8 Black British women who've made waves

This Black History Month, we’re spotlighting the stories of trailblazing Black women

26 October 2023

October in the UK brings falling leaves, hollowed pumpkins and the celebration of Black History Month! 

At Girlguiding, our commitment to recognising Black history reaches beyond this month. 

That's why we're excited for the release of our unit meeting activities (UMAs), created in collaboration with the Black Curriculum and set to launch next month. Focused on Black, African and Caribbean culture and representation, these UMAs are a great opportunity to have important conversations with your girls all year round.  

To help these meaningful discussions along, we're shining a light on inspiring British Black women you and your girls could connect with. And we’re giving you a sneak peek on what the new UMAs will be about. 

Rainbows: Carnival creations

In this activity, Rainbows will learn all about Notting Hill Carnival, and get to design their own carnival headdresses. 

Claudia Jones

As Rainbows step into this vibrant annual celebration, one of the largest in the world, we have to recognise Claudia Jones: one of the co-founders of Notting Hill Carnival. Claudia was a Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist. Before carnival, she went on to establish Britain’s first major Black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette. 

At the heart of founding the Notting Hill Carnival, Claudia believed that a people's art was the starting point of their freedom. The annual showcase of Caribbean talent began in St Pancras Town Hall in 1959, and evolved from an intimate community centre performance to the vibrant carnival we enjoy today.

Allyson Williams MBE

Allyson Williams came to the UK from Trinidad to work as a nurse, a role she dedicated herself to for 35 years. However, in 1975, her path took a delightful turn. Notting Hill Carnival felt like home to her, and so along with her spouse, she founded Genesis – a mas band. As the lead seamstress, Allyson crafted all the costumes, helping produce over 400 colourful outfits in their first year.

Allyson has spoken about Notting Hill being more than a festivalit's a tribute to her ancestors, a celebration of their enduring legacy, and an opportunity to be a part of a bright cultural community. As Rainbows design their carnival headdresses, they could learn of Allyson’s 40 year-long history of costume making. 

Brownies: Windrush champions

In this activity, Brownies will learn about the Windrush generation, and how their contributions have shaped our society. They’ll make their own creative tributes to some amazing Windrush champions. 

Althea McNish MBE

One of those champions is Althea McNish - a talented artist and textile designer, born in Trinidad and Tobago. Her family loved art and she soon brought her vibrant Caribbean heritage to the heart of the UK. Despite facing discrimination as one of the few Black students in her classes at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts, Althea's dedication and unique designs shone through. Her creations, bursting with bold patterns and lively colours, extended beyond clothing to fabrics for furniture and even aeroplanes. Throughout her illustrious career, Althea received lots of awards, including an MBE in 1999 for her outstanding contributions to textile design.  

Jacqueline McKenzie

Brownies could take their Windrush tributes further and look at present day Windrush heroes – like human rights lawyer, Jacqueline McKenzie. Jacqueline has been helping Caribbean migrants who faced wrongful deportation due to mistakes made by the Home Office and missing records.  

Since 2018, she’s been focusing on helping people get compensation for life-altering mistakes made during the Windrush scandal. Her exceptional efforts have earned her recognition as one of the most influential figures in the Black British community.

Guides: Make a meal of it

In this activity, Guides will get to celebrate African and Caribbean cuisines, explore different menus, and even try a recipe themselves.  

Zoe Adjonyoh

Raised in Essex by a Ghanaian father and an Irish mother, Zoe Adjonyoh is a self-taught chef on a mission to bring vibrant West African flavours to British dining tables. Starting out with a popular pop-up peanut stew stall at a local arts festival, Zoe soon launched the famous 'Zoe's Ghana Kitchen.' This pop-up has travelled across London and beyond, sharing the vibrant taste of West African cuisine. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen has an exciting bank of mouth-watering West African recipes. 

Andi Oliver

Andi Oliver, known for hosting the Great British Menu, is more than just an award-winning TV chef – she's an advocate for representation in the world of food. She’s passionate about making sure everyone's culinary talent gets recognised – whether they’re making bouillabaisse or balancing spice in a curry.

Her celebration of diverse flavours is best exemplified in her cookbook, 'The Pepperpot Diaries', where she shares stories and recipes from her Caribbean heritage. As Guides create their own menus in the Make a meal of it UMA, heading online to explore everything else Andi has cooked up might be a great source of inspiration. 

Rangers: Mirror or window

In this activity, Rangers will be diving into a big topic – representation in the beauty industry. They’ll investigate how well brands are doing, and come up with their own ideas about what inclusive representation really means.  

Ade Hassan

Although Rangers can explore the beauty industry with the Mirror or window activity, taking it further to talk about fashion could be a great next step. 

Nubian Skin began when Ade Hassan was looking for hosiery that matched her skin tone and could only be offered beige. This is a struggle many people of colour meet when shopping. Frustrated with the fashion industry’s limited selection, Ade started on a journey to redefine what nude meant to women of colour. Ade’s vision and commitment to filling this gap in the industry led her business to huge success. Nubian Skin wasn’t just a new hosiery brand, but a symbol of representation.

Tendai Moyo

For Rangers who aren’t into beauty or fashion, looking at haircare is a great way to engage with the Mirror or window UMA. 

Tendai Moyo, co-founder of Ruka Hair, is making waves in the hair industry. Born in Zimbabwe, she co-founded Ruka Hair, a brand that celebrates and caters to curly, coily and wavy hair. Ruka Hair is all about educating women about their beautiful curls and dismantling negative hair stereotypes. The brand celebrates the rich history of Black women's hair, from Bantu knots to box braids, and has been worn by the likes of Serena Williams at Wimbledon 2022.  

Stay tuned for the official release of our UMAs coming out next month in Girlguiding magazine. If you’d like to explore more about Black history and culture ahead of the UMAs, check out the Black Curriculum for some great resources.

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