Black Female Icons of Lewisham

Update 2024: To continue the legacy of the murals project we are holding two events as part of Brockley Max 2024 in association with Women of the Lens CIC. Please check out the webpage.

Brockley Max celebrated three of the many incredible women who have lived or worked in Lewisham and who have made a positive change to our community, or society more generally. We were commissioned to create three murals of significant Black women. Not just those who are famous, it could be someone less well-known who is a women activist, campaigner or champion of a cause and have had a real impact locally, nationally or internationally. And there are some amazing women from Lewisham!

In 2021, our community was asked to suggest amazing black women from Lewisham. The list was whittled down to fourteen women and the public asked to choose who they would like to see celebrated as a mural. The final three (actually four) women were chosen by the steering committee, agreeing with the public’s vote for the overall winner and allocating the remaining murals to women who best exemplified the Untold Stories brief.

The four women  are Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, Mavis Best and Kristina and Sadé Alleyne. The murals were painted during the Brockley Max festival from the 2nd to the 10th June by our three artists.

The Steering Committee said:

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah received the most votes from the public and it is no surprise as her tireless work campaigning to introduce the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill - or "Ella's law", named after her daughter, who died 10 year’s ago this year from the effects of pollution. Her campaigning will save thousands of lives and a mural is a testament to both Rosamund and Ella.

Mavis Best’s work of fighting racist policing and other discrimination spanned 50 years and even though she received an MBE in 2002, is relatively unknown. She was instrumental in having the infamous “Sus” laws scrapped; a racist law which enabled the police to arrest someone on suspicion alone and which the police used to target black youth. The committee felt that her incredible years of activism and work to change the law which helped hundreds of young people, fits the Untold stories brief.

Kristina and Sadé Alleyne are both women invested in the arts in Lewisham, from teaching children at the Albany & hip-hop at Lewisham Fire station, to students at Lewisham College, Trinity Laban and Goldsmiths.  The quality of their work is recognised internationally, and the committee felt that they represented both the incredible art and culture in Lewisham and being young, represented the future of incredible black women can achieve.

Check out the video of the project:


Let us know what you think about the murals by commenting at the bottom of the page.

Read one of our volunteer's experience of supporting the painting of the murals.

Mavis Best's great-niece, Salome Akaraonye, has written a tribute to her.

And we are planning some events in 2024 to continue the legacy, so sign up to our mailing list to be kept up to date.

Supported By Mayor of London

This project is funded by Untold Stories, part of the Mayor of London’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm to provide context, insight or draw attention to invisible, contested or absent diverse heritage in London’s public spaces.


Mavis Best

In the 1970s, activist Mavis Best played a key role in scrapping the infamous Sus law – based on the 1824 Vagrancy Act – which was manipulated by police officers to stop, search, arrest, detain and assault young Black men and women. Alongside a group of Black women from Lewisham, in south-east London, and following a series of demonstrations and meetings, Best successfully lobbied police and government to scrap the Sus law.

Prior to their successful campaign, thousands of young Black people endured police abuse under the Sus law. Before securing repeal of the law completely, Best worked with other Black women to rescue children from police stations by demanding their release. After three years of lobbying with their campaign group Scrap Sus Campaign, Best and her fellow activists succeeded in getting the unfair law changed.  Her life and work was recently featured in this Guardian article.

Salome Akaraonye has written a tribute to her great aunt.

Photo: Camilla Greenwell

Twin sisters Kristina and Sadé Alleyne founded their dance company Alleyne Dance in 2014. The choreographic aesthetic reflects the sisters diverse background in athleticism and dance training. As well as performing, spreading their love of dance through teaching is incredibly important to Kristina and Sadé, and they are known to be very positive, motivating and inspiring to both dancers and non-dancers. A new stage production, Far From Home, premiered in Autumn 2022 and is touring throughout 2023. Recently, Alleyne Dance have worked on high profile commissions for renowned Martha Graham Company (USA), and the Phoenix Dance Theatre (UK).

They are very fond of their home borough of Lewisham, and although Kristina has recently moved to Belgium to start a family, Sadé still keeps their base there. They are active members of the community and last year were choreographers and artistic directors for  Close to Home: The Mass Dance Event. Part of Lewisham's year as the London Borough of Culture, it featured an intergenerational cast of 200 – 400 local performers exploring the stories of Lewisham.

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is a grassroots campaigner in Lewisham raising awareness of asthma and the health problems that can be caused by air pollution, following the death of her 9-year old daughter, Ella Roberta, in 2013. Rosamund is now a leading light in the global fight against air pollution, a position recognised by the World Health Organisation, who made her a BreatheLife Ambassador. She set up The Ella Roberta Foundation which believes the Coroner’s recommendations issued after the landmark inquest into Ella’s death have the power to improve air quality for everyone, everywhere. The Foundation's work is to campaign for these guidelines to be followed by governments, councils, medical professionals and the general public, all over the world. She uses her experience and position to highlight the inequality of those affected by air pollution. She is a teacher, lecturer and researcher in psychology and an advocate of Clean Air. She has been been awarded a CBE in public health in the Kings Honours list 2023. and is an Honorary Fellow of the British Science Association and was named among You Magazine’s 21 Most Extraordinary Women of 2021, British Vogue’s 25 Extraordinary Women of 2021, The Times’ Green Power List 2021 and BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List 2020. Watch Rosamund's TED talk here.


Mercy Addo

Mercy Addo

Mercy Addo has lived in Lewisham for over 40 years and was a senior worker and developer of Lewisham Way Youth & Community Centre in Brockley where she developed educational opportunities and programmes for young adults and turned round its reputation of housing wayward black youths "smoking" and “causing problems." She established Girls' Night which enabled girls to use the space without feeling intimidated or having to vie with boys, and gave them the opportunity for open and frank discussions on issues of interest to/affecting them. They could improve their skills without being judged, expanded their horizons, increased their confidence and ability to speak up and strive to do well.

As External Funding Manager for Community Education Lewisham, (CEL), Mercy secured a range of funding streams to enable wider access to new and innovative educational opportunities e.g. mobile computer bus, motor mechanics course and radio workshop. Mercy was on the management committees of various projects including the Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust and Youth AID Lewisham.  Youth A.I.D was  a voluntary project providing advice, counselling, housing advice and advocacy, education and development for 16 - 25/30 year olds. As a former Senior Youth Worker in the borough, alongside with Maria Dalrymple, she’d worked with Youth A.I.D since the early 1980's, then joined the Management Committee before taking over as Chair. The organisation was renowned for its work in supporting young people and helping them to lead positive lives. While Chair, Mercy led on several projects, most notably the Ripples project, which provided exciting and challenging opportunities for young people including presenting at events in the House of Commons, performing at Sadlers Wells Theatre, volunteering at Horizon - On Line awards for African Premiere League footballers and in the Beijing and London 2012 Olympics. She was governor at Launcelot Primary School and  Chair of the Black Childcare Network which provided information and guidance for parents on education, health and social issues relevant to children's development and welfare.  It ran workshops for young people, parents, the community and professionals on education policy, Early Years, and Sickle Cell.

Her work and active involvement in the borough has benefited 100’s of people (particularly young black males and females), who now live successful lives in the borough.



Malorie Blackman is a renowned British children's books writer and was the first Black person to be appointed the Children's Laureate (2013-2015). Blackman grew up in Lewisham and joined other prominent authors in supporting the Let Books Be Books campaign, which seeks to stop children’s books being labelled as "for girls" or "for boys".  She also supports the non-binary and transgender communities.

Malorie Blackman has written over 70 books for children and young adults, including the highly acclaimed Noughts & Crosses series. Malorie has written for the eleventh series of Doctor Who, starring Jodie Whittaker, co-writing the episode Rosa with Chris Chibnall. This episode won TV Show of the Year for ‘making a positive social impact’ at the inaugural Visionary Honours at BAFTA. Her work has also been adapted for TV with the 6 part adaptation of Pig-Heart Boy winning a BAFTA. The recent TV series Noughts + Crosses  series two was  produced by Mammoth Screen for BBC One. A stage adaptation of Noughts & Crosses, by Pilot Theatre, is running in 2022 and 2023.

In 2005, Malorie was honoured with the Eleanor Farjeon Award in recognition of her distinguished contribution to the world of children’s books. In 2008 she received an OBE for her services to children’s literature and, between 2013 and 2015, she was the Children’s Laureate. Malorie’s autobiography Just Sayin’ – My Life in Words will be published by Merky Books in October 2022.

Barbara Gray  Ex-mayoress of Lewisham and Council Adviser on BME health inequalities, founder of Urban Dandelion; a social enterprise specialising in inspiring change for communities and organisations. It was during the critical period of British history in the 1970’s, that a teenage Barbara Gray was going through school and found her first job through the UK Black Panther affiliated organisation, International Personnel.  Introduced to Lewisham by her brother in 1987, she relocated from her roots in South West London to Catford. Her first role at the council was PA to the Leader of Lewisham Council in 1989. She started Lewisham's Apprenticeship Scheme which is still going today. In 2010, she launched Urban Dandelion. It was during this time that Gray addressed the health disparities, particularly affecting the growing Black and Minority Ethnic population in the borough. When Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, appointed Barbara Gray as Mayoress in April 2019, she was also asked to become the Mayor and Council Adviser on BME health inequalities.

Brenda Dacres is a single parent who has lived in Lewisham for over 38 years, having grown up in Peckham. Her  parents came to England from Jamaica in the early 1960s, each in search of a better life. She was the first in the family to go to university after receiving a grant from Lewisham Council. She was a local primary school governor, and  PTA Secretary for a Lewisham secondary school and has worked in IT since 1991 as Desktop Support Officers, Service Manager, Project Manager and Data Analyst. She holds  a degree in Physical Sciences with Computing, and also a Law degree. She was called to the Bar after successfully completing the Barrister Course in 2006.

Her areas of interest include that of local schools and teachers to give the best education, and develop children to their fullest potential; improving and increasing affordable housing; engaging young people and ensuring they have the services they need. She wants to work towards improving employment and apprenticeship opportunities locally.

In 2013 she was selected to be one of the Councillor Candidates for New Cross Ward, and also became the Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) CLP Office.  In the 2014 Councillor Elections, she was elected a Councillor for New Cross Ward. and was Chair of Labour Group of Councillors, and the Chair of Standards for two years. She's also been elected the Chief Whip of Labour Group of Councillor and their Labour Group Secretary. Since joining the Council she has sat on the Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel, Overview and Scrutiny Educational Business Panel, Children Young & Young People, Safer & Stronger Communities, Public Accounts, Appointments, Constitutional Working Party, Planning Committee and Standards Committee. She is a graduate of the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme Graduate (Inaugural Year 2016 – 2017). She has been Cabinet Member for Environment & Transport (Job Share) – Responsible for Highways, Transport, Parking Policy & Enforcement, and the Bakerloo Line Extension. Also Cabinet Member for Safer Communities with the additional responsibility for the Bakerloo Line Extension. She is now Deputy Mayor of Lewisham and Cabinet Member for Housing Development and Planning.  She is also the Vice Chair (Labour) and an executive member of the National Association of Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority Councillors,


Sybil Phoenix is the first Black woman to receive an OBE. Leader & activist in the New Cross Fire campaign and the post-Brixton Riot negotiations and the famous Black People's Day of Action. Sybil has lived in Brockley since 1963 and founded the Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust in Brockley, a supported housing project for single homeless young women aged from 16 to 24.

In response to a lack of facilities for Black youth in New Cross, Sybil worked with a local Methodist minister to start a youth club which catered not only for them, but also for the whole community. An old unused Mission Hall in Pagnell Street saw the beginning of the ‘Moonshot’ club in 1972 – named because it was not long after the USA landed men on the moon. In November 1977, an article appeared in a national newspaper saying that members of the National Front had held a meeting and were determined to burn down the building. The following month Sybil's years of hard work and the club premises were destroyed when the building was burnt by National Front members during the firemen’s strike. Sybil campaigned and fundraised to enable a new community centre to be built on the site of that fire and The Pagnell Street Centre opened in 1981, the first purpose-built community centre for Black people in the UK.

Sybil Phoenix was also key to reminding the government and the police during the time of the New Cross Fire that the young people who died were British and that they deserved as much justice as anyone else. It is also particularly notable that during that period race riots were happening all over the capital. Mrs Phoenix would walk the streets of Lewisham and encourage people to be safe, to go home at night and to seek justice in peaceful ways. Riots did not happen in Lewisham thanks to her efforts. A committed Christian, Sybil wrote the famous ‘Yellow Paper’ that radically changed the understanding of and approach to Race Relations within the Methodist Church, and began an anti-racist training programme for clergy, called MELRAW. She also preached as a Methodist minister in churches around the country and internationally, forging links between different denominations through the Council of Churches.

Honours received include: Freeman of the City of London; Freeman of Lewisham; Fellow of Goldsmiths College, University of London; Former Mayoress of Lewisham; Honorary President of the National Council of Women in Great Britain; Vice President of the Commonwealth Youth Council. In 2008, she received an OBE from the Queen. Watch Loving Hands, a film about Sybil.

Mavis Stewart MBE flew from Jamaica on September 3, 1954 for New Jersey in the United States and boarded the SS Ascania for the UK.  Mrs. Stewart studied nursing, and then trained as a midwife and health visitor. She rose to become a National Health Service senior manager and was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1995 for her contribution to Community Relations. She also received the (Jamaican) Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation.

She became the Health Promotion Advisor for the West Indian Standing Conference. She was also Vice Chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Association and a member of the steering committee working to have a statue of Mary Seacole erected in London.  Mavis was also President of the Association of Jamaicans UK Trust (AOJUK) where she worked to help parents fill the gap left by the education system to ensure that black-British children understood the roots of their communities and their stake in modern society.  Mavis died in 2020.

Dame Erica Pienaar DBE, FRSA Schoolteacher, educationist, Freedom of the Borough of Lewisham. She has been a contributor to local policymaking in Lewisham LA and during her years as a headteacher she also contributed to national policy through the Department of Education's Secondary Headteachers' Review Group.

Dame Erica was awarded the status of National Leader of Education and she subsequently led a federation of three schools in Lewisham as the Executive Head Teacher. She was recognised for her service to education by the award of Freedom to the Borough of Lewisham in 2013 and a DBE in 2014. She continues to contribute to education in her role as a trustee in a multi-academy trust.  Lewisham council said, ‘Her involvement in national and educational change has inspired countless educationists, teachers and students with resulting significant local and national impact. Her belief in in our young people has shone through her work and has changed their futures.’


Professor Joan Anim-Addo is a Grenadian-born academic, poet, playwright and publisher and is Emeritus Professor of Caribbean Literature and Culture at Goldsmiths University. Joan Amin-Addo joined the faculty of Goldsmiths, University of London, in 1994, as Director of the Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies. She has taught in the USA and lectured at many universities internationally, including SUNY Geneseo (USA), the University of Turku in Finland and the University of Trento (Italy). She has also led workshops on creative non-fiction writing. At Goldsmiths, she is the convenor for the undergraduate options "Caribbean Women's Writing" and "Black British Literature", as well as convenor of the "Literature of the Caribbean and its Diasporas" pathway within the Comparative Literary Studies MA programme. She is also co-convenor of the world's first MA in Black British Writing, which was  described as a "landmark for black culture", while novelist Alex Wheatle sees it adding "to the fabric of British literature".

In 1995 professor Anim-Addo founded Mango Publishing, specialising in the "Caribbean voice", with a particular focus on women's writing and is the author of several books including  Sugar, Spices and Human Cargo: An Early Black History of Greenwich  and Longest Journey: A History of Black Lewisham. Her recent research activities include: Caribbean Literature and diaspora, women’s writing, Feminist perspectives, Black presence in Europe, Caribbean-Scottish Interconnections, Creolisation, Interculturality and humanism. Her current research projects are: The Black Body in Europe and Behind the Looking-Glass: 'Other'-cultures-within translating cultures (An AHRC Network)

Sonia Brown MBE  is an award-winning DE&I and business owner; marketing and branding specialist; speaker on the intersection of female business, politics and leadership issues.  Born in Brockley she is a prolific networker with over two decades’ experience in marketing and branding.  She is the founder of the National Black Women’s Network; SistaTalk; Let’s Talk Business; Inspirational Women’s Super-Summit;  EVOLVE Business Programme; Female and BAME Business and the Connected Woman forum.  She also formed the Community Ambassador Programme (CAP) and MetGirlz on behalf of the (former) Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and the Metropolitan Police Service.

Sonia works with senior business leaders looking to double their value and dominate their sector within two – three years as Global Ambassador at the Alpha Group International. She is a member of the APPG Women in Enterprise and a trustee for the Chinese Information and Advice Centre.

Sonia has been named one of the Top 50 diversity figures in public life on the Global List nominated by readers of The Economist and is the International Alliance for Women (TIAW) World of Difference 100 Award Recipient for the economic empowerment of women, Global Punjabi Society Award and the BBI Honorary Woman Business Leader of the Year.

She contributes to a number of radio shows, magazines and newspapers on women, diversity and enterprise issues.

Janet Daby (1)

Janet Daby

Janet Jessica Sarju was born to parents who were Windrush migrants from Guyana and Jamaica. She was brought up on a council estate where, as a child, racists pelted her windows with eggs three nights in a row. She attended Blackheath Bluecoat School in Greenwich. She worked in volunteer management and children's social care, acting as a registered fostering manager. Daby was elected as a Lewisham borough councillor at the 2010 local elections, in which she gained the Whitefoot ward from the Liberal Democrats and received the most votes of the three elected candidates. She was re-elected in 2014 and 2018, also topping the poll on these occasions. In addition, Daby served as deputy mayor of the London Borough of Lewisham during this period. In 2013, she founded the Whitefoot and Downham Community Food + Project, which she also became a director of. A by-election was triggered in Lewisham East by the resignation of the incumbent Labour MP Heidi Alexander in May 2018; the seat, which included Daby's Whitefoot ward, has generally been considered safe for the Labour Party in recent years. Daby was selected as Labour's by-election candidate after hustings involving an all-women shortlist. She retained the seat for Labour at the June 2018 by-election with 50.2% of the vote, although Labour's majority was reduced by 19.3%. In response to ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, Daby pledged to fight for the UK to remain in the European Union customs union and the single market.  Daby announced her resignation as a Lewisham councillor on 20 March 2019, to concentrate on her role as an MP, noting that she would continue to represent Whitefoot residents in the Houses of Parliament. She was re-elected to Parliament at the December 2019 general election with 26,661 votes, representing a majority of 17,008. On 9 April 2020, Daby was given her first shadow ministerial post by Labour Party leader Keir Starmer as Shadow Minister for Faiths. She also became a Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities in July 2020. She resigned from the front bench on 7 December 2020, after she suggested that registrars who have a religious objection to same-sex marriage should be protected from losing their jobs if they refuse to certify the partnership, an action which would be viewed as unlawful discrimination. She later apologised for her remarks. Daby was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the shadow Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs team on 4 December 2021.

Marie-Louise Christophe

Marie-Louise Christophe

Marie-Louise Christophe was the first and only queen of Haiti. She was born into a free black family and her father was the owner of Hotel de la Couronne in Cap-Haïtien. She married Henri Christophe who was a slave purchased by her father. Supposedly, Henri earned enough money in tips from his duties at the hotel that he was able to purchase his freedom before the Haitian Revolution. They married in Cap-Haïtien in 1793.

In 1811, Marie-Louise was given the title of queen upon the creation of the Kingdom of Haiti. Her new status gave her ceremonial tasks to perform, ladies-in-waiting, a secretary, and her own court. She took her position seriously and stated that the title "given to her by the nation" also gave her responsibilities and duties to perform. She served as the hostess of the ceremonial royal court life performed at the Sans-Souci Palace.  The kingdom of Haiti ended in 1820 with the suicide of her husband Henri Christophe. Her four sons were assassinated and she travelled to England in 1821 with her two daughters where they initially stayed with the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson in Suffolk, before taking up lodgings in Blackheath. Her and her daughters’ movements were widely tracked in the British press; their hobbies, interests and circle of acquaintances were spotlighted in correspondence.

Marie-Louise was referred to in the Haitian royal almanacs as the ‘auguste reine des haytiens’, and was, according to the nineteenth-century British press, ‘beloved by all ranks and conditions’. Paying homage to the numerous and nameless women, enslaved and free, who fought and died in the struggle for freedom and independence, she created a ceremonial legion of all-women soldiers, known as the ‘Amazones’, who became part of her retinue as queen. In her European exile, she demonstrated an unparalleled courage, resilience and a determination to survive and thrive. While numerous Haitian regimes rose and fell, and she lost many beloved family members during the course of her tumultuous life, she lived according to the maxim of the Haitian Kingdom, ‘Je renais de mes cendres’ (I am reborn from my ashes). A plaque will be unveiled to her in February 2022.


  1. Rosie Hattersley on 31 December 2021 at 12:24 pm

    Fantastic idea! There are so many inspiring women from our area, as the list above shows. It would be brilliant to see some of them honoured in this way, especially as women of colour are underrepresented in plaques and murals

  2. Jeff Roberts on 31 December 2021 at 12:43 pm

    Incredibly excited by this proposal. Surfacing local history and contributing to the areas rich visual legacy of visual art is a cause worth championing! Looking forward to seeing this come to fruition.

  3. Nicola Rossi on 31 December 2021 at 5:35 pm

    What a brilliant way to commemorate the massive contribution these local women have made and to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

  4. elisabetta fumagalli on 2 January 2022 at 3:42 pm

    Great project to have murals of important black women in our community.

  5. Jennifer G Robinson on 4 January 2022 at 10:00 pm
  6. Charlie Hearn on 5 January 2022 at 2:32 pm

    I think this is a fantastic idea and a powerful way to increase representation – I really hope it gets the go ahead.

  7. Will Cenci on 6 January 2022 at 9:00 am

    I’d like to nominate Prof Joan Anim-Addo, a pioneering black female academic who literally wrote the book on Lewisham’s Black history. She also lives and works in the borough:

    • Moira on 7 January 2022 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks Will. A great suggestion.

  8. Geraldine Brennan on 7 January 2022 at 10:20 am

    A great list: everyone I thought of, you already have! These are really great role models for young Black women in Lewisham as their careers are still ongoing.

    • Moira on 7 January 2022 at 1:22 pm

      We’re hoping to connect up with Lewisham’s secondary schools about the project.

  9. Pat on 26 May 2022 at 2:47 pm

    Prof Joan Anim-Addo! Former longstanding Goldsmiths academic!

    • Moira on 26 May 2022 at 4:50 pm

      Thanks Pat. WE will be starting the project in September, so sign up to our mailing list and Facebook page to be kept up to date.

  10. RG on 12 September 2022 at 9:42 pm

    Some great women here already but what about Lewisham’s own of 38 years Brenda Dacres? Deputy Mayor of Lewisham, Councillor for Deptford
    and Cabinet Member for Housing Development and Planning.
    Single mum, 2 degrees, joined the bar (Barrister) in 2006.
    Amazing woman!

    • Moira on 3 October 2022 at 6:34 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation for Brenda Dacres. We’ve emailed her.

  11. Kajsa Sundström on 5 December 2022 at 7:35 pm

    I would like to nominate Sadé and Kristina Alleyne of Alleyne Dance!

  12. Rosalind Hardie on 6 December 2022 at 7:05 am

    Suggest you consider Lewisham’s first Black MP, Janet Daby.

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