56 Black Men: Campaign to challenge racial stereotypes gathers momentum
PUBLISHED: 14:11 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:01 11 April 2019
Visit the 56 Black Men Instagram profile and the message at the top is very clear: I am not my stereotype.
Launched by 27-year-old Cephas Williams on Christmas Eve 2018, this campaign is about taking a stand.
It is about celebrating black men and their accomplishments as graduates, politicians and business owners. It is about inspiring younger black children and giving them positive role models. Most significantly, though, it’s about smashing rickety stereotypes that a black man plus a hoodie equals trouble.
“It’s to raise awareness of all the positive and good things that black men are doing in society,” explains Kofi Agyeman, who is one of the 56 men featured.
“There are loads of reports in the media which are negative, but the campaign is about black men who are contributing; who have skills that are not readily reported on.”
When Williams set up his Peckham-based business, Drummer Boy Studios, he was intending to create a force of good for the community. His venture failed to gain much in the way of press coverage, with newspapers and TV channels instead locked in to reporting on stories of black men involved in knife crime and gang violence.
This narrative didn’t correlate with his experience – Williams’ personal network was full of people doing great things – and it’s in this context that 56 Black Men was born.
The project consists of 56 images of black men wearing hoodies – taken by Williams at Drummer Boy Studios – with an accompanying paragraph or two introducing each man and the life he leads.
“Typically, young black boys throughout London, or other places around the UK, are associated with wearing hoodies in terms of being in gangs and other things which are wrong,” adds Agyeman.
“I thought it was very powerful to put black men who are business owners and professionals in hoodies. If you see 56 black men with hoodies on it will stand out. Some people might be scared, but if you get under the bonnet of every one of those people, you’d be surprised.”
Another of those featured in the project is Joss Cambridge-Simmons from De Beauvoir. The 31-year-old owns his own childcare business, Jossy Care, and has recently been nominated for a National Diversity Award as a Positive Role Model. It’s no wonder he’s often known as ‘Super Manny.’
For Cambridge-Simmons, 56 Black Men is about “remembering that there is much more to us black males – we’re varied. There are black males that are teachers and police officers; there is way more to the narrative than meets the eye.
“The media doesn’t do its best to help, it’s about not judging us by the fact that we’ve got a hoodie on. I’m a nanny – I look after children and change nappies five days a week. People give me their children to look after. If that doesn’t break the stereotype, I don’t know what will.”
Williams is doing his bit to take charge of the conversation surrounding these flimsy racial stereotypes at the same time as Manchester City and England footballer, Raheem Sterling.
Citing the difference between two articles about young footballers buying houses – one black, one white – Sterling wrote “this young black kid is looked at in a bad light, which helps fuel racism and aggressive behaviour.”
Agyeman says: “It’s fantastic what Raheem Sterling did. It was a really difficult but important thing for him to do. Typically, Raheem would just accept it (the racism) – get on with it and deal with it, but that doesn’t cause change.
“In order to effect change and help the next generation, he had to speak out. At least people are now aware and talking about it, the example he used was really powerful.”
Agyeman was born in Homerton and lived in Clapton until the age of 13, when he moved to Essex. He currently works in IT consultancy sales and while he speaks about Sterling in admirable terms, he’s sure that the 56 Black Men project will reach younger people in a different way.
“There are very few people who would be able to be a footballer, or to be a Stormzy or an Anthony Joshua. But in the media, (it seems) that’s all that black people can (aspire) to do.
“You hardly see what we are representing. If you look at the 56 who are involved, there are different things that we’re doing. The message is you can do this if you want to – young black boys – if you apply yourself there are loads of opportunities out there.”
56 Black Men achieved a wave of press attention in the months after its launch, and now the project wants to get to the next level. A GoFundMe campaign is now live here, with Williams and his team hoping to raise enough funds to deliver three major conferences, document the 56 stories, run 12 workshops and develop the 56 Black Mean team.