Black people are not a monolith. We see cultural nuances every day in slang, fashion and even cuisine, and such is the case with Blacks in Great Britain. From sports to art (see the work of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye above) and the economy, they have gained success and become leaders in every sector. Even though Black people make up only 3.4 percent of Brits, according to the most recent census, they have produced some of the world’s best in acting, beauty, boxing and more. Joke about accents all you want, but they’re the ones getting the last laughs.
Joshua Eferighe, Reporter
owning the arts
At 27, Michael Omari, otherwise known as Stormzy, is a pioneer of grime — a subgenre of electric music that emerged in London in the early aughts. His debut EP, Dreamers Disease, won Best Grime Act at the MOBO Awards in 2014, and his 2017 studio album, Gang Signs & Prayer, became the U.K.’s first grime album to reach No. 1 on the charts. What might surprise you, however, is the Ghanaian rapper’s newfound political voice. He was vocal about the Brit Awards’ lack of diversity in 2016 and has been on the ground protesting relentlessly for racial justice in 2020. Coming from a strong religious household, Stormzy is not spiritual, though he says he is heavily influenced by his upbringing, which you can hear shine through in his work.
2. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
Considered one of the most important painters working today, Yiadom-Boakye, 43, has a style you don’t have to look twice at to recognize. Her portraits are dark, shadowy and captivating, and they primarily feature Black subjects in a style of figurative oil painting unlike any you’ve seen. The London-born painter is the daughter of National Health Service nurses who emigrated from Ghana. Her fresh takes on portraits aren’t actually portraits: They’re oil paintings of fictional characters whom Yiadom-Boakye endows with the depth and dynamism of real people.
3. Matthew Morgan
Morgan’s career, starting as a celebrity stylist and artist manager, made it easy for him to see the void faced by Black kids who identify as other — “misfits,” if you will — in the music festival space. After spending years building a successful music management company, the 44-year-old London native launched Afropunk in 2005, incorporating not just music but also film, sports, art and fashion in the hopes of having these misfits’ stories told outside the confines of predominantly white spaces. Now Afropunk is a thriving events series helping redefine the identity of kids like him.
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She has been called the most influential makeup artist in the world by Vogue, is recognized as the most prolific catwalk makeup artist of all time and was included as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2019 — and yet, somehow, McGrath’s impact on the world of beauty is still underestimated. Raised in Northampton by her single Jamaican-born mother, McGrath, 50, inherited her passion for cosmetics and fashion from her mother. McGrath went on to make up everyone from Naomi Campbell to Kim Kardashian — developing a reputation for enhancing every skin tone. She also advises major brands on trends and has created her own cosmetics line
2. Lavinya Stennett
It took traveling more than 11,000 miles and studying in New Zealand, as part of a program at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, for Stennett, 23, to discover a culture that openly discussed its racist history. The experience was transformative — and convinced her to address the shortcomings of the U.K. education system. She has since launched the Black Curriculum — a social enterprise that seeks to make teaching Black British history mandatory and to reshape how race is taught in the country’s schools.
3. Bukola Adisa
When it comes to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals in the U.K., you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more dedicated to the cause than Adisa. While building a successful career in the financial services industry, Adisa has also been active in lifting up women and people of color, and she’s started a nonprofit called Career Masterclass that focuses on integrating BAME professionals in the workplace. Through its learning platform, Stretch Academy, the nonprofit has been able to affect the lives of more than 1,000 professionals.
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Meet the boss mom. Fashion designer, entrepreneur and mom of five, Kimora Lee Simmons joins Carlos to talk about how she does it all. Discover how she’s rebuilding her fashion brand, Baby Phat, for the next generation with the help of her daughters, and why “Blasians” are having a moment.
For the longest time, sending money home was not a user-friendly process for immigrants and refugees. Just ask Ahmed, who, after being smuggled from the self-declared breakaway state of Somaliland to Britain by way of dump truck in 1988 during the genocide in Hargeisa, found that wiring money cost way more than what he made picking strawberries. He eventually started working for the U.N. on remittances in East Africa, where he witnessed corruption in the U.N.’s Development Program for Somalia. After he was transferred as retaliation for whistleblowing, and later lost his job, Ahmed, 60, took matters into his own hands by creating WorldRemit — an app that now serves almost 4 million global customers who can send money as seamlessly as he once envisioned.
2. Bernard Mensah
As president of International for Bank of America and CEO of Merrill Lynch International one could say Mensah was already one of the most important people in London. The Ghanaian-born opera buff shapes the global strategy of one of the world’s biggest banks. But he’s also one of only three senior Black investment bankers in all of London, making him a pioneer and an icon.
3. Jacky Wright
Microsoft’s London-born chief digital officer returned to the software giant last year after serving two years as chief digital and information officer for the British Tax Department, where she oversaw a digital transformation. More importantly, Wright uses her platform to advocate for diversity in technology and has served on the board for the Women’s Innovation Council, whose goal is to get more women into STEM careers.
1. Michaela Coel
The big break for Coel came after her stint in drama school when her graduation project ended up being produced at a string of London theaters. That project was a play called Chewing Gum — the groundbreaking coming-of-age story based on Coel’s life that was eventually picked up by Netflix. Coel, 33, is not only an icon for her brilliant screenwriting: She made news after turning down a $1 million offer from Netflix for her new show after the company refused to include copyright royalties in the deal — a power move that was inspiration to Black women everywhere. Now Coel has taken her talents to HBO, where that new show, I May Destroy You, is perhaps the show of 2020.
With a middle name meaning “the crown has come home from a foreign land,” it’s hard not to believe Oyelowo’s success wasn’t written in the stars. The British-American actor has been neck and neck with Hollywood’s best, capturing Golden Globe and Emmy nominations and landing a number of highly coveted roles. Born to Nigerian immigrants in London, Oyelowo, 44, honed his craft at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, despite his parents’ dream that he become a lawyer. Now, with critically acclaimed roles like Martin Luther King Jr. under Oyelowo’s belt, his proud parents are probably glad he didn’t. Perhaps his biggest influence? Paving the way for young Black actors from the African diaspora, like Daniel Kaluuya and John Boyega.
Born in the Peckham district of South London, Boyega dedicated his life to acting at a young age. From 9 to 14, he headed to his local theater every day after school, and at age 16 he moved to South Thames College to study performing art. At only 28, the British Nigerian actor has already tasted major success, including his role as Finn in the Star Wars movie franchise. Despite earning accolades, Boyega has remained humble and was recently in the spotlight for speaking up for Black Lives Matter despite a fan base that may have preferred he hadn’t spoken out.
Though he’s now a superstar, Elba’s ascent in the film industry wasn’t nearly as smooth as the others on this list. An only child born to immigrant parents from Ghana and Sierra Leone, Elba struggled as his mom did clerical work and his father clocked in at an automotive factory in East London. And while he won a scholarship to attend the National Youth Music Theatre as a teenager, he had to take odd jobs to keep the lights on between roles, including DJing at a nightclub as Big Driis. Now, as one of Hollywood's leading men and a cult icon for his role on The Wire, the 48-year-old Elba is a testament to hustle and perseverance.
Growing up in poverty-stricken and violent neighborhoods in Jamaica, there was no telling where Sterling’s life was headed, especially in the wake of his father’s murder when he was just 2 years old. Three years after his mom moved to the U.K., fate would introduce him to soccer. Sterling showed so much talent that at 16, he was offered a 600,000-pound contract with Liverpool, making him the third-youngest player in club history. Then he got even better, eventually leading Manchester City to an FA Cup, and he was named PFA Young Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year. The English national team star midfielder, now 25, has become a lightning rod in the press, but continues to pull off stellar play — and a mega-contract with Man City could be next.
2. Dina Asher-Smith
Make sure when you say Asher-Smith’s name, it’s followed by “fastest woman in British history” following her performance during the 2019 world championship. Now Asher-Smith is looking ahead to 2021 as one of Great Britain’s brightest medal hopes at the rescheduled Olympics. But she’s about more than the track: Asher-Smith has a history degree from King’s College London and has modeled at Paris Fashion Week. As the Guardian reported, “world domination beckons.”
Born to Nigerian parents in Watford, England, Joshua was naturally gifted at sports: At age 15, the soccer star ran 100 meters in 11 seconds. But his focus shifted after his cousin introduced him to boxing — and now the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder is a heavyweight champion. Joshua, 31, gained three major belts — IBF, WBA and WBO — but lost them in his first fight on American soil in February 2019. The story that defines Joshua, however, is the grace he showed in defeat, and his determination to regain the belts in a rematch months later. Now he’s looking to take on Tyson Fury next year to secure the WBC world title, a highly anticipated superfight. But it’s his smooth talking outside the ring that has made Joshua into a marketing smash, raking in tens of millions of dollars from Under Armour, Jaguar and other sponsors.