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The COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible mark on the world, and the same is true for many Black-led organisations who seek to bring positive change to their communities. The global pandemic presents both challenges and opportunities in redressing societal inequities for these changemakers. Black-led organisations are doubly affected as they grapple with a preexisting lack of resources and tools and try to serve end-users who are hardest hit by health inequities and economic crisis.
Despite these strains, our Common Call Fund grantees show how Black-led organisations are still making a meaningful impact during these unusual times. Ahead of our upcoming report on the state of Black-led social enterprise and charities, we’ve spoken with some founders to find out how they’ve continued to support beneficiaries in these particularly testing times.
Supporting mental health awareness
The effects of COVID-19 have also exacerbated mental health issues, especially for Black essential workers on the healthcare frontline. A recent study by King’s College London urged for a national strategy to combat the medical staff’s mental trauma, highlighting the severity of the NHS workforce’s mental health crisis.
Launched amid COVID-19 and the recent Black Lives Matter movement, Equality 4 Black Nurses seeks to address the trauma Black nurses experience alongside institutional racism.
Founder Neomi Bennet tells Common Call, “I've never had to look after so many black patients in one time in the whole of my 10-year nursing career, so when I went into ICU, the people that were dying looked like me, intuitively, I knew that my risk was higher. Nobody took that into account.” Equality 4 Black Nurses offers therapy to Black nurses to address the trauma of COVID-19, which is magnified by racial discrimination.
Female empowerment organisation, the Blossom Foundation, is providing young Black and African girls with resources and knowledge about mental wellbeing. Feelings of anxiety, grief, and loneliness are heightened at this time, impacting mental health. Blossom Foundation’s CEO Ruth Ogunji helps girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 20 identify the state of their mental wellbeing. “We educate them on their mental health, their mental state of mind, how to deal with loss and how to deal with issues.” The foundation’s online group sessions offer a forum to discuss pressing concerns in a safe and welcoming space.
Providing essentials for those in need
Some immigrant communities have faced additional strains due to lack of financial resources and cultural barriers that make it hard to maintain vital relationships with others during social isolation. Some people need to shield so they cannot go out and get the essentials they need to survive. Transportation may prove difficult or dangerous to use due to the risk of spread of the COVID-19 virus. Organisations catering to African immigrant communities have launched specialist delivery services to get resources to those most in need.
Walingamina Shomari’s organisation, Care Link West Midlands, delivers essentials to Central African immigrants in the Midlands struggling to afford or access basics. She tells us: “We deliver food supplies, medicine and day-to-day essentials. A lot of stuff has been done during this COVID period because people will not find this support - especially the elderly. They cannot get this particular support elsewhere because of the cultural and language barriers.”
Similarly, Support and Action Women’s Network (SAWN) is striving to meet unmet needs in the African community through the launch of a mobile food bank offering African staple foods. These food items are understandably underrepresented at mainstream food banks, as they aren’t as easy to come by as staple cupboard goods found in supermarkets. Beneficiaries welcome the organisation’s efforts to help them access foods from their country of origin. SAWN delivers food fortnightly to those in need of supplies. Its founder Rose Ssali says, “When you go to a normal food bank, you are expected to appear in person, and to carry your food. However, the size of one and two packs of potatoes and a pack of rice is too heavy if you're an elderly woman. Fortunately, we have a van and we use that to distribute food.”
A common call for uncommon resilience
As Black-led organisations adjust to serve their communities in a new capacity, the persistent lack of parity affects their ability to deliver the necessary support that allows beneficiaries to thrive. While these organisations’ efforts inspire us, we know more can be done to support them.
Our upcoming report discusses the current context for Black-led organisations and how we’re helping their development post-pandemic.
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In times of social distancing and social isolation, the need for community has never been greater. For our Common Call grantees, the value of shared bonds is what makes these organisations so meaningful to the people they serve. We spoke with some of the leaders behind these organisations to find out how they’ve elevated their impact through the power of community.
Around one percent of the UK population is on the autism spectrum. This can make it challenging to find people with the same shared experience, especially if you’re Black and dealing with stigma within your community. It’s why Mariama Kandeh set up Autism Voice to help bring together Black people with autism and their families after her son was diagnosed with autism.
Speaking on the lack of awareness in her community, Mariama says, “Some of us had never heard the word before.” Realising this need for community, she established the organisation as a place where autistic people and their loved ones could get together. “We organise weekly and monthly support group meetings wherein autistic people, parents/carers meet, share experience, gain knowledge from lived experiences, offer advice and support to others.”
The community is a vital component of Autism Voice’s reach. “At the moment, we are learning a lot from them, both as parents/carers, volunteers and through our support work to our service users and they have been instrumental in all our projects.”
A STEM career is a dream for many, but with a lack of visible role models in the industry, BBStem wants to increase the number of Black professionals in STEM and create a sense of belonging for those already in the industry.
Founder Kayisha Payne was inspired to launch the group after connecting with a Black chemical engineer who had forged a successful career with a similar background to her. Through industry workshops and peer networking, Kayisha introduces more opportunities to Black people interested in a STEM career. “I wanted to create a platform where other young black people could see themselves in roles they wanted to fulfil, but also be connected with professionals so that they could ask any sort of questions without feeling intimidated.”
The African French Speaking Community Support (AFSCS) bridges the cultural gap for African immigrants in England and Wales, especially those in the West Midlands. The community underpins the organisation’s growth as it grew from a small English-language study group between friends. The group aims to help French-speaking immigrants from Africa to assimilate into UK life.
AFSCS’ Chair, Jacques Matensi-Kubanza is inspired to help others like him as he can empathise with the challenges they face because of the cultural and language barriers he experienced when moving to the UK. “Our hope is that everyone from the French-speaking community can be equipped with knowledge. We are here to engage young people to make sure they have a bright future and to excel in whatever they are doing.”
How do you build a sense of sisterhood for some of the most disenfranchised girls and women in London? The women behind preventative early intervention organisation Sister System believe the answer lies in giving Black girls the “big sister they never had.” The organisation’s programmes provide girls aged 12 to 18 access to leadership programmes, a “big sister” mentor, and a support group for at-risk youth.
Founder and director Okela Douglas tells us, “‘Sisterhood means support, encouragement, honesty, learning, growing, sharing, and empowerment.” These values underpin the work of her organisation. The sisterly touch comes from the team’s lived experiences navigating their teenage years. “It became clear that the one common denominator that allowed us to not only survive but thrive was our positive peer relationships with other girls and women. The difference was those positive, empowering female relationships.”
It takes time and effort to build a genuine community, something our Common Call grantees know all too well. You cannot manufacture understanding or empathy, which is why these organisations stand out as examples of Black-led organisations leading change through community-centred approaches. They know their work matters and we know systemic change must happen for these organisations to thrive to their fullest potential.
In our upcoming report, we examine the state of Black-led organisations and how Common Call is helping them make a positive impact.
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