Huck celebrates independence: people and movements that paddle against the flow. Inspired by radical youth culture, Huck roams the globe seeking out artists, activists and creative renegades who are breaking down the old world to build something new.
For most 14-year-olds, the daily routine probably involves a combination of school, lingering outside the local sweetshop with friends, several hours of social media and maybe an early morning paper round. It isn’t quite as common for teenagers to protest against a corrupt government and get beaten by state police. But that is Amal’s story.
During the Egyptian uprising in 2011, Amal camped out in Tahir Square in the revolution that led to the removal of Hosni Mubarak as president. She survived violent clashes and brutality from the authorities, even though she was still too young to vote for the new president.
Director Mohamed Siam filmed Amal for six years following the revolution, shooting a documentary that captures what it’s like to grow up in the midst of political unrest. Named after its female protagonist (whose name also means hope), Amal is an unflinching portrait of a young girl not only fighting against a corrupt government, but also the patriarchy that says she shouldn’t get involved.
One of the most insightful moments in the film is when Amal says: “If I acted like a girl in the revolution I would have been useless.” There is irony in her fellow male protestors telling her what she should wear, and how to behave because “she is a girl” when they are fighting for freedom.
Recently winning the Youth Jury Award at Sheffield Doc/Fest, Mohamed Siam speaks to Huck over the phone, explaining how he produced a film that resonates with young people all over the world.
Amal Trailer - YouTube
Did you know Amal before filming? No. I was interested in this group of young people that were involved in the revolution known as ‘the Ultras.’ They are football hooligans and they played a big role in the revolution. So, I was looking for a character in this group and to begin with I followed a few other people – they were male because 99.9 per cent of the Ultras are male. I met Amal by accident, and as soon as I met her I completely changed my mind about my film. Originally, I was only going to film for a year, and it ended up being a story that lasted six to seven years focused on one person. Amal made me change my mind.
What’s unique about the Ultras? The Ultras are quite particular because they are very passionate and angry. When they vandalised things, they really went for it and could cause a lot of harm. Sometimes they would cut out the road or a bridge and stop the whole movement of traffic. The protestors didn’t do that, which was why the Ultras’ voice was very distinctive. Protestors could be anyone – street children, school children, angry teenagers – but the Ultras had certain methods. On the frontline it was very mixed, you could turn around a find someone from the Ultras, and on the other side it was just normal protestors.
At the start of the film, Amal talks about her boyfriend who died in the Port Said football clashes. Is this level of violence unusual in Egypt? No, it’s not unusual but it was very horrible because it happened to adolescent boys in a few minutes. In about 10 minutes we lost 72 teenagers or something like that. It was horrific, but I can’t say it was abnormal. In the revolution, within a few days, a few thousand were killed and many hundreds went missing. We don’t know what happened to them. Some were found in hospital, some were found beside highways and places like that. Port Said was distinctive because we lost so many young people in such a short time and it was in a stadium too – it wasn’t a line of fire or anything – it was a football match.
How much were you involved in the revolution? I lived very close – literally two blocks from Tahir Square. I was there with all my heart, and even when I tried to take a break from it, I couldn’t because I lived so close to it. There was smoke gas everywhere and there was so much happening I couldn’t avoid it. I shot all of the events that happened during the revolution and for three years afterwards. I filmed all the events – big and small – some protests, some battles.
The film is very specific – but the themes are universal – what issues are you trying to address? It is difficult for me to clearly say what the film is about – it is about many things. But, the main issues are generational conflict and how the younger generation is trying to liberate itself from powers like the family, the state, the police or – if you’re a woman – from males.
Is Amal a unique case? Were there many women involved in the revolution? She is unique because of many things, and she is special because she was born in the midst of change in Egypt. She grew up at a time when the country was trying to alter and find its identity. Amal has this amazing capacity to survive, adapt and somehow cope with a madness that is not normal in any part of the world. In the revolution, there were lots of women and girls, but she was one of the only girls in the Ultras. I think there were only about five women in the Ultras.
I think one of the most unfair things that came out of the revolution was that even though women went shoulder to shoulder with men, when it was over women didn’t take their place in parliament. Men – or at least the system – tried to put them back in the kitchen or where they thought they belong, which is absurd.
What progress has feminism made in Egypt, if any? I think the main progress that happened after the revolution was social, not political. The state cracked down on feminist groups, but they are still out there. During the revolution, they proved they had a distinctive voice and that they will be vocal. If we are looking at Amal and her story, her struggles demonstrate how strong the system is and how difficult it is for this younger generation to find their place in their own country. There are extremes everywhere – from the police to the Muslim Brotherhood or fanatic groups – all these extreme voices are the ones that are in charge of the country. It’s really difficult, bordering on impossible to find your place in Egypt, which is why the best of the young generation are leaving to Europe, Canada or the States. I am an example of that too. Amal’s decision to stay and join the police is very brave and audacious. She has a zest for life and her ability to cope and survive is so strong. I am impressed with her.
Amal says ‘If I acted like a woman in the revolution, I would have been useless’ – what does she mean? She is talking about fear, and about proving that she is not less than any of the boys. I have seen her fighting – we fought together – and we’ve been through really horrible things. She is really fearless, and I agree with her, she isn’t less than any of the boys or macho men she was surrounded by. I think her idea of being a girl was being afraid of fire or that something might hurt her.
At the end of the film, Amal discusses joining the police – why? Is it an inevitable part of settling down or is she just changing tactics? I think it is definitely the latter. She is smart enough to realise that if she tried a fraction of what she did in the square now, she’d be gone – and maybe even her family too. So, I think she is changing tactics, but I also think it’s time to play a different game. There’s a song at the end of the film that expresses this. We used to put all our energy into one type of activity, but now we need to play another game and it looks very different.
Her dad had a huge impact on her, he said ‘do whatever you want, have no fear.’ Do you think he was the inspiration behind her getting involved? I think he was the main inspiration, and I think he is much more than a father figure to Amal – he is almost like an idol or godlike figure. His words still resonate and come back to her, and whatever she’s doing she wants him to be proud of her. I have seen a father’s influence on a daughter before, but I’ve never seen it so strong. So I definitely think he is the main inspiration and everything else comes after.
I like the incorporation of the family footage – why did you choose to include this? Amal was born into a digital age and her father filmed her until she was about 10-years-old, when he died. I met her when she was 13, and I thought it would be very interesting to trace the entirety of someone’s life in film. The whole documentary is about her – it is named after her – and we wanted to express certain things about her character. In the family footage you can see that from the age of three or four, she was already determined, fearless and had a zest for life. She is also a little bit naughty, loud and insulting – and we wanted to show that, so you can see that this is who Amal is and who she will always be.
You won the Youth Jury Award at Sheffield Doc/Fest. What does it mean to you that the film resonates with other young people around the world? This is exactly what I wanted. I screened the film in Norway at a youth and children’s festival and 200 high school students came and sold out the screening – that was the first time I realised it was really resonating with a young age group. It wasn’t just people from the industry at the screening, these young people really felt something even if they weren’t Egyptian. We also presented the film at Hot Docs in Toronto and they hosted a special screening for school students – like age 12 to 20 or something. And again, we sold out 300 seats and did a Q+A for an hour. It was great. The Doc/Fest prize is affirmation that we have reached who we wanted to, and it’s a great reward for something we worked on for so long.
In the world of rapper and poet Saul Williams, everything is happening at once.
When I finally get him on the phone (and it takes some chasing), he’s busy putting the final touches on the Kickstarter for Neptune Frost, a musical he’s written and plans to direct.
On top of that, he’s writing, mixing his next album (also titled Neptune Frost) and finishing work on a graphic novel, all of which are part of the MartyrLoserKing universe, an art project that launched in 2016 with the album of the same name. Oh, and this week, he’ll leave for Europe, where he’ll spend the summer touring.
You’d never guess it, though. Saul speaks with the effortless cadence of someone who has time to assess and analyse the individual impact of each and every word, and is as affable as he is enlightened. After all, for the poet, rapper, actor, writer and activist, busy is good. It’s in his nature.
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing,” he says, before breaking into a relaxed, semi-ironic giggle. “It’s been just… crazy.”
At the end of the month, the New York-born artist is headlining The Last Word Festival in London, bringing the work drawn from MartyrLoserKing into a spoken word setting. Ahead of the show, we sat down with the seminal polymath to discuss the power of language, protest in the digital age, and why Kanye West represents the dangerous pinnacle of celebrity culture.
Do you remember when you first realised the power of language? Yeah. I was young. I had some revelatory moments listening to Public Enemy as a kid. There were lines where I remember crying. I remember being at a party, crying, hearing ‘Welcome to the Terrodome’ or ‘Bring The Noise’. Even my parents, who were not initially hip hop fans, were like, ‘Yo, you guys are pushing it forward.’
That was obviously a particularly progressive era for hip hop. Growing up as a hip hop head in New York – in an environment where there were also metal heads and punk kids – we had to defend hip hop. But, when groups like Public Enemy started saying shit, delivering a message over the wildest beats and noise – it was undeniable. At those moments, I was drawn by the power of sound, beats and language. Simultaneously.
Saul Williams - List Of Demands(Reparations) - YouTube
Was it just music? I had been touched by language in other ways simultaneously. For example, I started doing theatre when I was eight, and I started with Shakespeare. The first play I did at eight was Julius Caesar. I played Mark Anthony. I remember that speech – ‘if you have tears, prepare to shed them now’ – and the process in which Mark Anthony had to use words in order to convince a crowd. I realised in the power of oratory there.
Also, my father was a minister. I grew up in the tradition of the African-American church. So of course I had moments where I realised the power of language. Those people, those ministers and songwriters, they were magicians. They were connecting this ancient story to our story. This ancient, coded story of oppression to our oppression. You guys had that wake-up call recently, with an African-American preacher during the wedding over there [laughs].
I grew up surrounded by language. From Broadway, to everything I encountered in the church, to growing up in the ’80s in New York with all of this energetic new music that was coming out and taking over the streets. My life was bombarded by language as a kid.
Nowadays the distinctions between hip hop and poetry aren’t quite as strict. They’re entangled – and people seem far more at peace with that. It’s kind of bizarre, our relationship to these terms. The thing I usually point out is that Homer, for example – the Greek Homer – was not widely read in his day, because 90 per cent of Greece was illiterate at that time. But people gathered to hear Homer speak. Homer was a spoken word artist.
The fact of the matter is that the oral history of poetry goes back even further than the written history of poetry. But it’s true, I think today people have made more sense of it. But still, sometimes, I get somewhat confused by the distinctions. We do need to also acknowledge, though, that poetry was in the first Olympics!
MartyrLoserKing examines protest in the age of the internet. Do you think that it has been blunted by its digitalisation? No, no. I believe that we use the tools that we have in order to update modes and forms of protest. When I think of the role that television played in the civil rights movement, when people began to see how white southerners were treating African Americans on TV – when they saw those firehoses, when they saw the body of Emmett Till – and when that technology entered households commonly across the country, it shifted the discussion. Technology today, it doesn’t blunt it, it shifts the discussion.
Those that are in power will do anything to maintain that power. They are the ones that will thwart and blunt movements. They’ll use technology to do that. But, when I think of the Arab Spring, all the way up to the #MeToo movement, technology has aided the process. It’s made it easier for people to speak up. Technology, like electricity, is on our side [laughs].
Speaking of which – in America, you’re experiencing your first digital president with Donald Trump. He is the most fucking analogue dude ever!
True. And that’s an interesting juxtaposition! This dude isn’t digital, he’s so fucking analogue! But I know what you mean. Yeah, this country and these people… dude, what can I say that you don’t know? [laughs] This is the sort of stuff that was scaring some of us 20 years ago, when we saw the popularity of the reality show in relation to art – seeing the crazy role that celebrity plays on the mind.
There are so many layers to it, not to mention the pent-up angst and frustrations of people who don’t want anything about white supremacy to change – who don’t want to see progress. They don’t want anything except them and their friends and their family to get rich, or die trying. Or kill trying.
When you look at young people – progressive, political and digital natives – do you feel optimistic about the future? To me, it’s not about optimism or pessimism. I had an album called The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggytardust! The key word was ‘inevitable’. In-ev-it-able. The rise and liberation is inevitable, there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Like, the Saudi Arabian government trying to control the spin of how it is that women are being allowed to drive. I imagine that the government doesn’t want the world or the people there to think that they made these changes because of those women beginning to protest. They don’t want them to think that protest has power. But why are they making those changes? Because protest has power – and you can’t do shit to stop it!
You’ve said that you gravitate towards rebels. Who excites you currently? Recently, I’ve been listening to an artist called serpentwithfeet. I’ve seen him live recently, as well. His music and spirit excites me. I also think of the countless women that are speaking up around the world, calling out sexual predators and rapists and all this shit.
Like you were saying, there are so many young speaking truth to power. I spent time in Ferguson, there are so many young activists. I’m super impressed. I think of someone like Malala, who is crazy in what she’s been able to live through, and live beyond, and speak towards in her youth. There’s people like that in every nation.
Here in this country, we talk a lot about the Parkland survivors from the school shootings. I think of the people that I’ve met in all of the disenfranchised communities. I think of the natives who stood at Standing Rock and who are speaking out. This place is full of rebels right now. Full of them.
Saul Williams - Horn Of The Clock-Bike - YouTube
Let’s change the term to ‘visionary’. You’ve called Kanye West a visionary… …I knew you were going to say that!
I’m sorry. Where do you stand on that now? Well, being a musical visionary does not presume one to be a political one. Even though music is political, it doesn’t mean you’re well versed in the ways of the world. Celebrity, success, all of these things build bubbles – and people live in these bubbles. They lose, they forget themselves. Not enough as has been said about the dangers of celebrity and fame.
So yeah, it’s unfortunate, but it’s not completely surprising. You know, for example, most of the geniuses of history did not necessarily walk around calling themselves geniuses… [laughs] There were plenty of clues, if you were listening.
And there’s also plenty of confused philosophies walking around. It doesn’t stop with Kanye. I remember hearing the Biggie song with the chorus ‘Get Money’ and everybody singing along. I was like, ‘Holy fuck, if this shit’s our relationship to capitalism…’ Jay Z said in a song once, “I couldn’t help the poor if I was one of them.” His confusion is not realising how many freedom fighters stood and helped the poor without having to be rich to do.
There’s a lot of confusion floating around. That confusion is the shit that voted for Trump in the first place. That warped sense of self and identity that tells you that a person like that will protect you, a poor white person who that dude has never given a fuck about. But because of identity politics and a game of belonging, you think, ‘Yes! This is my representative!’ I think it’s Balzac who said, ‘Behind every great fortune is a great crime’.
To come full circle in this conversation, I guess it comes down to the power of language. Yep. But when we speak of the power of language, we’re not just talking about talking. We’re talking about the power of literature, the power of philosophy, the power of thinking, the power of processing information and calculating more than the algorithmic traits of a group, processing the steps that will be necessary to take in order for us to step to the next level.
In that respect, do you ever think about your own personal legacy? Not yet [laughs]. No. I just think of what’s meaningful to me about the world that I want to live in and what I can contribute that world a reality.
Niall is Huck’s Associate Editor. You can follow him on Twitter.
Saul Williams is playing at The Last Word Festival on June 30. For tickets, visit the Roundhouse website.
In a post-Weinstein world, where the #MeToo campaign has mobilised women worldwide to stand up to their abusers, it feels that progress might finally be on the horizon. However, 25 years ago – decades before the phrase “me too” became a hashtag – an organisation in India began to educate young men in order to prevent abuse in the first place. MAVA, or Men Against Violence and Abuse, has worked with 600 men to challenge cultural assumptions about gender and to encourage them to stand up for women’s human rights.
Based in Mumbai, MAVA first came to filmmaker Inka Achte’s attention when she was following the coverage of the brutal gang rape in New Delhi in 2012. Members of MAVA took to the streets wearing skirts to show solidarity with the rape victim, and to question the widely held belief that if a victim is wearing a skirt she should take the blame.
Peaking Achte’s interest, she travelled to India where she met a group of young boys in MAVA’s educational programme, including Ved, a teenage boy who had suffered violence at the hands of his own father.
In her new film, Boys Who Like Girls, Achte follows Ved as he comes to understand the impact toxic masculinity has had on his life. He gains new role models in the MAVA staff and starts to see opportunity in his own future opening up. Ahead of the world premiere of the film at Sheffield Doc/Fest, Achte picks up the phone to speak to Huck about uncovering Ved’s story, and the hope MAVA has given her in seeing equality, not just in India, but across the globe.
Boys Who Like Girls TRAILER | Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018 - YouTube
You found MAVA through researching the New Delhi gang-rape case. What drew you to this story about men wearing skirts to protest? I just thought that the act was quite powerful. In most parts of the world, it’s considered ridiculous for men to dress in skirts and I thought they put themselves out there. I started researching it, and it was the first time I had ever seen men taking a stand for women’s human rights. I’ve attended a lot of feminist discussions and film screenings about women’s rights and it always felt like it was women discussing it, and I have found that quite disheartening at times. Seeing men that cared was really healing for me somehow. And then I thought, I really want to investigate further whether there are more of these kinds of men. I did some research and found Harish who runs MAVA and we took it from there really.
Harish Sadani, MAVA’s founder, has been running his organisation for 25 years. Has he seen much progress? Yes, I think so. Obviously, some of the boys he has worked with just drift away, but during my research trip I met men Harish had trained that have started their own NGOs and do similar workshops in more rural areas. Some of them educate women on menstruation, which is a huge taboo in India, especially in rural places. It is a grassroots organisation and small scale but there are changes in the long term.
What was it about Ved’s story that made you want to focus on him? Harish introduced me to all his different projects and we decided to follow one of these in the documentary. I was immediately interested in the adolescent boys because I thought this is where we can potentially see some kind of change. Ved stood out because he seemed so troubled and conflicted.
As Ved learns to respect women he almost seems to learn to respect himself, do you think there is a correlation between the two? I definitely think so. I mean, if you think about the kind of masculinity that is centred around aggression and being someone everyone is afraid of, that can’t be a very positive place. But, for Ved it was really helpful to have different kinds of male role models around him. I think that took him out of his shell in a lot of ways and increased his confidence. He was really lacking in confidence because he is also a victim of violence. I think you can say he started to learn to respect himself because he clearly began to care about his life and finishing school. Now, he can aim higher – and not just in terms of education – but also morally and ethically as an individual.
There is a great scene on the beach where the boys meet two girls of their own age – did that happen naturally? Yes. Honestly, the girls were probably curious about the filming and why the boys were on camera. So, they did approach asking why we were filming, but then they did start to talk naturally. In the rough cut stage of the film there had been some questions about why we never see them interacting with girls, but that’s because – until maybe college – they don’t really interact. For example, in the workshops where they are discussing sex, you could never invite girls into that conversation – parents wouldn’t allow it. So, boys and girls are quite segregated.
I thought the approach of MAVA was unique, do they have any influence outside of India? I don’t know anything about running an NGO, but I did feel that Harish is kind of stuck in that Mumbai context. My hope is that the film will raise awareness of his work globally and help him expand it further. I think he just lacks the tools and the financial means to expand it further. As far as I know, he is just in Mumbai and he is basically on his own and that’s all he can manage. And there’s no public funding and that’s a big disadvantage.
Do you hope the film will raise funds? That’s one of my hopes. He gets like a one-off award or donation but that doesn’t really help the organisation grow in the long-term. We currently have a very small amount of money dedicated to launch a campaign in India, but I am really hoping that similar NGOs will somehow find a way to team up.
Is MAVA received well in India? No. First of all, there is no sex education in schools, and things like sexuality and menstruation are huge taboos. I also realised – over the course of making the film – even if there are individuals who have this desire to change things they are working against thousands of years of tradition, religion, history and ways of doing things. I think change is inevitable, but it’s a very slow process because of the weight of tradition. For example, many men think women should not be let out after 7 pm because it would be dark and unsafe. However, they don’t necessarily see that as a misogynistic thing, but that they are protecting women.
Did making the film help you to feel hopeful that change is possible? It made me extremely hopeful – it is great to know there are these kinds of men out there. And obviously since I started making the film, there has been the whole #metoo campaign and a discussion around toxic masculinity has emerged. Now, there are a lot of mean saying: ‘This is not cool. I am not that kind of man and I don’t want to be that kind of man.’ It does feel like something is shifting and I am so happy to be witnessing it. When I was in my late teens, early 20s, if you tried to talk about ‘toxic masculinity’ with guys, you wouldn’t get taken seriously. You’d be told ‘you’re lacking a sense of humour’, ‘you’re uptight’ or loosenn up.’ Now we can say these things, which I think is a huge thing.
Boys Who Like Girls will have its world premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest on Saturday June 9, Showroom Cinema. The film will screen again at the festival on Tuesday June 12. Further details on the official website.
“Swimming is really boring!” exclaims Nathaniel Cole, co-founder of Swim Dem Crew, when I ask him why he set up the club. If the answer is different to what you would expect from someone who organises twice weekly swimming sessions for a revolving group of around 30 people, welcome to Swim Dem –Together with Peigh Asante, the pair started the project in 2013 after their positive experiences with group exercise at community-centred Run Dem Crew, something they refer to as a “massive, positive community”, and a vibe they sought to emulate in water rather than on land.
The pair are eager to point out that the focus of Swim Dem is not swimming, but rather to foster a sense of community and family. Entry to Swim Dem isn’t decided by swimming ability – they have beginners here – but rather a process involving (among other things) a question about your favourite ice cream flavour. “You’re coming into a community – it’s not just a weekly class you go to,” explains Cole. “We go on trips, there are meals, there are birthday parties… you gotta mesh well. I don’t care about swimming, I care about people. I want people who can do all that stuff, and swim.”
At its core, Swim Dem is a swimming club in which members attend two sessions a week: Monday evenings are held at the Aquatic Centre in Stratford and usually consist of intensive and drill heavy sets. Crucially, there is no sense of competition here; the only person you’re ever competing against is yourself.
Rabz, 24, has only been to 3 sessions, and despite being “really scared of water” when she first applied, is now already comfortable in the 3M deep pool. “Everyone is really welcoming, it’s really like a family,” she says. “They’re really patient when it comes to swimming – my first session I couldn’t get into the deep pool but Peigh talked me through it, kept pushing me, and by the end of my second session I was already moving away from the edge which was significant progress! He made me understand what was holding me back was mostly mental.”
Saturday sessions are more relaxed: the club moves around London’s pools and spends two weeks at each one, an opportunity to discover new parts of London that you might not have ever been to before, followed by breakfast. “I like it because we get to meet new people as well,” Asante tells me. He recounts a story where he posted their location for the day on the group’s Instagram, and when they got there an older woman was waiting at reception hoping to swim with them for the day. “It was mad but brilliant, we’re still friends now! She showed us a cool local spot to go and eat afterwards, and we keep in touch.”
When I attend a session, it is the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week, a topic Nathaniel is particularly vocal about when it comes to the importance of both swimming and Swim Dem respectively. “[The club] is good for my mental health because I get to see people and feed off their emotions,” he says. “It’s a really positive thing in my life.”
“With the act of swimming itself, it’s a chance to check out – when you’re in the water you’re focusing on not drowning. It’s a chance to step out of normal life. You can’t be on your phone, you can’t procrastinate. I like it because I get to just focus on one thing for like an hour.”
The importance of community is at the heart of Swim Dem. “I think London can be quite lonely, especially when you get to our age [Asante is 32, Cole is 27] and get a bit older,” muses Cole. “London can get you down but Swim Dem can help keep you afloat! We believe in the power of community and that’s what’s got us this far and what keeps driving us forward.”
Outside of Swim Dem, both Asante and Cole are creatives living in South East London – Asante works in advertising, while Cole is a writer and workshop facilitator – and this creative energy extends to their initiatives outside of the water. This summer will mark five years of Swim Dem, and they plan to celebrate the event with a pool party, a film screening and a merchandise launch. Outside of that, they’re recording a podcast, working on Swim Dem Soundsystem, and planning their next trip abroad for the 30 odd members of the club.
In the longer term, the pair want to take their project global. “You rarely see black and brown people swimming,” says Peigh, with a laugh. “Not in a big-headed way but we’re driving the culture, and we wanna make sure we stay at the front and get to meet and work with people who have set up their own versions of Swim Dem in other countries”. Look out for this water-based family in a pool near you soon.
‘Teen activist.’ What a label. How about, ‘Person who has simply had enough’?
From the school pupils walking out across the US to advocate for gun control and to end horrific massacres, to those fighting homophobia, racism and bigotry in all its forms, we are the ones leading a movement to stamp out poverty, using social media to draw the world’s focus on what has been hidden from view for far too long.
And yes, we’re doing it because we have to, because we’ve been left with no other choice. Ours is a generation that has been truly shafted – by big business and the world’s most powerful elites.
We see the inequality that plagues our communities; we’re in no doubt that a climate change armageddon is inevitable. It’s as if we’re willing to learn the lessons of history and science, while those who’ve reeked havoc – leaving a path of distress and destruction – are somewhat less willing to reflect and change their ways.
But that’s not, by any means, our sole motivation. There’s a deeper driving force – a sense of compassion, respect and determination – that those on the wrong side of history just will not understand. Whereas the language of those who look to ignore us is governed by self-interest, we see the value and potential of humanity in all its forms.
These inspiring activists, and countless others, are laying the foundations for a better world. Maybe you are one of them too. If not, let their stories inspire you to start. There really is no time to waste. Michael Segalov
Photo by Akos Stiller
Karolína Farská – 19, anti-corruption, Slovakia
Last spring, Karolína Farská was getting fed up with Slovakia’s politics. Every time she looked at the news, a corruption scandal seemed to have hit the headlines. “And we’re a really small country,” she says. “I couldn’t see how it was possible for so much corruption to happen here.”
She called a friend to let off steam – moan that no one was doing anything – and he suggested that the pair march through the capital, Bratislava, just to show they, at least, weren’t happy. Before the call had finished, she’d set up a Facebook event. “We thought maybe 20 people would come – our friends, you know – and then we’d go for a beer.” Over 10,000 turned up.
Today, Karolína is one of Europe’s most celebrated activists and one of the few people making the continent’s future look optimistic, persisting even when told to stop. “At first, people thought we were really naïve. They were like, ‘You can’t change anything. Come on, go study.’”
But then she organised a second march, and a third – each one bigger – and the mood in the country changed. “People realised they truly have power,” she says. “It’s not just that they can vote once every four or five years.”
Karolína’s marches were certainly in every Slovak’s mind this February, after an investigative journalist was murdered. He’d uncovered worrying connections between government officials and the mafia. His girlfriend was killed too, shot in the head while on her knees.
“It was like we were standing in front of a question,” Karolína says. “‘Are we going to protect our democracy, our rights, everything we’ve built here? Or are we going to do nothing?’” She co-organised new protests, which this time saw up to 65,000 people march through Bratislava – almost a fifth of its population. Then the prime minister resigned.
Today, she’s got no time to think. There’s meetings to organise (“I’ve one tomorrow, another Sunday,” she says after picking up the phone) and trips abroad to inspire other teens. There’s also dozens of messages to reply to each morning (she ignores the ones demanding to know which foreign power is paying her). A plan to study abroad has been dropped.
Why’s she doing all this when so few people would? “I don’t think I’m unusual,” she says, sounding embarrassed. “I just wanted to show people things aren’t right.” Alex Marshall
Photo by Jason Andrew
Zion Kelly – 17, gun control, Washington DC
Last September – a month before his 17th birthday – Zion Kelly was walking through the park near his home in Washington DC when a strange man asked him for his phone.
Unsettled, Zion bolted and later texted his twin, Zaire, to tell him about the encounter. What Zion couldn’t have known is that the same man – armed with a gun – would kill his brother just two hours later. Eight months on, Zion remembers Zaire as “goofy and always cracking a joke. He was the centre of our friend group.”
A shy kid, Zion often relied on Zaire to make friends for both of them. Growing up in the inner city, gun violence was always in the background. A month before Zaire’s death, the twins attended a vigil for a girl killed close to their house.
“We just accepted it,” says Zion. “Like, we have to be careful. There are guns, but what can we do?”
In February, 17 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida, and 17 others were shot but survived. A few weeks later, a woman named Mary Beth Tinker spoke at Zion’s school about the power of students to change policy.
In 1965, Mary Beth fought her middle school all the way to the US Supreme Court, after she was suspended for wearing an armband to protest the Vietnam War.
Zion felt inspired. He invited Parkland survivors to speak at his school. On 24 March, Zion joined these survivors at March for Our Lives to demand legislative gun control in front of the US Capitol building.
Waiting to speak, Zion trembled. This was Zaire’s thing. His twin had been captain of the track team, a candidate for student council president, the kid who grabbed the mic at a political fair and asked a DC councilman about gentrification.
But when he was introduced, Zion suddenly became confident. “I feel like change can happen, especially with the movement going on,” he says. “I want to step up and honour my brother.”
“Stepping up” means giving up his free time to speak at rallies, at the mayor’s breakfast, in front of congressional representatives and news cameras. It means advocating for a city ordinance, named after his brother, that would expand gun-free zones to create safe passage for students travelling to and from school. It means making sure no one forgets that Zaire was a teenager and a twin, rather than a statistic. Cheree Franco
Photo by Harriet Turney
Legally Black – 17-19, representation, London
“I don’t think a lot of people realised that we’re students,” says Liv Francis-Cornibert. “They were messaging us like, ‘Can we work for you?’ And we were like, ‘We’re literally 18…’”
“I still live with my mum!” quips Shiden Tekle, sat beside her in the gallery space at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton. “I had to turn off my Twitter notifications.”
The two activists, along with friends Bel Matos da Costa and Kofi Asante, make up Legally Black: a London-based campaign group fighting misrepresentation of black people in the media.
The collective formed in September 2017, having met at The Advocacy Academy, a social justice fellowship for young people. But they were thrust into the limelight when their first campaign made headline news in March.
The idea was simple: take iconic film and television posters featuring all-white casts (Titanic, Harry Potter, The Inbetweeners) and replace the characters with black faces – those of friends, family and volunteers. Each poster was accompanied with a simple message: “If you’re surprised, it means you don’t see enough black people in major roles.”
“I guess I’ve always seen negative depictions of black people,” explains Shiden. “Over time, I’ve understood that the media is a really powerful agency in trying to influence and change people and condition them to think a certain thing.”
“We don’t talk about race at all – it’s so structural and ingrained that it’s not overt anymore,” adds Liv. “In order to combat something which is under the surface, you have to look at the institutions where it’s being upheld. For me, the main one that we could go for was media.”
In addition to promoting environments in which black people can articulate their own experiences, the four-piece (all aged between 17 and 19) are determined to highlight issues such as underrepresentation and harmful, inaccurate depictions.
“If there are people in the world, then they should see themselves represented,” says Liv. “Now that we’ve had a taste of that, people aren’t gonna be satisfied with just ending the conversation.” Niall Flynn
Photo by Qusay Noor
Muhammad Najem – 15, citizen reporter, Syria
Fifteen-year-old Syrian Muhammad Najem posted his first Tweet on 7 December, promising to convey all the events being committed by the Assad regime in Eastern Ghouta – a part of Syria which has been under siege since 2013. Muhammad’s motivation was simply to make the world see what was happening to children like him.
The teen has since become one of Syria’s most prominent opposition activist-correspondents, giving a voice to otherwise silenced victims of a war that began in March 2011. “The truth was being concealed by misleading information put out by the Syrian regime,” he says. “I felt compelled to show the world what was really happening.”
Known for videos in which he speaks into the camera like a young war correspondent, Muhammad often interviews other kids about their experiences and asks about their hopes for the future, which typically includes an end to airstrikes and simply “to be allowed to live our lives”.
But Muhammad’s activism has put him in danger. He fears being arrested because “the regime shows no mercy to those who expose it,” adding that the Syrian government has routinely targeted those who condemn its actions, accusing them of generating propaganda. “Bashar Assad’s regime understands the effective role of young people in enacting change in Syria; that’s why he repeatedly imprisons them.”
Muhammad has experienced profound loss for someone so young. His father died when a mosque was destroyed and several of his friends were killed after hostilities escalated in November, wiping out whole neighbourhoods – including his school. “Our lives became primitive. We had our water cut off, our fuel, our electricity.”
In late March, Muhammad left Arbin – the town he’d lived in his whole life – and embarked on a harrowing 30-hour journey to the rebel-held town of Maaret Al-Numan in Idlib, northern Syria. He is now trying to cross the border into Turkey with the aid of a humanitarian organisation.
“I want to be able to lead a normal life and finish my studies,” he says, adding that he hopes to be a journalist one day. “It’s not just me; all the kids here have been deprived of their studies and deprived of their childhood. We want to leave behind the warzone that we’ve been in for seven years.” Lily Fletcher
Photo by Ian Bates
Jamie Margolin, Zero Hour – 16, climate crisis, Seattle
Last year, Jamie Margolin became transfixed by news alerts flashing on her phone: mudslides in Colombia, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Maria and, closer to home, “the thick smog that covered Seattle thanks to stronger-than-usual wildfires in Canada.” Instead of simply swiping them away, Jamie decided to do something about it.
“It was already in the back of my mind to start a youth mobilisation movement,” she says. “I was nervous to go there, especially since I’m so young. But last summer I realised I have to take action, even if it’s going to be a lot of action.”
After messaging friends on Instagram – high-schoolers she’d met at a political summer camp at Princeton – Jamie founded Zero Hour, a youth organisation mobilising around the climate crisis.
“We are not a movement that happened overnight,” says Jamie, who connected with adult mentors from the Women’s March as well as young people who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. “It took hours and hours every day of slow but gradual movement building, and it still does.”
This July, Zero Hour will host a weekend of youth action in Washington DC. The core 25 members – who collaborate online from across the States, and are mostly still at school – will lobby representatives to divest from fossil fuels (“Because how are we going to pass meaningful legislation if our governments are owned by fossil fuel corporations?”) and protest in a march.
The goal is to show how youth are affected by climate change. “It’s not about a sad polar bear on an ice cap. It’s about people’s lives and kids and futures. People say ‘Climate change? We’ll deal with that later.’ But it’s urgent: it’s zero hour.”
Jamie calls climate change the “defining issue of our time,” as it will disproportionately affect young people and people of colour. She has relatives in Colombia, where her mother is from, who live near fracking sites and are worried about the drinking water.
“People are always asking me to plan for my future,” she says. “[But] my generation is inheriting a totally unliveable, uninhabitable planet. Within the next couple of years, we have to turn this around, or else my generation will really suffer.” Rosalie Chan
Photo by Amanda Mustard
Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal – 21, free speech, Thailand
At 14, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal inadvertently became the face of Thailand’s student activism movement – a daunting role, given the country’s history of draconian lèse-majesté laws, military coups and state violence.
Considered a “disgrace” for his “extreme thinking” by the leader of Thailand’s military junta, the 21-year-old political science student now works with other students at Chulalongkorn University to advocate for educational reform, democracy and free speech.
“We want a free and fair society, to have people be able to speak, to write, to collaborate freely,” says Netiwit, sitting beside a stack of his freshly printed book I Can Love My Country Without Having to be Drafted.
Though Thailand has a long tradition of student activism, past movements – like the 1976 massacre of student protesters by state forces and a royalist mob – are rarely taught in schools.
Their omission from history textbooks, and Netiwit’s own ignorance of them before founding the Thailand Educational Revolution Alliance, is what inspired him and his friends to start a press. They publish their own writings and translate foreign texts, like On Tyranny, so that students can take charge of their own educations.
Netiwit became infamous after questioning Thailand’s mandatory haircut styles for students – first in a school paper and then on national TV. Since then, he’s made international headlines as a conscientious objector, faced sedition charges and been removed from his position in student government.
“If the education here is good, why do teachers have to be afraid of students who raise questions? We are afraid of many things in Thailand: afraid of the military junta and getting in trouble,” he explains, admitting that “it can be very dangerous to live like an activist,” which is why so many of his peers keep a low profile.
He believes that older people are less willing to take risks since it isn’t their own future they’re fighting for. Young activists, meanwhile, push for change because they don’t rely on what hasn’t worked so far.
His greatest hope? “That Thai society will be more open and that more people will challenge the power” of the junta. “We can create that change,” he says with a confident nod. “For our future and for our human dignity, we have to fight.” Micaela Marini
Photo by Corinna Kern
Noa Golan – 19, anti-occupation, Israel
For new recruits, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is not only an army but a rite of passage: one that smooths your transition into adult society. Choosing not to serve, therefore, marks you out as an other. It can lead to being labelled a threat and even a traitor.
Noa Golan is one of those people, though she never expected to be. Her parents and two older brothers served in the military, so the plan was that she’d follow suit. “My dream was to become a pilot,” says the soft-spoken 19-year-old, sitting in a Tel Aviv cafe. “It went without saying that you joined the army after school.”
But during a scholarship interview for an international high school, a question about Arab refugees from Israel’s 1948 war caught Noa off-guard. “I thought I was very open-minded, very aware,” she says. “But at the age of 16, I had this realisation that I didn’t know much about the conflict’s history. Even though we studied history at school, it was from a very narrow perspective.”
Noa won that scholarship and, for the first time, started getting to know people from countries she considered enemies. Then, with the 2014 Gaza War as a backdrop, Noa’s new peers questioned her about Israel’s actions. That’s when she realised that serving would feel antithetical to her values. “Even for me, it took a long time to accept that I wouldn’t join.”
Photo by Corinna Kern
What followed was a year-long fight for an exemption. As a conscientious objector, Noa had to defend her principles before a committee of seven male officers. When her claims were rejected (twice), she was sent to military prison and appealed for a new hearing. The process put enormous strain on her family, who endured extensive abuse over the controversy.
“Even though my family disagreed with me, they respected me for being loyal to my truth,” says Noa, who absorbed the brunt of the backlash, even in prison. “One girl came up to me and said, ‘We’re not going to talk, we’re going to fight.’ I replied, ‘No, we’re going to be friends.’”
Today, Noa sees her path as one of advocacy. Now a volunteer community manager at a youth centre, she eventually wants to become a marketing strategist for NGOs. Young people, she says, are often afraid to talk about politics, but if individuals like herself continue to take a stand, others will follow. “[Our generation] have to be optimists,” she says. “We don’t have a choice. We’re not allowed to give up.” Rebecca Greig
Female-founded, independent alternative magazines have been disrupting and adding to UK society for decades. In celebration of this, the likes of Spare Rib, gal-dem, Mushpit, Sabat, Fruitlands, ROMP, Riposte, Hotdog, Ladybeard, Burnt Roti, Orlando, and Beauty Papers are all being celebrated in an upcoming show in London – Print! Tearing it Up – alongside other radical publications that have helped push things forward.
It all began with the seminal Spare Rib, a second wave feminist magazine considered so “dangerous” by the establishment that it was banned from many newsstands in the ’70s. Fo co-founder Marsha Rowe, magazines offered a way out of the secretarial career “box” she found herself in during the era as a young woman.
Rowe moved from Australia to London in 1969, where she began working at the UK arm of satirical magazine Oz. After attending the first UK Women’s Liberation Conference in 1970, she organised a meeting of women in the underground, alternative press.
“What we realised was that we did all the service work – the admin, the typing, looking after men at home,” she remembers. “We weren’t all mothers or housewives, but we were all kept in secondary positions. It all splurged out at that meeting.”
Soon after, Rowe founded Spare Rib along with Rosie Boycott. It was a ‘women’s magazine’ – but with stories told from an entirely new angle. “The women’s movement was just beginning to grow,” she says. “We weren’t even seen as part of it at first – we’d come out of the underground press and we were still wearing makeup and platform shoes! – but gradually [Spare Rib] became the voice of the women’s movement on the newsstands.”
“My aim was so much to reach out to women who were not in the women’s movement, and have a dialogue, just how I’d found a way to escape through magazines.”
Spare Rib was radical not just in its actual content but its unique, surprising combination of content: usual women’s mag features (fashion, fiction, interviews) alongside hard news – something unheard of at the time. “Everything was from a completely alternative angle,” says Rowe. “Slightly anti-consumerist, ‘do it yourself’, even featuring jeans was seen as rebellious.”
The magazine helped shape the national media, putting subjects like sexuality, work, motherhood, and feminism, intersectionality, racism and violence against women (and the mere fact that women want to read news) into the mainstream conversation, and towards women outside of the academic debate.
“We were in the middle of transforming ourselves while we were doing it, it was really idealistic and hopeful,” Rowe adds. “All the men we knew were threatened – we wanted to talk to ourselves, we weren’t their audience anymore.”
THIIIRD magazine – now on its third issue – also pushes forward topics often overlooked by mainstream, society: celebrating intersectionality, cultural heritage and diversity in fashion, arts and society. The publication was founded by what they call ‘third culture children’ – Nigerian/British; Iranian/Brazilians, Italian/American, Cape Verdean/Portuguese, St Lucian/Jamaican/Ghanian, Swiss and English – with an aim to create a magazine offering more on shared cultures, voices and sexualities.
The desire to create this came partly from lack of authentic people telling those stories from a place of first-hand experience. “That is the spirit of THIIIRD, championing the underdog or those marginalised by the mainstream, celebrating stories missing or not treated in the right way,” says Editor-In-Chief Rhona Ezuma.
Ezuma thinks that THIIIRD is uniquely placed to talk about the topics it covers, in part due to being led by a woman of colour. “I think there’s something about when the underdog has control, publications are run a certain way,” she says. “I’m a woman, but I’m also a black woman, so we can relate to a lot of communities.”
“We’re touching base with the LGBTQ community. We’re not directed purely to women – we’re for non-binary people, and for men as well. I think sometimes being a woman, and a black woman, I’m given access and trust that I might not get otherwise. People feel safe with us and I think that’s quite special.”
Ezuma gives the example of their Femme issue, directed at femininity but without being directed simply at women. She also cites publications like gal-dem and Riposte as connecting to THIIIRD’s ethos.
gal-dem – written by women of colour, for all – definitely shares plenty of THIIIRD’s values, not least in the way it celebrates underrepresented voices. The magazine has gained national attention – its writers appearing on shows like Newsnight, curating and featuring in events at institutions like the V&A and Tate Modern, and featuring in mainstream publications like the Guardian and Vogue – which means its message is gaining a wide audience.
Deputy Editor Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff says: “I now know that there were plenty of feminist zines and publications like Spare Rib which came before us, but while gal-dem‘s creation was obviously influenced by society and culture at large, we didn’t take any specific inspiration when it came to how we presented ourselves as a magazine.”
“We were doing something which felt right and natural as women of colour and non-binary people of colour who hadn’t seen themselves represented in the media. I’m still learning about the history of radical magazines made by women but I do believe that gal-dem will be in the history books one day.”
Burnt Roti is another women-led magazine pushing forward untold stories from an underrepresented community: it is created by South Asians, with a mission to celebrate South Asian talent.
Editor-in-Chief Sharan Dhaliwal founded the magazine after having a nose job a few years ago and conversations following on from that about body hair and the kind of plastic surgery that potentially wipes out a person’s visible ethnicity. “When I started opening up about these aspects of my life, I found people who followed me would reach out to me, thanking me, telling me how desperately they needed to hear it from someone else,” she remembers.
Burnt Roti gives readers a space in which to connect and discuss the issues that are specific to them. “How weird it was we initially disliked our mother’s smelly Indian food and now ask them for the recipe,” Dhaliwal gives as an example. “We connect through stories and our mission now is to connect more in person. We hold more events and after our exhibition [The Beauty of Being British Asian] we noticed how important it is to connect people. We had queues going around the block, lasting for two hours and people didn’t complain. In fact, I heard them say, ‘We’re not leaving, there’s nowhere else for us to go to experience this’.”
Burnt Roti also reaches out to wider society, and resonates especially with people from other immigrant communities. Dhaliwal (who also works in video production, graphic design and illustration) also feels that it’s important magazines like hers help address the underrepresentation of women – especially women of colour – at the top of creative organisations and careers.
“Female-led organisations can address this with high-level decisions on equality and pay,” she says. “Decision-making is important here, because the male-led industry makes decisions on privileged authority, whereas women tend to be aware and therefore work on problem-solving these areas.”
Another female-led publication filling a void in the magazine world is Ladybeard. The team (made up of seven) speak as a collective rather than one individual, which goes some way to demonstrate its alternative take on issues.
“We started the magazine to challenge the problematic messages peddled by mainstream glossies,” the team says. “We loved the feel and weight of these magazines but hated the way they made us feel. We wanted to create something that was covetable and beautiful but that opens up questions and offers a range of perspectives.”
“We want it to be a place of play rather than a bible that tells you how to live, what to wear, how to look. We take big, over-represented topics like sex and beauty, and open them up to fresh feminist perspectives.”
Borne from a similar, more mainstream vein, The Mushpit – with its young, very female voice and striking DIY aesthetic – creates something that had a familiar tone of voice to the founders’ specific community (young women, in London) but also useful.
Bertie Brandes, one of the editors, says: “We grew up reading Mizz and J17 but also loved Private Eye and the Onion. There didn’t seem to be an in-between, to be relevant in the same way that those teen girls magazines had been but also funny, smart and satirical, even political, like those other magazines.”
They consciously positioned their magazine between those two groups, covering topics like advice on attending the local sexual health clinic alongside helping to organise fun beauty sessions for the girls and women of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. “A voice of irreverent femininity. Kind of ‘take no shit’ but also super vulnerable and complex,” says Brandes. “I hope that’s something that comes through.”
The charming naivety of Mushpit’s design echoes the Xeroxed DIY zines of the ’70s-’90s. “We took the tools we had available to us – a cracked InDesign – and put it together in the quickest, most spontaneous way,” adds Brandes. “We had no design training or experience.”
Brandes talks about community – everything Mushpit does is “infused” with the voice of this group, the in-jokes and knowledge and experiences of what it is like to be part of that community – and that’s what shines through each the stories of these radical, women-led magazines. It’s all about community.
Since the days of Spare Rib the fight to push forward the voices of women, women of colour, LGBTQ women and non-binary people, has been fought by those in the independent, radical press. This summer’s show at Somerset House demonstrates how the fight is far from over: in fact, it’s just getting started.
Each morning, the skies above Nepal’s second city of Pokhara are speckled with dozens of distant silhouettes of paragliders. Against the dramatic backdrop of the Annapurna Himalaya Range, they twist, swoop and gracefully interlace their flight paths above the lake below.
From a distance, Trisha Shrestha Bomjan looks indistinguishable from the other silhouetted flecks. But she is different. Four years ago, at the age of 25, Bomjan made history and qualified as Nepal’s first female paraglider pilot. Now looking to compete in her first international competition this summer, she’s breaching new frontiers for women in adventure sports in the country.
Bomjan remembers her first solo flight vividly. Not the take-off or landing, but the intense, liberating ecstasy of cruising above Phewa Lake in her hometown of Pokhara, with the streets and livestock and buildings she knew so well drifting silently below her.
“It felt like I was touching the stars that day,” she remembers. “I felt like this is what I’m meant to do, and I didn’t want to ever come down.”
That was the beginning of her career, when she was 21 years old and determined to make her living from tandem flying with tourists in the resort town. However, despite marrying the founder and owner of popular company Sunrise Paragliding in 2010, this ambition proved surprisingly difficult for Bomjan.
Traditionally, women and girls in Nepal are raised to be homemakers, wives and mothers. According to the World Bank 2017, three quarters of unpaid family labour force in the country are comprised of women, with 76 per cent of women engaged in agricultural work, household based extended economic activities, and household maintenance (compared to just 50 per cent of men).
The country is a mecca for adventure sports, trekking and adrenaline activities – but for all those employed in the sector, only a small fraction are women. A Nepali woman becoming a pilot is controversial, but that fact motivated Bomjan to succeed in a career synonymous with danger and masculinity.
“My husband wasn’t sure about my training to fly tandem,” Bomjan explains. “He definitely didn’t want to teach me. Even when I was learning to ride a motorbike he was teaching me sat behind me always worried I was going to get hurt. He was a real backseat driver.”
Although physical fitness and height aren’t indicators of skill in paragliding, Bomjan has been faced with challenging male clients who are sceptical of her ability when they see her tiny 5ft 3 frame.
“I manage the pilots and pair them with clients when we get to to the take off point at Sarangkot,” she says. “All the time when I have men that are put with me they say ‘you’re the pilot?’ and they’re surprised and want to go with a man. So I have to pass them to my colleagues. I don’t understand it.”
It’s not the first time Bomjan has had to contend with other people’s judgement. Her mother and two sisters continually questioned her decision to learn to fly, and often tried to get her to give it up to become and homemaker. Yet despite that resistance, Bomjan remained resolute – even when she became a mother herself.
After falling pregnant in 2014, she gave up flying in her second trimester – but says she thought about it every day.
“I was so wanting to get back up in the air,” she remembers. “After three months of having my daughter I went back out again and when she turned two I took her on her first tandem flight.”
The opportunity for new challenges in her sport has been scarce. Competitions in speed, accuracy and acrobatics are divided into male and female categories. But with only six female pilots in the country – five other women have qualified as paragliders in the last four years, but Trisha remains the only certified tandem pilot – competing can become heated. “I think if we get to 20 female pilots then that will be good for Nepal in the next couple of years,” Bomjan says.
In August, she will be travelling to Java, Indonesia to compete in her first international acrobatic paragliding competition, where she will be representing Nepal.
When asked how she feels about being a role model for other women and girls who want to carve a living for themselves in Nepal’s lucrative adventure travel industry, Bomjan pauses before breaking out into a huge grin.
“I’m very proud of myself to do something that isn’t normal for girls. I’m not cooking and cleaning and staying indoors. I want to be a good example for my daughter.”
On October 15, 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton – two students at Laney College in Oakland, California – founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) to protect the citizens of their hometown from abuses of the state.
Under the protection of the Second Amendment, they created armed citizens’ patrols to monitor an almost all white police force that regularly brutalised African Americans citizens with impunity. From their grassroots efforts, a nationwide movement was born – one that radicalised a new generation of youth to fight for their Constitutional rights.
The BPP set up chapters in 68 cities in order to implement the Ten Point Platform and Program, which called for freedom, full employment, reparations, housing, education, military exemption, an end to police brutality and murder, freedom for the incarcerated, Constitutional rights during trial, and full self-determination.
The leaders of the BPP had mastered the law, and knew exactly how to exact the rights granted by the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This – combined with their ability to build coalitions with other political groups including the Young Lords, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the American Indian Movement, and the Chicano Workers Movement – created a very real threat to the systemic racism that had kept these groups vulnerable, marginalised, and living under constant threat.
Robert Wade, Connie Matthews, Copenhagen, Denmark 1969, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the BPP “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Unable to fight the Party legally, Hoover organized COINTELPRO, an illegal operation of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and ultimately murder, in order to destabilise, discredit, and criminalise the Party – killing and imprisoning countless members while driving others out of the country.
Yet, despite the systemic decimation of the BPP by the government, their legacy has inspired countless activists, artists, writers, and community organisers to pick up the pieces of what remains. In 2016, Michelle Dunn, the Executive Director of the Photographic Centre Northwest, was invited to edit the book All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party (Minor Matters) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the BPP.
Dunn realized that the majority of projects about the Party were created by Caucasian photographers, and realised what she really wanted to see. “I contacted 30 artists who were Black or part of the African diaspora and asked, ‘Do you feel any connection between your work and the Black Panther Party?’” she reveals.
Lewis Watts, Graffiti, West Oakland, 1993, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
16 artists responded positively. From here, Dunn and her colleague Megarra A. Kudumu began to edit the book, which includes submissions from Hank Willis Thomas, Derrick Adams, Ayana v. Jackson, Carrie Mae Weems, and Mickalene Thomas.
“The Panthers were a youth movement, and that is really important right now,” she explains. “More than three-quarters of the artists are under 40. The majority of the artists represented are young. This is not about the past, it’s very much about the present and the future.”
“In 2016, the project was about reminding people of the importance of the Party and what it stood for. In 2018 I have come to a greater, more nuanced understanding of the importance of the narrative as part of American history.”
Endia Beal, Sabrina and Katrina, 2015, from “Am I What You’re Looking For?”, courtesy of the artist, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
The BPP’s impact, which serves as a conscious model as well as an invisible thread between generations, is being further honoured with an exhibition of that same name now on view at the Photographic Centre Northwest, Seattle, through June 10, 2018.
The exhibition reveals the ways in which conversations can further advance our understanding of the issues at the heart of the Ten Point Platform and Program. “When we were making the book, Endia Beale didn’t see the connection between the Am I What You are Looking For? series and the subject of full employment in the communities,” Dunn notes.
“But we had a lot of conversations, so when it came to the exhibition, I asked her again to include the series because I think she visualised something difficult to show: discrimination and access to employment. It’s a very abstract idea to illustrate in a photograph and she has done so in a very powerful way… This exhibition is not a celebration of the past: this is looking to the future.”
Robert Wade, California, 1969-1970, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Wait! Wait! Don’t Shoot! (An Incantation for Trayvon and Jazz), 2013–14, courtesy of the artist, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Ayana Jackson, Leapfrog series: Martha, 2016, courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Seattle, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Bruce Bennett, Center 4, Bronzeville, Chicago, 2013, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Endia Beal, Kennedy, 2016, from “Am I What You’re Looking For?”, courtesy of the artist, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 201
Ayana Jackson, Leapfrog series: Sentinel, 2016, courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Seattle, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
Bruce Bennett, Center 2, Bronzeville, Chicago, 2013, courtesy of the photographer, from “All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party,” PCNW 2018
At the crack of dawn three times a week, Craig Mitchell leads a group of 30 or so runners – many of them homeless and recovering from addiction – past the tents, sleeping bags and shopping carts that make up Skid Row, the infamous 50-block area of Los Angeles that harbours 57,000 of the city’s homeless population.
The route starts and ends at the city’s Midnight Mission, a shelter with a focus on recovery and self-sufficiency, which currently houses hundreds eager to start anew (many of them recent parolees). Once the run ends, Mitchell heads to court, where he slips on a black robe for his role as a Superior Court Judge for Los Angeles County.
“It is obviously unusual,” Mitchell tells me. “Some of my colleagues look at me and sort of scratch their head. A lot of judges like to keep a very distinct distance between themselves and the people they deal with in a professional capacity. But that’s not who I am.”
Aged 62, and the founder of the Skid Row Running Club, Mitchell bears the heavy stoop of a runner of two decades, but the lean physique of a man half his age. His fitness came relatively late in life, having taken up running in his forties following years of bouncing between careers (limo driving, security and a brief dalliance with priesthood are among the colourful occupations on his CV).
Skid Row Marathon Official Trailer (In cinemas 9th May) - YouTube
After 17 years of teaching at a Catholic high school in Los Angeles, Mitchell enrolled in night classes at a local law school. He flexed his legal muscles as a criminal prosecutor in the 1990’s, before being elected to serve as a judge in 2005. He quickly became known locally as a judge with surprising amounts of empathy for those in his court, staying in contact with many of the men and women he sentenced to jail.
Spotting Mitchell’s empathy was Roderick Brown, a parolee who Mitchell had sentenced in the late 2000’s, who came to him shortly after he was released. Paroled into the care of the Mission, Brown invited Mitchell to one of his sobriety classes to participate in his recovery. While there, Mitchell was asked to contribute ideas for aiding the recovery of more of the Mission’s residents. That’s when the running club was born.
What began as an early-morning ritual for five or six of the residents quickly blossomed into a recovery programme in and of itself. In its seven years of existence, the Skid Row Running Club has assisted in helping hundreds of men and women improve their mental and physical health and re-enter society after years of addiction and incarceration.
Mitchell describes running as “cheap therapy” and a major asset to his own physical and psychological well-being – something that he believed would be helpful to others in search of purpose back in 2011.
“People who are addicts, who are homeless, who have criminal histories – they’re not proud of where their life has gone,” he explains. “They’ve often been rejected by family, relationships have collapsed, employers don’t want anything to do with them – so they don’t feel too good about themselves. And in order to venture out there, and take the risks that are necessary to succeed professionally and to succeed in relationships, you need some level of self-esteem, or self-confidence, and that’s critical.”
“For so many of the people who are on Skid Row, it’s been a long time since they’ve had some significant successes in their life. So then to work in a programme that trains them to get ready to run 26.2 miles and then to do that as a collective, where you’ve got a lot of people who care about you or are rooting you on – that is a phenomenal feeling.”
Mitchell and his running club are now the subjects of a new documentary, Skid Row Marathon, which follows the journeys of several of the Mission’s residents, along with Mitchell’s own work alongside it.
In the film, Mitchell’s wife Juliet, with whom he has three children, suggests that her husband’s involvement with the club works as a “counterweight” to his work on the bench – an occupation largely guided by federal sentencing guidelines that he often struggles with. Mitchell says that he agrees with his wife’s assessment.
“Much of what I have to do in the courtroom setting is punitive in nature,” he explains. “And what I do in the running club is restorative. It’s encouragement, it’s constructive.”
He’s not motivated by guilt, he says, but adds: “There is a weightiness, or an acknowledgement that your decisions play out and define a person’s life in a way that you or I wouldn’t want our lives to play out. Obviously, if someone murders somebody or someone rapes or sexually assaults another person, I understand what I do is necessary, that that person for at least a period of time needs to be removed from the larger community. But I also have no delusions. I have been and continue to visit some of the worst prisons in our state, and I know where I’m sending the folks that I sentence.”
Mitchell credits his empathy to his late mother, a politically-minded woman who succumbed to a terminal illness when Mitchell was 10 years old. Told by doctors that she would have just six months to live, Mitchell’s mother ended up living for six years longer than anybody expected, determined to use the time she had left to instil a strong social consciousness in her children.
“We came essentially from a Roman Catholic and Presbyterian combination [family], but she made sure we went to Mosques, we went to Jewish Synagogues,” he remembers. “We tried to experience the diversity of Los Angeles. It was all part of her plan, to condense what normally would have been 18/20 years of parenting into a very brief period of time.”
Today, both Mitchell and the Mission help finance the running club, paying for kit and overseas trips themselves. They’re joined by public donations and investment from Los Angeles professionals, including business owners, lawyers and executives, who also join in with the runs. The Mission assists further with helping find employment, housing and educational opportunities for those recovering within their walls.
Among the recovering individuals featured in Skid Row Marathon are Ben Shirley; a former bassist for the punk band U.P.O., who dreams of studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Mody Diop; a Senegalese former academic attempting to remain sober while managing a luggage store, a venture enabled by a mentor from the running club.
“We’re a running club, and that is sort of the hook and what we do together, but on a much more important level it is a community,” Mitchell says. “It’s a group of folks that on any given day can break off into smaller groups. Friendships form – it’s the network that collapses often times when a person becomes a captive of their addiction. So to rekindle that and rebuild that structure within a person’s life is necessary if one is going to get off the street.”
Thanks in part to the documentary, Mitchell says that he now regularly receives calls from charities and 12-step programmes in other US states enquiring about setting up their own running clubs. He also speaks highly of the Manchester and London-based organisation The Running Charity, which provides fitness programmes and kit for homeless and disadvantaged youth between the ages of 16 and 24.
As for his group’s own work, they’re about to hold a meeting to decide what country they want to travel to next. Since 2013, the Skid Row Running Club has participated in several overseas marathons, from Ghana to Rome to Vietnam. Their last marathon, held in Jerusalem, saw 44 runners from the Mission taking part, and Mitchell hopes the next journey will involve even more.
“As soon as we got back from Jerusalem, [everyone was asking] ‘Where are we going next year?’” he says. “It’s a powerful incentive to keep these guys on the straight and narrow. A good number of our runners have never been on an aeroplane before, so it’s like watching kids on Christmas morning, them entering the airport with their luggage, ‘Oh my god, this is really happening!’”
But that’s next week’s agenda. Right now, Mitchell’s mind is elsewhere. The morning of our phone call, Mitchell met a young man named Joshua while at the Mission, and knows exactly how to help him.
“He wants to join the running club, so I’m gonna get him a pair of shoes and I’m going to have those shoes ready for him on Monday.”
A new magazine is raising money to support people affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy by talking about and celebrating London’s diverse young creative community.
Off The Block – a print magazine – features opinion, music, fashion, poetry from London firefighters, photography, art, and even diary entries from Londoners written the night of the disaster. The first issue includes interviews with young London artists like Cosmo Pyke and Kojey Radical, as well a host of other creatives.
The magazine has two aims. One is to keep the Grenfell tragedy at the forefront of Londoners’ minds: why it happened, the government’s response to it, and the impact on local community, as well as community action. The other is to give a platform to young creative Londoners who they feel are doing important things, while showcasing the city’s creative innovation and diversity.
100 per cent of profits from the magazine will go to those affected by Grenfell. Its founder – Francesco Loy Bell, 21-years-old, from West London – was struck by the pulling-together of the community in the aftermath of the tragedy, and the positive work of charities like the Rugby Portobello Trust and projects like Grenfell Voices. He felt a print magazine with Grenfell at its heart could be another part of the healing process, as well as a way of raising much-needed funds.
“This sounds clichéd, but I think it is absolutely vital that conversations like these are had on as many platforms as possible,” says Francesco.
“In the first issue, many of our interviews cover Grenfell, among other social issues, and having our readers see these young, creative people actually taking an interest and voicing their opinion on these matters will hopefully help inspire wider consideration, and ultimately change.”
Some of the most powerful features in Off The Block #1 include diary entries from Caleb Femi, a poet who grew up on the North Peckham Estate, infamous for its own tragedy – the murder of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor in 2000. Up until recently, Caleb was the Young People’s Laureate for London; he submitted diary passages from the night of the fire, and at two subsequent points in the months following it. “They are incredibly moving,” says Francesco. “So raw, and his writing is haunting but unbelievably beautiful.”
Another feature demonstrating the emotion of Londoners in response to the tragedy is a poem by Ricky Nuttall – a firefighter who was at Grenfell. He speaks to the sorrow and emptiness felt by many affected by the fire, as well as the pain of knowing there were people he couldn’t save.
Off The Block is fun, hopeful and forward-looking too. With Stüssy and Nike shoots, it reflects a streetwear aesthetic embraced by many young Londoners – of all backgrounds – and is mindful to be fully representative of the community it is trying to reflect. Photography editor Meara Kallista Morse, 25 – who’s worked with Nike, New Balance, Wonderland and Clash magazine – says the magazine is “more than a publication” – she believes it’s a “catalyst for creativity” and “a voice for social issues and change”.
“London’s creatives are some of the best in the world,” says Meara. “I’m really honoured to be able to meet them and use the voice I have to create imagery that’s also helping people. I’ve always been taught to give back whenever possible.”
With a second issue in the pipeline – which will focus on social issues here as well as beyond the UK – Off The Block is set to give back plenty.
Learn more about Off The Block, and buy your copy, on the zine’s official website.