as challenging systemic racism in media.

They have been working hard for years and should be recognised and given their flowers for all that they do for the Black diaspora and beyond. Black women have held it together and shown up for us. Now it's time for us to hold space for them.

To kick off International Women's Day, for which 2021's theme is "Choose to Challenge", we decided to call up nine Black women for a vibe check and to find out what they want to change and challenge in 2021 and beyond.

<strong>Demi Colleen</strong><br><strong>Vegan activist </strong><br><br>"I want to see Black women placed at the centre of <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/vegan-fast-food-kfc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:vegan activism" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">vegan activism</a>. Often our cultures, which are part of the deep history and roots of veganism, are left out of the conversation and rewritten to prioritise the appeasement of white vegans. <br><br>"I want to challenge the narrative that veganism is a 'white people's thing' and encourage Black and people of colour to investigate and reconnect with the roots of veganism that is in our cultures. I also want vegan brands and white vegans to undo the damage of white veganism, as well as actually do the anti-racism work to change the community as we see it now. I really hope soon and in years to come to see the face of vegan activism reflect our diverse society instead of the one shade and flavour that is forced on us right now."
Demi Colleen
Vegan activist

"I want to see Black women placed at the centre of vegan activism. Often our cultures, which are part of the deep history and roots of veganism, are left out of the conversation and rewritten to prioritise the appeasement of white vegans.

"I want to challenge the narrative that veganism is a 'white people's thing' and encourage Black and people of colour to investigate and reconnect with the roots of veganism that is in our cultures. I also want vegan brands and white vegans to undo the damage of white veganism, as well as actually do the anti-racism work to change the community as we see it now. I really hope soon and in years to come to see the face of vegan activism reflect our diverse society instead of the one shade and flavour that is forced on us right now."
<strong>Lavinya Stennett<br>Founder & CEO of <a href="https://theblackcurriculum.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Black Curriculum" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Black Curriculum</a></strong><br><br>"In the future, I want to see education embrace the knowledge of Black women across a wide range of topics. I want to change the <a href="https://theblackcurriculum.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:national curriculum" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">national curriculum</a> and exam board specifications to include more examples of <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/black-history-is-now" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Black history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Black history</a> and challenge the idea that the arts belong outside of 'formal education'."
Lavinya Stennett
Founder & CEO of The Black Curriculum


"In the future, I want to see education embrace the knowledge of Black women across a wide range of topics. I want to change the national curriculum and exam board specifications to include more examples of Black history and challenge the idea that the arts belong outside of 'formal education'."
<strong>Zeze Millz</strong><br><strong>Award-winning and MOBO-nominated digital personality</strong><br><br>"I have been <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/women-of-colour-against-skin-lightening" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:challenging colourism" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">challenging colourism</a> within the Black community. Often when I've spoken about it (in the early days), especially among Black men, they have this thing of it almost being in your head. It's almost like there are other factors as to why it's not colourism. It's gaslighting. But the truth is, the media prefer to uphold <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2021/01/10266392/kamala-harris-colourism-vp-inauguration-first" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:lighter skinned women over dark-skinned women" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">lighter skinned women over dark-skinned women</a>. <br><br>"Everybody else gets celebrated for just being them, but when it comes to Black women we have to be excellent and it's draining on us to constantly be striving for this thing that isn't always attainable. So I want to see Black women given their flowers for just being normal."<br>
Zeze Millz
Award-winning and MOBO-nominated digital personality

"I have been challenging colourism within the Black community. Often when I've spoken about it (in the early days), especially among Black men, they have this thing of it almost being in your head. It's almost like there are other factors as to why it's not colourism. It's gaslighting. But the truth is, the media prefer to uphold lighter skinned women over dark-skinned women.

"Everybody else gets celebrated for just being them, but when it comes to Black women we have to be excellent and it's draining on us to constantly be striving for this thing that isn't always attainable. So I want to see Black women given their flowers for just being normal."
<strong>Oloni <br>Women's sexual rights advocate</strong><br><br>"I’ve been challenging stigmas around sexual health and how society sees women and sex. I’ve created conversations around these issues to help empower and educate. <br><br>"I'd like to see more of what we’re slowly getting now in terms of women feeling empowered by their sexuality, having agency over their body. For women to have a better understanding of their sexuality without centring men. <br><br>"I’d like to actively see better sex education for young people and for it to include conversations around female pleasure and consent."
Oloni
Women's sexual rights advocate


"I’ve been challenging stigmas around sexual health and how society sees women and sex. I’ve created conversations around these issues to help empower and educate.

"I'd like to see more of what we’re slowly getting now in terms of women feeling empowered by their sexuality, having agency over their body. For women to have a better understanding of their sexuality without centring men.

"I’d like to actively see better sex education for young people and for it to include conversations around female pleasure and consent."
<strong>Dora Atim <br>Founder of <a href="https://www.instagram.com/ultrablackrunning/?hl=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ultra Black Running" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ultra Black Running</a></strong><br><br>"I have been challenging the fitness industry to represent more Black women and non-binary people. The industry needs much more representation and education on how to support marginalised communities.<br><br>"In the future, I want to see more people like me being represented and much more stories about what fitness means to people like me and what it can do for marginalised communities. <br><br>"While I feel that the <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2019/05/231172/women-lgbtq-gyms" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:fitness industry lacks representation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">fitness industry lacks representation</a>, I want people to take it upon themselves to challenge themselves and create their own tables, instead of thriving to shake others. Everybody has a story and has the right to be sold and showcased! Fitness is for absolutely everybody. While I work in the running scene, I want to challenge people to try out running, not to get quick or run long. I want people to try it out and see the endless opportunities and confidence that comes with it."
Dora Atim
Founder of Ultra Black Running


"I have been challenging the fitness industry to represent more Black women and non-binary people. The industry needs much more representation and education on how to support marginalised communities.

"In the future, I want to see more people like me being represented and much more stories about what fitness means to people like me and what it can do for marginalised communities.

"While I feel that the fitness industry lacks representation, I want people to take it upon themselves to challenge themselves and create their own tables, instead of thriving to shake others. Everybody has a story and has the right to be sold and showcased! Fitness is for absolutely everybody. While I work in the running scene, I want to challenge people to try out running, not to get quick or run long. I want people to try it out and see the endless opportunities and confidence that comes with it."
<strong>Candice Brathwaite<br>Author and founder of <a href="https://www.makemotherhooddiverse.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Make Motherhood Diverse" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Make Motherhood Diverse</a></strong><br><br>"Last quarter of 2018, the MMBRACE report was released sharing the data that <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/black-mothers-pregnancy-dangers-survival" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Black women in the UK were five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Black women in the UK were five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women</a>. I was grateful for this information as it helped me to make sense of my own near-death experience in the <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/postpartum-depression-coronavirus" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:post-partum" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">post-partum</a> period with my firstborn. Since then I’ve spoken about the issue, pushed a petition seeking for this issue to be looked into within government and even made the statistic a focal point in my <em>Sunday Times</em> bestselling book <em><a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/candice-brathwaite-i-am-not-your-baby-mother" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:I Am Not Your Baby Mother" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">I Am Not Your Baby Mother</a></em>. <br><br>"I want us to be valued. To be held in the same esteem as white mothers. For the same value to be placed on our lives and the lives of our children. It’s such a simple ask but so very difficult as that means we need to dismantle white supremacy and racism. Will that happen in my lifetime? I doubt it but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and make a positive change in the meantime.<br><br>"The most important thing is saving the lives of Black women, preparing them for the bias and difficulties that could perhaps await them when they need to access maternity services. I want Black women to feel like they have advocates, someone willing to ensure that they are safe during and after the birthing process."
Candice Brathwaite
Author and founder of Make Motherhood Diverse


"Last quarter of 2018, the MMBRACE report was released sharing the data that Black women in the UK were five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. I was grateful for this information as it helped me to make sense of my own near-death experience in the post-partum period with my firstborn. Since then I’ve spoken about the issue, pushed a petition seeking for this issue to be looked into within government and even made the statistic a focal point in my Sunday Times bestselling book I Am Not Your Baby Mother.

"I want us to be valued. To be held in the same esteem as white mothers. For the same value to be placed on our lives and the lives of our children. It’s such a simple ask but so very difficult as that means we need to dismantle white supremacy and racism. Will that happen in my lifetime? I doubt it but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and make a positive change in the meantime.

"The most important thing is saving the lives of Black women, preparing them for the bias and difficulties that could perhaps await them when they need to access maternity services. I want Black women to feel like they have advocates, someone willing to ensure that they are safe during and after the birthing process."
<strong>Zina Alfa<br>Hair discrimination activist and founder of <a href="https://ubhair.net/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ub hair" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ub hair</a></strong><br><br>"Through my <a href="https://www.change.org/p/uk-government-ban-hair-discrimination-in-the-uk" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:petition" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">petition</a> and through my business' <a href="https://ubhair.net/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ub hair esteem project" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ub hair esteem project</a>, we are pushing to create hair positivity and hair equality for people with <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/natural-afro-hair-discrimination" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:afro hair" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">afro hair</a>. I am changing the narrative on the way we see afro hair. <br><br>"I would love to see the beauty industry <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/natural-afro-hair-discrimination" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:normalise afro texture hair" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">normalise afro texture hair</a> and protective styles and showcase its beauty! Also, change the language which perpetuates certain stereotypes of Black women. Instead of calling afro hair coarse (which gives off the indication of it being stubborn), start calling it delicate. If the worst thing you can call European hair is flat, then you can definitely stop calling afro hair nappy or coarse. <br><br>"I want to actively change the way we look at beauty and influence. Start looking at the people who are making real change and stop worrying about the way women look; ultimately the real beauty is from within."
Zina Alfa
Hair discrimination activist and founder of ub hair


"Through my petition and through my business' ub hair esteem project, we are pushing to create hair positivity and hair equality for people with afro hair. I am changing the narrative on the way we see afro hair.

"I would love to see the beauty industry normalise afro texture hair and protective styles and showcase its beauty! Also, change the language which perpetuates certain stereotypes of Black women. Instead of calling afro hair coarse (which gives off the indication of it being stubborn), start calling it delicate. If the worst thing you can call European hair is flat, then you can definitely stop calling afro hair nappy or coarse.

"I want to actively change the way we look at beauty and influence. Start looking at the people who are making real change and stop worrying about the way women look; ultimately the real beauty is from within."
<strong>Jay-Ann Lopez</strong><br><strong>Author and founder of <a href="https://twitter.com/blackgirlgamers?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Black Girl Gamers" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Black Girl Gamers</a></strong><br><br>"I have been challenging the lack of visibility of well thought-out Black women characters in games, the lack of diversity in the workforce in the gaming industry and the lack of accountability from gaming companies in supporting toxic, problematic white streamers. I am also challenging the preference of using white male/female/non-binary gamers in marketing, and the structure of gaming events.<br><br>"I would like to see more Black women employed as leaders in the different areas of the gaming ecosystem. I would also like to see Black women, including myself, receive more credit for the impact that they have had on diversity as a whole in the industry. <br><br>"I would like to see more community-focused organisations, like mine, receive more support from companies that say they're focused on diversity and inclusion."
Jay-Ann Lopez
Author and founder of Black Girl Gamers

"I have been challenging the lack of visibility of well thought-out Black women characters in games, the lack of diversity in the workforce in the gaming industry and the lack of accountability from gaming companies in supporting toxic, problematic white streamers. I am also challenging the preference of using white male/female/non-binary gamers in marketing, and the structure of gaming events.

"I would like to see more Black women employed as leaders in the different areas of the gaming ecosystem. I would also like to see Black women, including myself, receive more credit for the impact that they have had on diversity as a whole in the industry.

"I would like to see more community-focused organisations, like mine, receive more support from companies that say they're focused on diversity and inclusion."
<strong>Rose Frimpong</strong><br><strong><a href="https://www.instagram.com/blacklgbtfund/?hl=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund</a> director & <a href="https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/two-twos-podcast/id1480839115" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Two Twos podcast" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>Two Twos</em> podcast</a> host</strong><br><br>"Through my <a href="https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/two-twos-podcast/id1480839115" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:podcast" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">podcast</a> I have been challenging the representation of Black masculine-presenting lesbians in the media, from the film industry to social media campaigns. We have been highlighting the importance of showing a variety of Black masculine-presenting women, ranging from dark-skinned women to those with disabilities and those on the very masculine side of the spectrum.<br><br>"I would love to see therapy more accessible to all people in my community. People within the <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/tanya-compas-amika-george-activism" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Black queer community suffer from a lot of traumas" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Black queer community suffer from a lot of traumas</a> that vary from just existing and coming to terms with that in itself, to coming out to sometimes homophobic family members, institutional racism, diverting from societal norms and many other things. We need therapy to deal with these things. But as it stands, finding therapists that know how to deal with a Black queer person's issues can be extremely hard. <br><br>"I would love to see more Black queer people getting the right help they need for their mental health and accessing that to be easy for them. I would also love to see more Black queer people having the knowledge to recognise what type of help they may need. <br><br>"This leads me on to what I would like to actively change for the Black queer community in 2021 and beyond. Through my organisation, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/blacklgbtfund/?hl=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund</a>, I would like to continue to fund 12 weeks of therapy to as many Black queer people as possible. I would like to increase the number of sessions offered for funding by the end of the year. I would also like to create a platform for people to find Black queer therapists. Lastly, showcasing a range of faces for the representation of Black masculine-presenting women in the media, as well as a range of different voices. I am actively working to do this through my podcast I host with my best friend Nana Duncan, and we hope to see that change come to life."
Rose Frimpong
Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund director & Two Twos podcast host

"Through my podcast I have been challenging the representation of Black masculine-presenting lesbians in the media, from the film industry to social media campaigns. We have been highlighting the importance of showing a variety of Black masculine-presenting women, ranging from dark-skinned women to those with disabilities and those on the very masculine side of the spectrum.

"I would love to see therapy more accessible to all people in my community. People within the Black queer community suffer from a lot of traumas that vary from just existing and coming to terms with that in itself, to coming out to sometimes homophobic family members, institutional racism, diverting from societal norms and many other things. We need therapy to deal with these things. But as it stands, finding therapists that know how to deal with a Black queer person's issues can be extremely hard.

"I would love to see more Black queer people getting the right help they need for their mental health and accessing that to be easy for them. I would also love to see more Black queer people having the knowledge to recognise what type of help they may need.

"This leads me on to what I would like to actively change for the Black queer community in 2021 and beyond. Through my organisation, Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund, I would like to continue to fund 12 weeks of therapy to as many Black queer people as possible. I would like to increase the number of sessions offered for funding by the end of the year. I would also like to create a platform for people to find Black queer therapists. Lastly, showcasing a range of faces for the representation of Black masculine-presenting women in the media, as well as a range of different voices. I am actively working to do this through my podcast I host with my best friend Nana Duncan, and we hope to see that change come to life."
<strong>Lydia Heywood<br>Founder of <a href="https://www.instagram.com/cool.ridings/?hl=en-gb" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Cool Ridings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Cool Ridings</a></strong><br><br>"I challenge accessibility and passive discrimination while shining a light on the diverse talent that exists in equestrian sport. Contacts and knowledge can be inherited so we bridge the gap and the ultimate goal is for riders to realise podium potential, which requires enormous support.<br><br>"I want to ensure that the next generation of equestrians are embraced, celebrated and supported. This is important to me. I want there to be more role models as a result, which will rebalance the at times lonely sport that I love.<br><br>"Going forward, I want us to acknowledge and accept our differences! Also support pioneers as they pave a way to alter the perception that high-level equestrian sport is only for Caucasian elites."
Lydia Heywood
Founder of Cool Ridings


"I challenge accessibility and passive discrimination while shining a light on the diverse talent that exists in equestrian sport. Contacts and knowledge can be inherited so we bridge the gap and the ultimate goal is for riders to realise podium potential, which requires enormous support.

"I want to ensure that the next generation of equestrians are embraced, celebrated and supported. This is important to me. I want there to be more role models as a result, which will rebalance the at times lonely sport that I love.

"Going forward, I want us to acknowledge and accept our differences! Also support pioneers as they pave a way to alter the perception that high-level equestrian sport is only for Caucasian elites."
<strong>Tobi Oredein<br>CEO and founder of <a href="https://blackballad.co.uk/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Black Ballad" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Black Ballad</a></strong><br><br>"In the media industry, I have been challenging whiteness. With media statistics highlighting that 94% of journalists are white, <a href="https://blackballad.co.uk/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Black Ballad" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Black Ballad</a> gives Black women the chance to tell their stories. Beyond challenging whiteness in terms of who gets opportunities to write, we challenge white in terms of content and creating content that centres on Black women. If you read some of the content about race that is commissioned on mainstream platforms it still has the tendency to make sure it educates white people first and foremost rather than letting Black women express their experiences and be the main purpose of the article. <br><br>"I would like to see Black women in more senior positions. I want to see more than one Black editor per publication and that publication claim they have a diverse staff team. <br><br>"I want to challenge what ownership in the media looks like. By owning my media company I have been able to pay over 350 Black writers and creatives, make decisions that put Black women first without the consideration of alienating another demographic. I want more Black women and people to embrace the idea of starting their own media companies and encouraging our community and others to embrace Black-owned media companies and the teams and work they create. The more of us there are, the better."<br>
Tobi Oredein
CEO and founder of Black Ballad


"In the media industry, I have been challenging whiteness. With media statistics highlighting that 94% of journalists are white, Black Ballad gives Black women the chance to tell their stories. Beyond challenging whiteness in terms of who gets opportunities to write, we challenge white in terms of content and creating content that centres on Black women. If you read some of the content about race that is commissioned on mainstream platforms it still has the tendency to make sure it educates white people first and foremost rather than letting Black women express their experiences and be the main purpose of the article.

"I would like to see Black women in more senior positions. I want to see more than one Black editor per publication and that publication claim they have a diverse staff team.

"I want to challenge what ownership in the media looks like. By owning my media company I have been able to pay over 350 Black writers and creatives, make decisions that put Black women first without the consideration of alienating another demographic. I want more Black women and people to embrace the idea of starting their own media companies and encouraging our community and others to embrace Black-owned media companies and the teams and work they create. The more of us there are, the better."

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