Black History Month: The Black changemakers and unsung heroes making an impact across Manchester

This weekend marks the start of Black History Month, a chance to shine the light on important people and events that have made an impact yet often tend to be neglected by history.

This year’s Black History Month theme is ‘PROUD TO BE’, encouraging people to celebrate being Black and Brown.

Catherine Ross, the editor of Black History Month UK, said this year’s month-long event comes at a ‘challenging time for many Black and Brown people’ due to increased racism and injustice around the world.

Read more: Mum who ran Great Manchester Run with baby after ‘last minute’ cancellation

“We wanted the theme of Black History Month 2021 to focus on celebrating being Black or Brown,” she explained.

“To inspire and share the pride people have in their heritage and culture – in their own way, in their own words.”

With that in mind, we’re celebrating the changemakers, the unsung heroes and the sheer talent that represents what it’s like to be Black in Manchester in 2021.

From hairdressers, actors, athletes, singers, business owners and interior designers, these are just some of the many people paving the way for future generations.

Damion Burrows

Anyone who has visited Manchester for a night out will be aware of Damion Burrows’ work, even if they aren’t aware of it at the time.

The architect, 48, started out as a bartender at Manto’s on Canal Street in the 90s before a chance opportunity saw him become the bar’s interior designer.

He’s since worked alongside Hacienda’s legendary Paul Conns on designs for gay night Flesh and the iconic Paradise Factory.

Damion Burrows on ‘Your Home Made Perfect’
(Image: BBC / Remarkable TV)

Having studied interior design at Manchester Metropolitan University, Damion went on to head up one of London’s major architecture practices before starting up his own Damion Marcus Burrows Architects practice.

As a BAME owned and managed practice, Damion says his own company is committed to ‘actively increasing diversity within the profession’.

Damion has even appeared on numerous television shows including Grand Designs, How to Live Mortgage Free and Your Home Made Perfect.

Christina Taylor

When her daughter was passed over by a modelling agency, Christina Taylor, 29, from Stretford, decided to set up her own enterprise.

Since July 2019, Sky High Talent has secured jobs for young talent with big name clients such as M&S, Manchester United and BooHoo.

Christina with her son Zayan daughter Xena

Christina was even recently named as one of Business Insider’s 10 female founders of colour to watch in Europe.

“I didn’t expect this success so soon and I feel very grateful,” she said.

“I am looking forward to providing more opportunities to children and I hope this inspires other mums to follow their dreams.”

Marcus Rashford

The last few years has seen Marcus Rashford become more than just a footballer: he’s an activist, a campaigner, a model, an author and, undoubtedly, a changemaker.

The Manchester United star from Wythenshawe has taken on the government numerous times when it comes to campaigning for free school meals, even launching his own food club to help families make use of what they’ve got in the kitchen.

In July, a mural of Rashford in Withington was vandalised after England’s loss in the Euro final.

But instead of becoming further divided, the people of Manchester came together to show solidarity and to turn the act of vandalism into a rally cry of support.

Marcus Rashford
(Image: PA)

His mural was filled with messages of love and encouragement, with Marcus saying: “The communities that always wrapped their arms around me continue to hold me up.

“I’m Marcus Rashford, 23-year-old black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else I have that.

“For all the kind messages thank you. I’ll be back stronger. We’ll be back stronger.”

Lisa Maynard-Atem

Lisa Maynard-Atem is the Manager Director of the Black United Representation Network (BURN) which ‘exists to challenge and tackle racial inequalities impacting people of African Descent across Greater Manchester’.

BURN has, with Lisa’s assistance, helped people climb the ranks over the years within established organisations such as the North West Business Leadership Team and Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership.

Lisa Maynard-Atem

Speaking about BURN, Lisa said: “We are committed to our mission of achieving parity and equality of opportunity for the Black community covering business, education, employment and skills training, to build back better in the post-COVID world.”

Layton Williams

At the age of just 12 years old, actor Layton Williams, from Bury, made history by becoming the first mixed race actor to take on the titular role of Billy Elliott on the West End stage.

Now, he’s touring the UK as the first mixed race actor to take on the role of Jamie in the critically-acclaimed Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

Layton in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
(Image: Johan Persson/Jo Allen PR)

The 26-year-old says that showing queer people how to be their authentic selves is a responsibility he proudly takes upon himself.

“I love being queer, I love telling queer stories,” he told the M.E.N earlier this year.

He added: “A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have rocked up to a premiere in a dress. That really wouldn’t have been something I felt comfortable with doing.

“But now, I’m at a point where I’m like ‘YOLO, baby’. If I want to wear those heels and that dress then I’m just going to do it and I’m going to look hella cute at the same time.”

Sally Penni

Last year, Barrister Sally Penni, from Withington, published an ‘inclusive’ children’s book written with her daughter Maddie, 6, to raise money for the NHS.

Rosie and the Unicorn tells the story of inclusivity and diversity while confirming that ‘heroines can be from anywhere, they can have brown skin and women of colour can hold their own in court’.

Following the success of the book, Sally has now written Where Are You From?, a children’s book celebrating figures from Black British history.

Sally Penni stands defiantly in front of the Marcus Rashford mural
Sally Penni at the Marcus Rashford mural
(Image: Supplied)

“I want my children and others to have a better understanding of what black people have contributed to society here in the UK,” Sally said.

“The book is aimed at all children and explains why black history is everyone’s history. It also explains how children can become an anti-racist ally.”

Nile Henry

In 2014, Nile Henry set up The Blair Foundation to help support young people wanting to have a career in the motorsport industry.

Named after his brother who was struggling to achieve his dream, the foundation is one of the only Black-led electronic kart organisations in the world.

Nile Henry set up the Blair Project in 2014
Nile Henry set up the Blair Project in 2014
(Image: The Blair Project)

The foundation was recently featured in a report by The Hamilton Commission, an initiative set up by Lewis Hamilton, which found that only one per cent of motorsport engineering jobs are held by people from Black backgrounds.

The 26-year-old from Stretford said: “Growing up, we had no Black role models in terms of engineering and business and it’s still a pretty similar position today.

“I thought, well, if I can’t find anybody then maybe I can be that role model for the next generation.”

Khatra Paterson

Mother-of-two Khatra Paterson owns KP Aesthetics in Hale, Cheshire.

Originally from Scunthorpe, Khatra was flown to Somalia at the age of ten and ‘forcibly subjected’ to female genital mutilation (FGM).

(Image: KP Aesthetics)

She has since worked tirelessly campaigning for awareness around the dangers of FGM and has also worked with charities in Africa to help young girls get into education.

Having studied nursing and midwifery, the 53-year-old launched her own business specialising in skin and laser treatments.

“For me its important to give women back their femininity and help them take back control of their bodies,” Khatra said of her campaign work.

“You don’t have to suffer in silence.”

Douggie Lawton

Douggie’s on Princess Road has been a Moss Side landmark since it first opened its doors in 1956.

Owned by Douggie Lawton, it was a hairdressers like no other – adorned with photos of famous faces and often frequented by the world’s biggest football stars.

When Douggie passed away in July, tributes poured in of the ‘well loved gentleman’ and staple figure of the south Manchester community.

Douggie Lawton opened his barbershop in Moss Side in 1956
Douggie Lawton opened his barbershop in Moss Side in 1956
(Image: Tanya Weekes @tanyaweekes

Dr Erinma Bell OBE said of Douggie: “He was very wise and full of wisdom. His barbers was one of those places you could always just go in for a chat.”

Peace activist Raymond Bell added: “Douggie was one of those bridges between the young and the old generation.

“He was able to communicate with us throughout the whole of our lives to tell our stories, share our experiences and know how to conduct ourselves.”

Monique Kufuor

In 2018, Monique Kufuor launched the BOBExpo, a free event that gives a platform to a variety of Black owned businesses.

Her vision shines a spotlight on ethnic-specific products and championing local business owners.

This year’s event, held in Salford, gave more than 100 Black owned brands from across the country the chance to excel and gain exposure.

Monique Kufuor

Speaking about the importance of the event, Monique said: “Black business owners deserve to be in the spotlight and receive support and funding like any other business owner.

“Black-owned brands are unique, high-quality and the result of extremely hard work.”

Raheem Sterling

Originally from Jamaica, Raheem Sterling has become an adoptive Manc since joining Manchester City in 2015.

Named as one of the 100 most influential Black Britons on numerous lists, Raheem was appointed an MBE earlier this year for his services to racial equality in sport.

England’s Raheem Sterling
(Image: PA)

The 26-year-old said at the time: “Receiving this honour is a fantastic feeling and a proud moment – not just for myself but for my family and friends.

“I am grateful to have been recognised but my priority is to try to help to educate society and myself. If it doesn’t start from within, then there’s no way you can help others. I’m learning every day.”

Marcia Hutchinson

Manchester Labour councillor Marcia Hutchinson made headlines this year when she broke rank urging for more clarity in the way Manchester council is run.

The Ancoats and Beswick representative is one of a small handful of councillors – around 30 per cent – from a minority ethnic background in Manchester Council.

Marcia Hutchinson, Councillor for Ancoats and Beswick
(Image: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images, Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

In 2017, Marcia founded the Pipeline Project in a bid to get more Black and African Heritage councillors onto Manchester council.

“African Heritage people are seriously underrepresented,” Marcia said in September.

“I set up the Pipeline Project in 2017 to help rectify this imbalance. Given the fact that African Heritage people make up almost 15% of the population of the city but (in 2017) less than 3% of councillors; I was surprised at the hostility we faced, but we persevered.

“This year (so far) two Pipeline Project Alumni have been shortlisted. Thirza Asanga-Rae in Moss Side and Filly Ali in Ardwick.”

Bandy Kiki

Social media influencer Bandy Kiki, 30, grew up within the Nso tribe in Cameroon. In 2011, she moved to Bolton in order to ‘live openly as a lesbian’.

Blogging since 2015, Bandy has used her ‘fortunate’ opportunity to fight for LGBTQ+ equality – particularly back home in Africa.

Bandy Kiki moved from Cameroon to Bolton in 2011 in order to be able to 'live openly as a lesbian'.
Bandy Kiki moved from Cameroon to Bolton in 2011 in order to be able to ‘live openly as a lesbian’.
(Image: Bandy Kiki)

She is also the co-founder of Rem Clan, a gender-neutral online apparel clothing company inspired by the African and LGBTQ+ community.

Her platform has seen her become a target for death threats and homophobic abuse and it’s something she says is often par for the course.

“When you advocate for LGBT+ rights in a desperately homophobic country, death threats and other toxic messages are typical,” Bandy explains.

“But, I know it is the right thing to do because unchallenged homophobia is extremely dangerous.”

Fitzroy Wallace

Fitzroy Wallace co-founded the Moss Side Tropics basketball team in 1972 and it’s become a crucial place for players to find a ‘sense of belonging and support’ through sport ever since.

Bringing a whole new generation of people to basketball, the club is going from strength to strength with a documentary currently in the works on the Tropics.

Fitzroy Wallace has been head coach and co-founder of the Moss Side Tropics for the last 50 years.
Fitzroy Wallace has been head coach and co-founder of the Moss Side Tropics for the last 50 years.
(Image: Kenny Ogunneye)

“I have always been interested in sport as a vehicle for pulling people together,” coach Fitz said.

“Sport teaches various life skills, team work, trustworthiness ,cooperation, dedication. It’s something to focus on.”

Abba Graham

Abba Graham, from Stockport, is the director of the Ebony and Ivory Community Organisation (EAICO) which helps support young people under 18 from African and Caribbean descent.

Solomon Onaolapo and Abba Graham from Black History in Stockport
(Image: Calder Marley Taylor)

Since its launch in 2009, the group aims to ‘encourage and enable cross-cultural integration amongst young people’.

Last year, the EAICO partnered with Rising Stars North West on a project celebrating the Black community in Stockport.

Speaking to the M.E.N, Abba said of the project: “Maybe the local community will begin to understand us as black people, I think there’s a massive divide within Stockport.

“African and Caribbean communities are on the fringes of everything that happens in Stockport.”


JSKY is a fashion icon, singer, radio DJ and television presenter from Bury.

(Image: Nathan Damour)

Recently named a LGBTQ+ Pioneer of Colour by LGBT Foundation, JSKY refuses to conform and has shown people how liberating it can be when being your true self.

The 34-year-old spoke to the M.E.N last year about the racism he endured growing up in Whitefield and how he boosted his self-esteem through karate lessons.

Alongside releasing music, JSKY recently performed on the Manchester Pride stage and has his own radio show on Gaydio.

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MEN – Stockport