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The black women who rocked 2016

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE: pop sensation Solange Knowles has released A Seat At The Table

THE PAST year has been yucky for various reasons but women of colour have not stopped being the beacon of lights we are – like lotuses blooming in murky waters.

As the founder of I’mPOSSIBLE, a social enter- prise that aims to educate and empower young black women and which celebrated its seventh anniversary this year, it is a joy uncovering women and girls who are role models to this group and who create safe spaces via live events and social media to help them thrive.

In 2016, there were some wonderful examples of female excellence in business, the arts and technology, among others, and the women highlighted here have, in their own way, made a positive difference to millions of others.


GINA MILLER

Gina Miller, an investment manager and philanthropist, led the “People’s Challenge” against Brexit for her case to be heard in the High Court which forced Prime Minister Theresa May to give MPs a vote before triggering Article 50. Born in Guyana, she grew up in Britain and now based in London. She co- founded SCM Private in 2014.

Putting herself in the firing line for a torrent of despicable racial and sexual abuse so the UK could keep its democracy intact, her experiences have shown us another level of distastefulness of some of those who voted to leave the EU. It doesn’t surprise us that a woman of colour would want to preserve a sense of justice, nor put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard their community’s future.


OPOKU-GYIMAH

In January, Opoku-Gyimah turned down an MBE in the New Year’s honours list and said: “As a trade unionist, a working class girl, and an out, black African lesbian, I want to stand by my principles and values, I don’t believe in empire. I don’t believe in and actively resist colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth, where - among many injustices – LGBTQI people are still being persecuted tortured and even killed because of sodomy laws...that were put in place by British imperialists.”

It’s not often we get a history lesson in UK newspapers, so it was a delight to see this powerful woman of colour telling it like it is.

Bozoma Saint John was the star of Apple’s annual developers event in June (which is usually dominated by middle aged, grey men) by getting the audience of thousands to rap along to the Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight.

The former head of music and entertainment marketing at Pepsi, she joined Apple in 2014 where she led the marketing for Beats. She is on a quest to make Apple Music the next big thing and has already sprinkled her #BlackGirlMagic on our lives by putting Mary J Blige, Kerry Washington and Taraji P Henson in an advert together.

In early December, she picked up the Executive of the Year accolade at the Billboard Women in Music awards and said: “I’d really like to accept this award for the sistahs... the sistahs at Apple who boldly defy the Silicon Valley stereotype every day to be heard.” Keep defying the stereotypes Bozoma, we’re loving it.


LUVVIE AJAYI

SHARP
As we live in a time where the “sharpest tongue gets the room” Luvvie Ajayi can get all the rooms, all the time, everywhere, every day. I met her recently in New York and we bonded over plates of jollof rice (as two self-respecting African girls should). I told her: “I need to wear nappies when I read your posts.” She chuckled – I felt funny.

The irony! Turning the art form of professional shade-thrower into razor-sharp social commentary, a healthy career and a top five New York Times bestseller with her debut book I’m Judging You, The Do-Better Manual, Ajayi is the blueprint on how to turn black women’s default coping mechanisms of humour and linguistic side eyes to a phenomenon that keeps her paid and her readers laughing.


JULIE ADENUGA

Julie Adenuga takes the London helm on Apple’s Beats 1 internet radio station on Friday afternoons. The show called Triple Threat, where the station’s three flagship DJs; Zane Lowe in LA, DJ Ebro in NY and 28-year-old Adenuga in London, all broadcast at the same time.

She was a relatively unknown DJ before this role, whose only previous gig was on Rinse FM, but she was known in wider grime circles as the sister of JME and Skepta. Her headline role on the station is hugely impressive when you consider her age and who the other DJs are.


MERCEDES BENSON

Mercedes Benson is a social media manager by day at Google UK and an entrepreneur by night. Benson launched her popular, self-titled style blog, mercedesfbenson, and founded the terribly cool and unique music platform FutureSNDS, which celebrates new talent in the UK. Born and raised in London, Benson started out as a PR intern for Puma and then moved to Adidas, where she honed her skills to become an influencer. She now consults for numerous brands telling them what’s cool and what’s next.

No self-respecting music lover was not bumping Solange’s A Seat At The Table since its release. The album has rightfully become the soundtrack to resilience, self-determination and not giving a damn for the woman of colour.

Back in 2013, Solange was slammed on Twitter for saying how white journalists writing about R&B need to know about the singer, Brandy.

TURNING POINT
From those tweets, she was asked to appear on the New York Times podcast to further elaborate – she declined. But two white male journalists went on to discuss the situation without her and said: “I went to Solange’s concert and I noted who her audience was... And if I were her, I’d be careful of making these statements, because I’d be careful not to bite the hand that feeds me.”

Solange recently admitted that those words were a turning point in the writing of the album. On her track Don’t You Wait, she claps back with “Now, I don’t want to bite the hand that’ll show me the other side, no / But I didn’t want to build the land that has fed you your whole life, no / Don’t you find it funny?” WHERE.IS.THE. LIE?


CYNTHIA ERIVO

Cynthia Erivo is a 29-year- old south Londoner with the voice of an angel who has taken New York’s Broadway by storm. Starring as Celie in the play, The Color Purple, Erivo nabbed ‘Best Actress in a Mu- sical’ at this year’s prestigious Tony Awards.

Michaela Coel is a returnee to the I’mPOSSIBLE women of the year list, but how could we not include her again? Chewing Gum has just gone global on Netflix and our American cousins are waking up to what British Black Girl Magic looks like, while laugh- ing and scratching their heads at the same time. We’re super excited that she’s returning with season 2 in January. Oh, and she picked up a Bafta, too.

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