“Every year around this time, just out there on Portobello Road, skin is out and traffic is slowed for a parade of feathers, thighs and Black skin, who would shake and dance as if England was not the country they were in,” begins Marley Muirhead, standing in front of a socially distanced, masked up audience in the grand Electric Cinema, in London’s Notting Hill. She’s delivering her spoken word piece ‘How Many of You Know about Carnival?’, about one of the UK’s largest celebrations of Black culture that was called off for the first time in more than 50 years in 2020 - a year where Black people need some celebration more than ever.
Marley’s poem continues, grounding this in the uncomfortable truths of British Blackness: “As if here wasn’t where, ‘You don’t look like that’s your car’ and as if here wasn’t where, ‘You know you’re probably better off not being too dark’. As if here wasn’t the land of stop and searches, second glances and squandered predicted grades. As if here wasn’t where big lips and arse are beautiful, unless they are on you.”
Her performance is part of the Create Not Hate showcase
- unveiling the first work to come from the initiative founded by Quiet Storm’s Trever Robinson, which aims to see marginalised young people across the capital being coached by experts from the worlds of advertising, TV, film, design, digital and online media. Marley’s one of the mentors from the scheme, a creative at the School of Communications Arts who, with her creative partner Chris Medford, devised the idea of helping young people create a selection of anti-racist messaging to mark the Carnival weekend.
“A lot of it is about giving the youth a base,” says Chris. “We didn’t know how we wanted it to look, we didn’t know the vehicle. We just wanted to share our skills and give the kids a platform to speak. Everything that’s happening at the moment with Black Lives Matter and all the protests, plus the Covid situation - there’s this whole clusterfuck of shit. It’s hard to get your voice out there.”
They pair felt compelled to be part of something to make an impact. “Being Black we don’t really have a choice but to be aware of the things that need to change in the world around race,” says Marley. “We can’t sit here having learnt what we’ve learnt, feel this passion about doing something and not do anything. It’s that same creative call people might get with an advert or piece of branded content that we felt in the wake of this trauma. We wanted to give the kids an outlet to actually change something.”
The duo had met Trevor, who had founded Create Not Hate back in 2007, as part of their advertising course. And even though the Carnival deadline was only about two months away, he was on board. In his pithy, characteristically humble introduction to the work on the cinema’s stage he says, “my industry is getting pretty stale. They don’t have the talent.”
Thankfully, the Create Not Hate programme has found plenty of talent the industry would do well to listen to. Working with Debate Mate, Masbro Youth Centre and Merton Council, the brief of honouring ‘anti-racism and fellowship’ was put to young Londoners who’d previously given the ad industry no consideration.
“I think it’s really good to get the young people’s perspective so that we have a voice and we can control how we’re being seen on TV. Before, we didn’t really think much about it,” says Princess Fuller, aged 16. She wanted to bring her voice to the project when she heard about it, wanting to be part of the momentum that the Black Lives Matter movement has built. “This year’s re-energised a lot of things. Really given people a kick up the butt.”
She and the other participants, aged 13 to 22, were coached by leading figures from advertising, TV, film, design and digital. They brainstormed their ideas and in two months transformed those into multi-media campaign that includes digital display, press, posters, T-shirts and face masks.
Two short films, with the theme, 'That’s not Me', were the idea of Emmanuel Areoye, 17, from Camberwell, and were made with help from Quiet Storm. Together they aim to change people’s perceptions of race by countering negative assumptions, with references spanning everything from Shakespeare to the medical profession.
Create Not Hate T-shirts were designed by Merton 17-year-olds Lilo Jones and Keiran Charles-Chase and Hammersmith 13-year-olds Anis Yahiaoui and Santonio Sinclair, with help from London creative agency Exposure.
“I took the opportunity because of a recent incident that happened to me,” says Kieran. “I felt like I could really express myself through that. From there I was thinking so much. My thought process was like ‘I need to get this done.’”
A series of posters, ‘The Little Things Build Up,’ were also unveiled at the launch. They were designed by Merton 16-year-olds Raphael Azoba and Jaiden Chang alongside Jenelle Fuller, Princess Fuller and Oshea Rumball from Hammersmith, which will be displayed along the route Carnival would usually take.
Jenelle was energised when she began brainstorming about microaggressions with the team at Quiet Storm. “Just thinking about things that were said to us back in the day that we never realised. Now people are becoming more knowledgeable about what a microaggression is, we were able to identify it a bit more. And when you can identify it, you can tackle it. We realised that there’s still work to be done.”
Jaiden brought his personal experiences to the process too. “In our society, we do experience a lot of microaggressions. Being a young Black male - that affects us. Racism, people pushing us in the street, touching our hair. The feeling that we’re judged by the colour of our skin and how we look. That inspired us to create the poster.”
Gabriel, a 16-year-old from Merton, has worked with agency Havas to create a series of ‘We are all human’ face masks, illustrated by Chris from the School of Communications Arts, to send the message that we are all the same under the skin.
The work was always destined to be staggering, says Trevor. “It’s such a meaningful and topical subject matter that I knew the ideas would flood out if we just created the right environment, and that by working with fresh talent we would find new ways to get the anti-racist message across. They communicate in new ways – the great thing about youth is that it is so effortless.”
That said, even he was surprised by the impact it had on him. “I wasn’t prepared for how moving it would be – the work was so strong and the whole experience so powerful. One of the kids turned up to our first session with handcuff marks on his wrist – he’d been stopped and searched on the way there, which is really disturbing.”
Marley found the quality of work a bit of a revelation. “Seeing all these kids come up with stuff that’s so amazing, it makes you feel that you can go and do it. All the faff and politics and barriers are unnecessary,” she says.
The uncompromising rawness was what will stay with Chris. “I want to make more shit to make people uncomfortable. I want people’s arseholes to pucker up,” he laughs. “My work is done once I make stuff and it doesn’t get a reaction, to the point where we’re over it. Until we get there I want to keep making stuff.”
The campaign is a multi-media effort that will include posters, T-shirts, digital display, press ads and face masks, all of which debuted over the bank holiday weekend. Thanks to extensive media support, the work will appear in Metro, Time Out, The Daily Mail, on Spotify, prime poster sites in and around the Carnival route by Jack Arts, and Clear Channel and Posterscope for the Westway Tower – all secured for free thanks to Total Media.
The broad audience his work will reach is heartening for Raphael: “I’d like people to see other people’s perspectives. Other people experience different types of racism to how I do. Think about the killings in America - George Floyd or Jacob Blake - I’ve never personally experienced things like that. And I need to be educated in that, even being a Black boy. Some people are educated into racism. We need to re-educate them to think otherwise.”
Putting those raw anti-racist messages out there with such a potent mix of media behind them is almost certain to make an impact of the lives of those who encounter them, but the impact the process has had on the Create Not Hate participants is plain too. Jenelle loved getting to see what goes into every process of creating a piece of communication like this. “It’s opened our eyes to the fact that this is a pathway we can take. We can do things that are creative,” she says. “I think a lot of people have creative mindsets. It’s knowing how to channel it into something like this. In society, it seems to be getting stale. It’s not really seen as a respected career. Everyone wants to be a doctor or a lawyer. But if you have that opportunity and gateway to pursue it…”
Raphael, who got involved with the scheme through his football club Tooting & Mitcham United, is intrigued to pursue more creative endeavours too: “Before this I’d never thought of taking a path like that because I’d never experienced anything like this. It’s opened my eyes to what happens in the industry. I’d like to experience more.”
Overhearing these 16-year-olds speaking of these new discoveries is exciting to Tooting & Mitcham joint manager Ashley Bosah. “These young people are footballers. Sometimes they don’t see the bigger picture. Now their interest is growing even more. To hear them say that this experience has opened their minds to an interest they didn’t think they had is amazing.
“This experience has shown me more about their characters than I’ve ever seen before. Even how they’re conducting themselves [talking to journalists at a showcase event]. They’re 16. It blows me away. These experiences will enhance their prospects and futures.”
This is what can be achieved with a limited amount of access and time. And Trevor stresses that it needs to continue and scale up, with the help of the industry he’s worked in for decades. “We have barely scratched the surface of this,” he says. “We’ve had lockdowns and the school holidays, so I only approached my old school, Lambeth College, but lots of schools have approached me and now we can start to scale up in all sorts of ways. We also want to work with Debate Mate around the country, go to sports and social clubs, ex-offenders: there are bright, talented people everywhere, we just need to help them get the confidence to share their thoughts and argue their corner.
“It was designed as a scalable model, and I don’t want it just to be about kids from deprived backgrounds. One woman in her 40s just told me that CNH has given her the confidence to go back and try again. And there are a lot of people out there who are doing jobs they don’t love but would be brilliant in advertising.”
There’s more to come from Create Not Hate Soon. Further work, to be debuted during Black History Month in October, will include projects developed in partnership with agencies Ridley Scott Creative Group, Red Brick Road and The Mill. But Trevor’s keen to tout this success to the ad industry as something that they can harness. “Just look at the work we’ve already done and the work that’s about to come out. There are so many fabulous, humorous, accessible ideas, even though racism is a heavy subject.
“We’ve had some amazing partners on the project already, and at the start you can see that everyone looks a bit uncomfortable or intimidated at being out of their comfort zone, but by the end of a session there are so many ideas coming through, everybody is buzzing and feeling a connection,” says Trevor. “The key thing is to change the mindset – it’s not about helping out ‘those poor kids’ but about finding real talent that can help you to sell product, make money, and be more liked by your target audience.”