Dorothy Koomson has 15 published books, one of which (The Ice Cream Girls) was adapted into an ITV drama series. Born to Ghanaian parents she grew up in London as the second-born out of four children and had an international life that still shapes her writing until this day. She went to college in Leeds in the north of England, worked in Australia and now lives in Brighton, UK. On top of all that she’s also been nominated for a Black British Business Award (BBBAward) and challenges what it means to write about the ‘black British experience’.
I was standing in a book shop when… When I got a call saying I had been shortlisted as a finalist for a BBBAward and I thought, oh wow!
I do my job of writing books and… Being nominated for awards is like the icing on a fantastic cake because I never expect anything.
I started writing books at… Thirteen and always loved writing stories. When I worked as a journalist, I would write chapters for my books on the train into work and on weekends.
I did have books when I was younger but… We didn’t have much money and we’re reliant on the library.
I read all sorts of books… Including Jackie Collins’ books, sci-fi and comics!
Hustle & Heels (H&H) was founded nearly five years ago by Jen Scott and Jamie (Jay) Tavares when they were 27. The success of the business has led to a rising star nomination at the Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards) which takes place in London on Thursday.
Jen and Jay met over 15 years ago when they attended a Saturday school for high-achieving students and attended the same college. They separated and went to different universities but remained friends and started their first business after finishing university. Both convinced their families that becoming an entrepreneur was a viable career path for two black girls from east London. Jen’s dad is from Barbados, her mum is from Anguilla and Jay’s parents are from Jamaica.
I discovered Uncle John’s Bakery on social media a while ago and like all good journalists, I did my research and found it was a London-based Ghanaian family business. As a fellow London-born Ghanaian, I was intrigued by the business but also because, I couldn’t think of a commercial Ghanaian bakery in London, unlike Ghanaian restaurants which are not uncommon, if you know where to find them.
I was keen to find out more about this business and spoke with the director, Samuel Mensah and talk about his Entrepreneur Rising Star Black British Business Award (BBBAward) nomination. Samuel took over the business, which was founded nearly 25 years ago by his parents and is named after his father – Uncle John. Following the customary ‘so when were you last in Ghana?’ chat, when you meet a fellow Ghanaian for the first time, Samuel shared insights into how this baking business has risen.
When did you get involved in the business? In 2014 when I was 29. Before that I was building my music career as a grime / hip-hop MC and doing athletics but got injured.
Why did you get involved? I knew the business needed a solid infrastructure and wanted to use my transferable skills from being in the music industry, like networking, to take the business to the next level. I didn’t publicise that I was part of the business initially.
What was the solid infrastructure the business needed? We had to improve our digital presence, from our website to how we connected with our customers. I had to modernise our internal systems and build a strong team.
Were you resentful about leaving your music career behind? There were lots of things going on in the streets and I wanted to show others there are ways to make something of yourself, outside of music and sports. Having a daughter also made me realise I had to help the business, not just for me, but for later generations.
I first interviewed Jamelia Donaldson in January 2017 after meeting her at an African diaspora business event. She launched Treasure Tress, a product discovery service in November 2015, now it has grown to become a staple component of the UK natural hair movement.
Treasure Tress caters for people with afro/kinky and curly hair. In July this year, Jamelia was nominated for a Black British Business Award (BBBA) in the Entrepreneur Rising Star category, so I caught up with her to find out what’s been happening since we last spoke.
I found out I was selected as a finalist for a BBBAward… When I was abroad and got a call from the BBBAward team.
Being a finalist is amazing… And being acknowledged for hard work is a huge honour and I’m very grateful.
I don’t know why they selected me over other people, but I guess it’s because… I managed to make my transition from the corporate world in asset management, to the start-up world, have grown the business to where it is now and provided opportunities for others along the way.
The BBBAwards are so important because… When you look at the statistics of the number of black-owned businesses that get funding, it’s embarrassingly low. This translates into the recognition that black-owned business get which often isn’t that great. Having something created by black professionals which recognises black-owned business is extremely vital.
I launched my business… When I was 23 years old. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, even as a child and I’ve always been a natural leader.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is funding ethnic minority
community projects in an urgent bid to raise awareness about organ donation.
‘Organ Donation: A Conversation Young BlackPeople NEED to Have’ taking place on May 18th is one of many NHSBT-funded events across the country to dispel myths around organ donation among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
Following the breakout success of his racially charged 2017 directorial debut film Get Out, Jordon Peele produced another intriguing piece of work with his latest horror / thriller, Us. Get Out, produced on a $4.5m (approx. £3.4m) budget saw Peel become the first African-American writer-director to earn $100m (approx. £75.8m) with his debut film. Produced with a $20m (approx. £15.1m) budget, Us also exceeded initial estimates since its release on 22 March 2019, reportedly making $87 (approx. £65.9m) worldwide so far.
However, unlike Get Out, Us is not entirely focussed on race and debunks the historic portrayal of African-Americans in horror films. As the focus of the film, the African-American family are notslaughtered in the opening scenes, which generally happens to black charactersin horror films, and their race is not fundamental to the plot. However, in atime where colourism (they ugly cousin of racism) is being discussed more openly,the depiction of a dark-skinned black family is important.
Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price, said: “If you are black or Asian, you will wait on average half a year longer for a matching donor than if you are white. Those six months could be a matter of life or death. We must address this by empowering communities to own the conversation around organ donation. Giving the gift of an organ is a deeply personal decision and I hope that the projects funded through this scheme will help people to make an informed choice.”