Skin Deep Futures is our way of platforming some of the grassroots organisations that are working in different ways to lift up, support and make changes within their communities.
Globe Poets is one such group, a youth-led poetry collective based in South London that started as a weekly writing session for students. Founders of the collective Tasnima Ahmed, Zareen Roy Macauley, Aneesha Hussain and member Sharon Machisa worked to get young people of all ages in their school talking about politics and social justice, challenging the value of poetry, who we write poetry for and its place in the curriculum.
Tasnima recalls how students would come in to talk about their experiences, politics, social justice and the everyday struggles of exam pressures, mental health, insecure housing and police discrimination. Some kids would come in, sit, listen and chat, and never write anything. Others would turn up, start writing, and never leave. Tasmina explains, “Then it got bigger and we had a small slam between schools. Poetry was the only thing our school was good for. We always failed at every other inter-school academic competition but the poetry competition we bodied twice in a row.”
They wanted to build a space outside of the hostility created by the school system, a space where kids can just be kids; muck around with poetry however they wanted to. But as proud as they are of Globe Poets, all four agree that it says a lot that they had to create that space without any support from their school. Reflecting on that experience now, they realise that they should have had someone to do that for them.
Globe Poets is a collective in its truest sense. “We created a space where everyone is growing and developing their own voices. It’s freeing,” says Sharon. Zareen chimes in: “I also like how it has become a family, a tight-knit community, and it means that even if you stop doing poetry, you still have us as mentors. It’s taken a while to build, but now we’re firmly set.”
For them, Globe Poets is more than poetry. It’s about sharing the knowledge and the know-how, building confidence, social awareness and emotional intelligence, and redistributing the resources they have access to. And the word has spread. They have had people from different schools all over London asking them to help start their own poetry collectives. Aneesha tells us, “It’s about building a poetry community across London for young people.” She pauses, “South is the best though, don’t get it twisted.”
Another such project is KIN, a collective that was founded in 2017 by activists and organisers from the US and UK. It looks to build a national network of activists, creating a home and community where organisers can come together to collaborate, strategise and support each other. Exploring the history of national and international social movements, contextualising what achieving collective liberation looks like within the UK.
KIN works to create a space where black organisers can share their experiences, look back at histories and shared legacies, as well as take time to think about strategic mapping, asking “where is the good work happening and how can we support that?”
Ayeisha Thomas-Smith, Kennedy Walker and Zahra Dalilah are the three UK founders and current lead organisers of KIN. In their words: “There needs to be an intervention in how we are talking about racism in the UK. Delving into the past, present and future of black radical organising (and resistance) in this country and beyond. We also hoped by holding this space there would be the necessary intervention in the way racism is spoken about in the UK by bringing contemporary black radical thought and organising to the forefront.”
So often organisers spend their time and energies working, reacting and putting out fires. They are not allowed time for reflection or space to think about what is needed and what the next steps should be. KIN is working to prioritise meaningful collaboration where they can get organisers to think through the ecology of movement building, share organising practices and ask big questions like what could collective liberation look like?
Nawi was the last survivor of the N’nonmiton, an all women’s army from the Kingdom of Dahomey which is in the present-day Republic of Benin. The name N’nonmiton means ‘our mothers.’
Started in early 2017 by Amina Gichinga, Nawi Collective is an unapologetically black space for African and Caribbean diaspora women and femmes to come together to sing. Amina reflects on her motivation for starting the collective: “It is a space of mutual support where we can come together to feel release. There are some spaces in our lives where we may have to bite our tongues or modify ourselves to be more palatable to others in order to survive, but Nawi is not one of them. We can be who we want to be for a couple of hours every fortnight, share our experiences and celebrate who we are and what we bring. Nawi is freedom.”
Nawi, like the other collectives we spoke to, seeks to deepen the ongoing conversations around the histories and legacies of activists and organisers in our communities. As part of their commission for the Black Cultural Activism Map, they hosted an event called ‘Bring a Dish, Bring a Story’ where they invited inspirational black women to share stories of the ancestors and activists who had impacted them – to ensure they are not forgotten. They were joined by three women who were members of the Brixton Black Women’s Group (the first black-feminist group to be formed in Britain in 1973): Gail Lewis, Jocelyn Wolfe and Gerlin Bean. “We were so thankful to hear of their experiences, some of which mirror the issues we continue to face in our communities and as black women and femmes.” They were also joined by Dee Woods, an award-winning cook and dedicated community activist and agriculturalist who runs the Granville Community Kitchen with a lot of love and soul. “We learnt from the care, intellect, love and breadth of knowledge these individuals used to strengthen their communities in really practical ways.”
Learning from those who came before, Nawi’s aim is to support their community “with hope, strength and a sense that our ancestors have fought the same battles so we are equipped to win.”
This piece is from our latest print edition: Movements, which you can buy here.