18 October 6:30pm–8:30pm
ustwoTALKIES: Black History Month Celebration
Our friends at People of Creativity have built a community who seek to highlight, celebrate and connect young creatives of colour. Through events, mentoring and workshops they aim to stimulate a larger conversation around lack of ethnic diversity within the creative industry.
At ustwo London we are motivated to foster and encourage underrepresented groups from the local community in our events space. Much of the drive for this comes from a feeling that – as an industry – we’re not doing enough to encourage diversity. We want to take steps to help change that. We firmly believe that diverse teams help us make better products, and we are committed to doing our part to change the industry.
This UK Black History Month, we wanted to work with People of Creativity to take time to celebrate the excellence that people of colour are achieving in their respective industries. On Tuesday 18 October, we hosted a diverse panel pulled from the the tech, business, beauty and the creative industries.
To start off the evening, we eased in the crowd with mingling, drinks and Caribbean cuisine. Once everyone had tucked into their choice of Ackee and Saltfish, Callaloo or Curried Goat, we kicked off the main event. We had 20-minute talks from each of our speakers, followed by a group Q&A.
Richard Cummins: Platform Solutions Consultant As a Platform Solutions Consultant in Google Technical Services, Richard is responsible for the technical relationship of the largest advertising clients and/or product partners. Working closely with sales teams to identify, develop, and optimise the new business opportunities and develop warm client relationships by leveraging Google products and technologies.
Florence Adepoju, a 25 year old Cosmetic Science graduate from the London College of Fashion, who saw a real gap in the market. Florence Adepoju decided to create the brand she always wanted to see on the high street. MDMflow lipsticks are now stocked in retailers from London, to Paris, LA and as far as Australia.
Passionate about uncovering role models and inspiring a new generation of exceptional black business leaders, Melanie founded the Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards) in 2013 to reflect the outstanding achievements and contributions of black business people to the economy.
Melanie’s days are spent as a management consultant with over 17 years international commercial business experience, specialising in strategic transformation initiatives for leading global brands.
Andre is a London-based designer and creative facilitator. From the ages of 18-23, Andre has written and self-published six books about creativity, the arts and their effects on society. He has worked with the likes of Adidas, Nintendo, Red Bull, Yale and The Guardian. He has also been featured by Dazed & Confused, SBTV, Creative Review and BBC Radio 4.
A UX Designer and Use Acquisition Specialist, Emem basically helps businesses to solve problems and make money. She has a Sales and Business Development background in traditional media before moving into online advertising then working for number of tech startups. Emem is an Ada’s List and TLa Africa committee member and IDF London’s local lead.
Sources of Inspiration
In the spirit of celebrating black history, and getting the conversation flowing, each speaker began by talking about a figure who inspired them. The individuals mentioned ranged from George Washington Carver, who empowered black labourers with farming education after abolition, Nelson Mandela, Marcus Garvey and Madame C J Walker, the first self-made millionaire in American history.
However, both Melanie and Emem, spoke about figures closer to home – their mother and grandmother respectively. Through their personal stories, they paid dividends to the everyday heroics – across communities and within families – that people of colour perform to get respect, get opportunities and get ahead.
Starting your career, opening a business or getting a project off the ground is tough and, as our speakers explained, it’s even tougher to remain true to yourself whilst doing it – especially as a minority or person of colour. However for Florence, an unwillingness to compromise on who she was became a driving force that motivated her as she launched MDMflow, and kept her going for two and a half years as she worked out of her parents’ shed.
She explained that throughout her journey she was sure that she wanted to work in the beauty industry, but there was no existing space within it for what she wanted to create. So the answer was to create her own brand – where she could celebrate her own influences as well as make products that helped her consumers more confidently be themselves.
Similarly, Andre spoke about how his creative projects, especially Authors of the Estate, were efforts to ‘reverse the energy’ that people associate with where he is from. By focusing on authenticity rather than other people’s expectations, his projects challenge the stereotypical narratives of estates, and the communities who live on them.
Looking for Guidance
In the Q&A portion, the speakers took time to reflect on how they started out and what advice they would give to their younger selves. The importance of mentoring for personal and career development underscored their conversation.
What became clear is that these successful individuals gleaned guidance from diverse sources. Richard, after making a general case for the value of mentors, was nudged by mediator Jai to reveal his own – the local shopkeeper he worked for as a teenager who taught him skills that stick with him today.
In fact, Melanie warned of the dangers of aiming too high when seeking a mentor – “Don’t just look for your Oprah’s.” She suggested you should aim to have a portfolio of mentors, who can inspire and guide you through different stages of your development.
With humility and perspective, our speakers and hosts consistently broadened the discussion at hand. Not only did they emphasise collaboration and education – as our host Soala put it “we can’t make change without each other” – they also spoke about how they wanted to scale their own projects. They all look set to make substantial changes, global contributions and their own impression on black history.