Monday, 24 Jun 2024

The Sisterhood List: Saluting the UK Black women who've opened doors for others

Empowering, strong, inspiring, game-changing.

These are just some of the words that describe the women being championed in’s Sisterhood List.

Echoing this year’s Black History Month theme of ‘Saluting our Sisters’, we wanted to acknowledge a collection of Black women across the UK who have lifted up, opened doors and advocated – not only for themselves but for their sisters and their community.

The list is by no means exhaustive. There are countless who have greatly impacted their communities and backed themselves when no one else would.

So here, we salute the success stories of just a few of the amazing Black women in Britain who are paving the way for generations to come.

Brenda Edwards

Singer, actress, and panellist on ITV daytime talk show Loose Women, Brenda rose to fame on the X Factor in 2005 before venturing into musicals and starring in the West End in hits like Chicago, We Will Rock You, Carousel, and Hairspray.

But her world came crashing down when last year, Brenda’s son, Jamal Edwards, creator of SBTV, died at the age of 31. The influential mogul had been awarded an MBE for his work which helped UK music acts including Dave, Stormzy, Jessie J and Ed Sheeran, who counted him as his best friend.

Brenda shared on Loose Women a private letter King Charles had sent to her, in which he expressed his sorrow and deepest condolences. Since Jamal’s death, she has set up a trust in his name to support disadvantaged young people, providing a sanctuary for the homeless and creating a community academy and she won a Hero Award following her campaigning work last year.

Brenda has spoken on Loose Women about her experiences with domestic abuse which left her ‘fearing for her life’ after an abusive ex tracked her down and she also raises money and awareness for various cancer charities after being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2016.

Fats Timbo

With almost three million followers on TikTok alone, disability campaigner Fats is a social media star with clout. Standing at four feet tall, the comedian and author used to be nervous about going out in public places but has built up her confidence as well as her voice to raise awareness. 

She was born with dwarfism but prefers to use the term ‘little people’, and feels the former term doesn’t sound ‘human.’

As a child, Fats saw herself as ‘cursed’ as she faced insults and jibes about her height. But as she grew older, her confidence emerged.

She has an army of followers online – bolstered by her appearance on Channel 4’s Undateables – and works to improve visibility for the Black disabled community. This includes encouraging brands to use disabled people in their advertising. 

‘There was no representation [for me] – I felt so alone when I was younger,’ Fats told the BBC last year.

‘But now, I’m representing, baby!’

Lady Phyll

Known by those who work with her as a ‘force to be reckoned with’, political activist Lady Phyll has spent a career campaigning for LGBTQIA+ rights around the world as one of Britain’s most prominent lesbian activists.

Her work began in secondary school when she found herself getting repeatedly kicked out of the classroom for asking too many questions. She didn’t understand why everyone was being taught about dead kings and queens as opposed to the legacy of slavery and the history of Africa.

Phyllis Opoku-Gyimah, also known as Dr Lady Phyll, co-founded UK Black Pride, the biggest LGBTQIA+ celebration of Black people in Europe and the event has grown year-on-year since its inception 18 years ago. Last year UK Black Pride was attended by 25,000 people making it Europe’s largest celebration for LGBTQI+ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern descent.

When she decided to set it up because Pride events felt ‘exclusive and unwelcoming’, Lady Phyll was told she’d ‘never get anywhere’, but now it is bigger, brighter and bolder than ever and this year included a family zone for the first time, ensuring its inclusive legacy continues for future generations.

Lady (so people don’t mistake her for a ‘bloke named Phil’) Phyll is also executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust, an organisation fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights around the world. She was offered an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list in 2016 in recognition of her work but she politely refused it in rejection of ‘colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy’.

A trustee at Stonewall and member of the Trades Union Congress race relations committee, Lady Phyll has also won numerous awards for her work.

Who makes your Sisterhood List?

By the end of Black History Month, we want to have created a new Sisterhood List – one that champions Black women at grassroots level.

So, if you have a female friend or member of the family that you think also deserves a place on the Sisterhood List, let us know in the comments below.

Liv Little

Writer, filmmaker and scriptwriter Liv is founder of the trailblazing gal-dem, a website and formerly print magazine run primarily by Black women.

Liv set up gal-dem in 2015 while studying at university because she was frustrated by the lack of diversity in the media and because she ‘wanted to create the sort of channel that I always wished existed’. Liv became its CEO at just 21, a role she stepped down from in 2020.

The magazine and podcast championed the perspectives of women and non-binary people of colour and helped many young writers launch their careers in a largely white, male industry, and boasted around 333,000 online visitors by 2021. gal-dem folded earlier this year due to financial instability caused by Covid and the economic downturn.

Liv was named a ‘new suffragette’ by Vogue magazine in recognition of her fight to empower women, has worked in India as a Health and Livelihoods Coordinator with Restless Development and has also championed Women for Refugee Women.

She has recently published her hotly anticipated novel Rosewater, a queer love story, published by superstar John Legend’s imprint Get Lifted Books. Speaking earlier this year, John said: ‘We want to elevate unrepresented voices and I feel like Rosewater is the perfect book to launch with.’

Dawn Butler

Dawn is a member of the Labour Party and is currently the MP for Brent Central, a position she has held continuously since 2015. 

She’s no stranger to making her voice heard – she was famously booted from the House of Commons after calling Boris Johnson a liar – and is committed to tackling racism, sexism and other inequalities in the UK.

Dawn is only the third Black woman to have ever been elected as an MP. She has struggled with racism in Parliament and, in 2019, was even mistaken for a cleaner. 

Writing for previously, Dawn said: ‘When it comes to race and equality we need to continually renew and progress because as soon as you take your foot off the pedal rights begin to roll back.

‘In this current political climate, I fear and worry that further rights are being rolled back, and this disrespect and intolerance of others is uncomfortably spreading.’

Following her successful battle with cancer in 2021, Dawn backed research by Barts Charity that would increase people of colour’s chances of surviving cancer. 

She’s currently working with Metro on a new podcast to encourage more women to get potentially life–saving mammograms.

Her recently released book, A Purposeful Life by Dawn Butler, explores her experiences with racism growing up and her drive to create change.

Patricia Bright

Patricia is a pioneer of the UK beauty community. She started her YouTube channel almost 13 years ago – using a shoebox to prop up her camera in her shared house in Manchester. 

Patricia had been inspired by her time in school where she’d style other girls’ hair. She soon realised she might as well impart her knowledge to people online. 

With an accounting and finance degree under her belt – she worked on growing her brand and worked with several large make-up, fashion and haircare companies.

Patricia is celebrated as one of the first Black British YouTubers to gain one million subscribers.

In 2020, she teamed up with make-up company Essence to ensure Black women could get a foundation shade that matched them perfectly. For years before, women of colour had searched in vain through limited options. Foundation for Black women would often have unflattering undertones or be impossible to match with skin tones.

Patricia also founded The Break Social to help women grow in their personal and professional lives. She interviews inspiring guests and offers advice on relationships, finance and empowerment.

Tolly T

Tolly T is one-third of The Receipts Podcast, which began in 2016 and sees more than 100,000 weekly listeners. The trio act as agony aunts, providing listeners with advice as well as cultural commentary and celebrity gossip.

Tolly T (real name Tolani Shoneye) was working as a journalist when she started the show, but when a male podcast host tweeted that their project wouldn’t work with women at the helm, Tolly and co-hosts Audrey Indome and Milena Sanchez quit their jobs and went full time.

As Tolly says: ‘There is pretty much a podcast for everything, but before we started there weren’t many that had the voices and stories of black and brown women in the UK. Our stories, our accents, our twangs were not represented in the podcast world. So we decided to do something about it.’

Their fresh humour, honesty and occasional drinking games were a hit and the show stands out in a largely white, largely middle-aged industry. The award-winning broadcast has sold out live shows and its debut book 2021 Keep The Receipts was a Sunday Times Bestseller.

Tolly also stars in Netflix’s 10/10 Would Recommend podcast series and continues to write for a number of publications, has produced and hosted on the BBC, appeared on The Big Breakfast for Channel 4 and has been part of various writers rooms.

Lydia Amoah

Lydia Amoah ‘still pinches herself’ as she leads the way in transforming workplaces for people of all backgrounds. 

The entrepreneur, based in Surrey, was once told she didn’t have ‘normal skin’ by a shop assistant.

In response, she set up the Black Pound Report to tackle how businesses treat their customers and explore the lack of representation in advertising of Black, Asian and Multi-Ethnic consumers.

The report, which began in 2018, looks into employment statistics to see how diverse and inclusive companies really are.

She later launched Backlight – a culture change agency – off the back of the success of the Black Pound Report. The company that helps companies become more inclusive.

She’s flown across the world to give talks and interviews and has helped thousands of people gain confidence to access career paths they felt weren’t for them.

Lydia was inspired by her parents – who emigrated to the UK from Ghana – to make a difference in society.

Her family faced racism and prejudice when they first arrived in the country and fought to be accepted. 

Lydia recently shared her inspiring story with Metro, saying: ‘I still pinch myself when acknowledging that I’m the first Black woman in the United Kingdom to conduct the most comprehensive study exploring the Black, Asian and Multi-Ethnic consumer spending power in the UK. It’s never been achieved before.

‘I am teaching something new about understanding, communicating, and being authentic without being tokenistic. I do feel so proud and honoured to be in this position.

Toni Tone

British Nigerian writer Toni is one of the stars of Highlife, the UK’s first Black-focused reality TV show which followed the lives and loves of a group of ambitious, glamorous young British West Africans – the self-proclaimed ‘Black Kardashians’.

Toni is well known for her inspiring and thought-provoking Twitter content, which has been re-shared by the likes of Hailey Bieber, Demi Lovato, Khloe Kardashian and Oprah Magazine. She has a following of 400k across the platforms, and regularly writes about love and relationships, with her tweet on ‘green flags’ going viral.

Her tweets caught the eye of HarperCollins who awarded her a book deal and her 2021 book, I Wish I Knew This Earlier: Lessons of Love, was an instant hit, debuting at number three on The Sunday Times bestsellers list. The book took an autobiographical look into how growing up in an environment of emotional unavailability and high stress can impact adult relationships.

Toni is the host of Radio 1Xtra’s Money Moves Podcast and an ambassador for Young Women’s Trust, representing women aged 16-30 who are struggling to live on little to no pay in England and Wales.

Clo and Tinuke

Technically two people, we know, but the amazing work Clo Abe and Tinuke Awe have achieved with the charity they founded together meant we had to include them both.

Now mothers of two, it was in 2018 when the pair first heard the shocking statisticthat Black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. A year later, they found Five X More, a movement dedicated to lowering this figure. 

Within two years, the group’s petition to the government asking them to improve Black women’s mortality rates received 187k signatures. It was debated in parliament, which marked a historic chapter in the fight for equal rights. 

Clo and Tinuke’s success in taking on the Government had come in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement.

Both women have no plans to slow down in their work – and recently created ‘Colourful Birth Wallets’ for black pregnant women in London hospitals. The packs include vital information on pregnancy and key details on maternity rights.

And their campaigning has paid off – Black women are now 20% less likely to die in childbirth. However there is still a long way to go, which is why they created the Black Maternal Health awareness week in a bid to keep their momentum going and save the lives of black mothers.

Speaking earlier this year, Awe said: ‘The statistics can be really scary, but our charity isn’t here to fearmonger. We don’t want women to be scared, we just want to give them advice on how they can be empowered to advocate for themselves.’

And the list goes on…

Jade Vanriel – prominent property blogger/influencer

 Judi Love – comedian, Loose Women presenter

 Akua Gyamfi – founder of The British Blacklist

 Tendai Moyo – CEO of Ruka hair brand which is sold in Selfridges

 Dr Shola Mos- Shogbamimu activist

 Bolu Babalola – best-selling author

 Letitia Wright – Marvel actress

 Nella Rose – YouTuber and TV presenter

 Vamp PR – Ruby, Christina, Rumbi – founders of UK’s largest Black entertainment publicity company

 Mimi The Music Blogger – music commentator

 Julie Adenuga – broadcaster (Apple Music)

 Diane Abbott – first Black woman MP

 Barbara Blake Hannah – first Black news presenter

 Charlene White – ITV News presenter and Loose Woman

 Alexandra Burke – fifth winner of the X Factor

 Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent – professor of midwifery at KCL, most senior midwife in the UK, Princess Kate’s midwife

 Oloni – sex positive author and personality

 Madame Joyce – host of podcast Cocktails and Takeaways

 AJ Odudu – Big Brother presenter

 Coco Sarel – internet personality and co-host of Closet Confessions podcast.

 Candice Braithwaite author – co-host of Closet Confessions, and at the forefront of the campaign to reduce Black women’s childbirth mortality rate

 Ngozi Fulani – CEO of Sistah Space

 Zeze Millz presenter – and Black culture commentator

 Chioma Nnadi – new head of British Vogue

 Alison Hammond – This Morning and The Great British Bake Off presenter

 Kanya King – founder of Mobo Awards

 Lauren Spencer – disability campaigner

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