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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 report, Stories from the Frontline, we examine the state of Black-led organisations and how Common Call is helping them make a positive impact.
Please see below to access the report: