Black Female Icons of Lewisham
Brockley Max is celebrating 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 have been 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.
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.
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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fi1mXdgoLyI 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 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. https://www.malorieblackman.co.uk/
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,