Black History Month 2022: Celebrating the change makers of today

Black History Month 2022: Celebrating the change makers of today

Black History Month is a chance for us to reflect both on our organisation’s history as it’s currently recorded, and how we can preserve and honour contributors today.

October has been Black History Month since 1987. In that time, how we celebrate the month has changed, with us increasingly seeing it as an opportunity to ask ourselves how we are contributing to Black people within our community being honoured and remembered for their achievements.

Black History Month is a chance for us to reflect both on our organisation’s history as it’s currently recorded, and how we can preserve and honour contributors today so that future generations know the difference they are making.

As an organisation that holds a historical archive we have a responsibility – to both fill gaps in our records as a result of some people’s stories and achievements being valued more than others, and to create opportunities for people to thrive, and their achievements celebrated and preserved. We can’t in good conscience just do this work in October – this is a part of our equality work all year round.

In this post, we want to offer you the opportunity to:

  • Learn about some brilliant Black people from our history
  • Hear about people doing great work today
  • Make your contribution by telling us stories we may not have recorded yet

There are some extraordinary people whose stories are in our archive:

Joe Hunte who ran The Council of Citizens of Tower Hamlets (CCTH) to “foster understanding and goodwill between immigrant citizens and the community as a whole and provide opportunities for people of all nationalities”

Benjamin Boateng, a Ghanaian law student, who established the Commonwealth Students Children’s Society.

Dr. Omar Elmi Dihod who established the Somali Counselling Project at Toynbee Hall in 1986

But there are also people missing – so this month we asked our team members to nominate Black people and Black-led organisations doing powerful, inspiring and vital community work, at or with Toynbee Hall or in the communities we work with.

Here are some of the people in POC-led organisations nominated by our team, who are making an impact on the lives of East Londoners today. The information below will be added to our archive – so future historians know the difference they made.

Bridge the Gap Families in Need CIC

“When the pandemic hit, children without access to the internet at home had to deal not only with the stress of parents losing work, isolation from friends, and grief, but they were also excluded from education. Melissa didn’t miss a beat in organising a community of people to fundraise and get donations of equipment, giving families a much-needed lifeline. “

Bridge the Gap Families in Need CIC combat digital & educational inequality in Hackney.

Numbi Arts

Numbi Arts are an organisation that celebrates the global and local voices that don’t have the materials or platform to express their voices. They have been working for decades to preserve Somali culture and heritage and create unity among a displaced group of people through creativity and joy. They have been a stalwart presence on the East London cultural scene for three decades & have a back catalogue of inclusive and exciting programming, education workshops and creating opportunities for local people including youth leadership education and work skills programmes for 18-24 years olds From Tower Hamlets and of Somali background.

To give the people they work with a sense of ownership and belonging by contributing their personal stories to a permanent collection, Numbi Arts have created the first Somali Museum and archive in England.

Numbi Arts are valued partners and critical friends across several areas of Toynbee Hall’s work, and as well as the value they deliver in their direct work have influenced our practice for the better.

Art and Heritage for social change poster
Poster for our When We Speak Art and Heritage For Social Change Workshop with Numbi Arts

Khem Productions

Khem Productions empower and inspire the Black community by reviving and retelling forgotten history through stories.

We had the honour of working with Khem Productions on our recent Heritage Day – Rewrite, Reclaim: Celebrating a Rich & Inspiring History of Melanated People.

During the day, our halls were transformed and visitors were guided by historical figures throughout the ages, who shared their stories, culture and journeys through time.

There were also workshops on Amulet Making, African Dancing, A live reading of the play ‘Out of Time’ by Reuben Massiah, an Open Mic and a pop-up market of black-owned businesses and organisations in a pop-up market.

Khem Productions use the mediums of theatre, workshops and short films to celebrate black culture and share knowledge from our past to create our future. 

Coffee Afrik CIC

Back in 2018, Coffee Afrik CIC launched the first-ever Somali crisis café, serving homeless people, domestic victim-survivors, and those battling addiction. The café grew to provide peer support to people who are feeling distressed by having someone to talk to in a relaxed, non-clinical setting, with specialist support staff. Now they are a catalyst for positive change in East London, reducing health inequalities and offering education and outreach, food co-ops and much more whilst creating good noise and good trouble to magnify intersectional issues.

In response to the pandemic, Coffee AFRIK didn’t stop and they provided food parcels for 6877 clients and carried out 2866 befriending at safe distance visits.

Earlier this year, in response to Nationality and Borders Bill and its negative impact on minoritised communities, our When We Speak youth programme held an event in partnership with local organisations including Coffee Afrik CIC  and others such as South Asian Solidarity, Coffee Afrik, Restless Beings, BARAC and Migrants Organise entitled “We wear our passports on our faces…”.

Crowd gathered inside Toynbee Hall at the We Wear our Passports on our faces event
Packed audience at Toynbee Hall for the ‘We wear our Passports on our Faces’ event.

This event helped local people learn more about the Nationality and Borders Bill, and ways that people can mobilise and take action to challenge it and signpost local people to the resources and organisations providing support if they are currently impacted to wider existing hostile environment policies.

Have your say

Who do you think should be included in our list of changemakers for the archive?  If you know a changemaker who has worked or volunteered here that you think should be featured in our archive get in touch with Farha our heritage lead to share it (


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