Black History Makers: UK Black Pride founder on creating change
- Credit: UK Black Pride
Lady Phyll has celebrated Black and LGTBQI+ communities and fought for their safety throughout her life in activism.
Born Phyllis Akua Opoku-Gyimah in Islington to Ghanaian heritage, Lady Phyll went on to co-found UK Black Pride (UKBP) in 2005 – a “celebration” of LGBTQI+ people of colour that has grown from 400 people to more than 100,000 followers online.
From hosting events and rallies to posting information for her 45,000-strong online network, Lady Phyll has campaigned for the safety of LGBTQI+ people in the UK and across the world, including in Ghana where there is a proposed anti-LGBT bill.
On this issue, the 47-year-old said: “I am so proud to be Ghanaian. I come from a long line of Ghanaian warrior women and I celebrate and protect the culture in the ways we all do: by honouring our ancestors and traditions, taking care of family and community and ensuring our histories are preserved.
“And when necessary, I express my love for my culture, country and people by holding us all to account, to ensure we’re all living up to our name.”
Explaining her early inspiration to get involved in activism, she told the Gazette: “It’s always been clear to me that the world is what we make it. I grew up around lots of strong and impressive Black women, who were always working towards something better for their children, families and communities.
“So as I started to move through the world, I saw things I’d like to be different and started trying to make those happen.”
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Outlining the origins of UKBP, Lady Phyll said: “A group of us from Black Lesbians in the UK went down to Southend-on-Sea for an afternoon in the park and the energy was so electric. I knew it had to be built into something more.”
UK Black Pride’s impact led to Lady Phyll receiving an MBE offer in 2016, which she turned down citing the ongoing colonial legacy of violence and discrimination.
“It’s a small stand to take, but one that’s important to me. I couldn’t possibly have something attached to Empire attached to my name. The ancestors wouldn’t have it!”
An example of UKBP’s work is its We Will Be Heard survey, designed to highlight the needs of its community. UKBP is now focusing on delivering its response to the survey findings with its Community Action Plan, which will distribute funding in areas like mental health and discrimination.
“We want to show that when our communities speak about what they need, we will respond accordingly,” said Lady Phyll.
Lady Phyll noted 50 per cent of survey respondents reported having been pestered or harassed online or in person over the last year because of their race or sexuality, demonstrating that although they are able to celebrate who they are more visibly, “this does not always equal safety”.
“We’re making progress, but there’s a lot more for us to do across society,” she said.
Asked about how allies can do better, Lady Phyll said: “Allyship is really about action: when we think about how we show up for and support others in the world, we have to be very clear about what we plan to do. Central to that is being honest with yourself.
“I think we’re all being called to exercise allyship in every aspect of our lives and we have to be ready to rise to the challenges of our shared experience together.”
Reflecting on her proudest achievements, Lady Phyll pointed to UKBP’s growth, saying it “is testament to its necessity and to the volunteers who work year round to make UK Black Pride happen”.
She added: “I’m also proud of my daughter. She is a remarkable young woman and I’m proud of who she has become in the world.”
Lady Phyll called on young people to follow their intuition and instincts: “The first thing to say is the world needs you and if you think you can help change it then you absolutely can.”
Part of our Black History Makers series. For more features, see the Islington and Hackney Gazettes of December 9.