Donna Guthrie and Joel Calvin present Newham Hidden Figures

Tuesday 20 October, 7-8pm

Amina Gichinga

Tell me a bit about yourself?

Always find this question difficult to answer! My name is Amina and I was born to two migrant nurses who found love in London, settled in Newham and had two daughters. I have always lived in Newham – from Manor Park, to Stratford and now I’m in Forest Gate. I’ve worked as an Organiser for London Renters Union since early 2018.

I feel really privileged to have a job where I can support and encourage renters in my local community to fight for their right to decent healthy housing and challenge the injustices of our housing system. I am also a musician and choir director. I founded Nawi Collective in 2017- an all-black women and non-binary femmes singing group. We have had the pleasure of performing at incredible festivals and venues such as UK Black Pride, Tate Britain and the Jazz Cafe. I feel free in this choir because it marries up my passion for social justice, creating healing, joyful spaces and singing. I love singing! Sometimes we show solidarity with social justice struggles we want to support by showing up at demonstrations and events. Over the last 6 years I have worked as a music educator with local choirs such as Solid Harmony and NewYVC as well as local primary and secondary schools. I love performing on stage, be it with bands or choirs. I love working with people across different generations and strongly believe in the power of the collective. That’s where most of my strength comes from – the collective.

Tell me about your black experience in Newham

Newham will always be home to me. I feel really blessed to have grown up in Newham and to have been raised alongside children from many different backgrounds. Being of dual heritage (Chinese-Singaporean and Kikuyu-Kenyan), I have always felt accepted in Newham and have loved the opportunity to learn about my friends’ cultures in school. It’s good to remember, being black isn’t to just have one culture – the black community is diverse and we have such rich cultures and histories to draw on. I remember, being a child and travelling outside of London to other parts of the UK, to places like Great Yarmouth and the Isle of Wight, on holiday with my parents. It’s only then when I noticed we were being stared at that I felt like I might not belong in this country. That I was in the ‘minority’. All this being said, I know that I have the privilege of being born in the UK and have an accent that means I’m more accepted than others who haven’t been born here. I definitely saw this in school when refugee children arrived to settle in and were sometimes bullied by other students for their accent.

I went to Sarah Bonnell school and was encouraged to follow my passion of becoming a musician. There were many black students in my school, striving to achieve great things and looking back, I think it was a really powerful environment to be in at times. I remember the black women who taught me with fond memories – Ms Boakye, Ms Patrick, Ms Ogunseitan. They all made me feel seen, cared for and like I could push myself further. I shared drama lessons with the very talented actress, writer and director, Nicole Lecky. Two years above me was the phenomenal black-feminist academic and activist, Janine Francois. Look at Kano, look at Ghetts! Newham produces greatness.

I think we need more black women to be uplifted and given a platform in Newham because black women are doing great work and are often under-resourced. Tracy Smith of the Asta Community Hub in Royal Docks springs to mind. Incredible community workers, getting people together, creating opportunities for us locally and who are often providing a lifeline for young people with very little support from local or central government.

Our borough often isn’t represented well in the media, maybe because the people writing the stories aren’t from here or other places with similar demographics. There’s this sense on the news that Newham is a place of hopelessness because of the high rates of homelessness, the poverty and the violence. Newham is a place of resilience, where communities are fighting for a better life for themselves and their families against all odds, by supporting each other in their struggles. My parents and our communities are the epitome of this, having arrived from Kenya and Singapore with very little money in the late 1960s early 1970s.

Tell me about the women that have influenced you

It’s cliché but my Mum is my hero. She worked as a nurse in the NHS for over 40 years. I am in awe of how she managed to work a 12 hour night shift, come home, take me to school, sleep for 5 hours and then come and pick me up and cook the best food ever. She still had time to read with me and take me out and about. She is so caring, super strong and loving and constantly models how to lay down good boundaries to me (a skill I am trying to get better at, at 30). I’ll never forget when I met American political activist, Angela Davis. The struggle she’s been through whilst fighting for liberation, is extraordinary. She listens, no matter who she is speaking to. There is no sense that she believes she has more to teach you than you have to teach her, and that’s the mark of a great leader – someone with the capacity to listen, sensitively and encourage us to keep fighting for liberation.

What would you say is your proudest achievement?

Probably running for election in the Greater London Assembly elections in 2016 as a candidate for the City & East constituency. I was part of a political project called Take Back the City with some incredible London-based activists. We ran workshops with colleges, schools, universities, community groups, unions, football teams, choirs where we facilitated discussions on the changes we wanted to see in London, and what policies we would put in a manifesto, if we were in charge. We created a political party and ran in the election. We did poetry to inspire conversation on buses and on trains. We ran events in community centres and out on the streets. It was an experiment in participatory democracy and a different way of doing politics. Co-creation, compassion, creativity and real connection.

How would you want history to remember you?

Remember me as someone who believed in the power of community and in bringing people together to recognise each other’s humanity.

Adzovi Nyanyo

Tell me a bit about yourself

I’m 56. Born and brought up in Coventry West Midlands  of African/ South American heritage.(Dad was from Ghana, and mum is from Guyana)- they met in Coventry.

I’ve lived in London for 31 years, the majority of the time in Forest Gate.I’m a local government officer, and work in East London.

I have a twenty- two year old son.

I am a member of Forest Gate Women’s Institute, where I was a founder member, member of the committee for seven years, and president for three years.

I enjoy going to the theatre, listening and watching live music, love Zumba, enjoy crafting, and reading. I’ve been a member of my book club for about ten years, (setup by myself and a couple of friends).

Tell me about your black experience in Newham

My experience as a black woman in Newham has been positive. To be honest, I’ve never really come across any hostility towards me being a black person / woman in Newham

I’ve met some strong women living in Newham , who I’m  proud to call my friends through various friendship groups and local events which gave  me the confidence to become president of our local Women’s Institute.

Tell me about the women that have influenced you

Well, There are so many women who have influenced me  throughout my life , so I’ll just mention a couple.

To start with, my mum- She is my voice of reason.- she is calm, very sensible, extremely supportive, (especially during the breakup of my relationship) (I could mention all the women in my family from my sister, to both of my sister- in- laws ( my brothers’ wives).

My cousin Nadine, she’s a very independent woman, beautiful woman who will fight for her corner and whom I admire and love so much. She took me out of my comfort zone, and has given me the strength and confidence to pursue interests like photography, losing weight (as did my mum).

I’ll mention a couple more women, – my friend Alicia Francis. She runs her own business, was one of the founder members of Forest Gate WI. She was one of the women who had faith in me to run for president of Forest Gate WI, Alicia has been involved in many community events, over the years which has brought many people in FG together, I’m so proud of her.

What would you say is your proudest achievement?

My proudest achievement was being president of Forest Gate WI. I was probably one of the very few black presidents of a Women’s Institute, (which is predominantly white middle class women).

I was elected for three years running, and during that time, I represented our Federation at the WI  centenary annual meeting in 2015. I ran a group of over 100 members, and sustained that membership throughout my presidency. I also think more women of colour joined the WI, (especially Forest Gate, as we we’re not, and still aren’t a ‘typical WI’.

I felt I put my heart and soul into bringing together, women from all walks of life. I forged links with two local community groups (Lola’s Homeless and the Magpie Project) whilst I was president, (which are still going strong today).

Being president gave me the confidence to network amongst the community, and I’ve met some great people through the WI.

My other personal achievement was to lose weight. I’m quite an emotional person, and comfort eat.

After a few years of losing my confidence (due to personal reasons), I had put on a considerable amount of weight, where it got to a point where my health started to suffer. (As I said earlier, my mum who has been so supportive sat me down, and said she was worried about my health).

So in September 2016 I kick started my journey with Slimming World (lots of support and inspirational women there). It made me think about why I was doing this. I felt I had to break through the cycle of emotional eating.

Four years later I have lost five and a half stone. I’m still on my journey, and I have the strength to continue until I get to my goal

It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve gained so much support and some wonderful friends along the way, if it takes me another four years I’ll get there.

How would you want history to remember you?

How do I want to be remembered? Adzovi – President of Forest Gate WI,  who brought women together. Loved Zumba. Loved her community. Loved her friends and family.

Paola Torsiello

Tell me a bit about yourself

I’m a cancer and aseptics pharmacist working in a busy London hospital. I am involved in the screening and production of chemotherapy for hundreds of Oncology and haematology patients. I am also co-founder of Prereg Pass, an e-learning website for trainee pharmacists who wish to sit the registration exam. I have a passion for travelling and have travelled to more than 30 countries around the world!

Tell me about your black experience in Newham

Growing up as a black woman in Newham, I always felt at home. Mainly due to the how multicultural Newham is. I went to Forest Gate Community School where I made friends with people from all different backgrounds and cultures and I have learnt a lot from them. Growing up in Newham there was loads of activities and clubs to get involved in. For example I joined street dancing classes at forest gate youth centre and Stratford circus which I really enjoyed growing up. My science teacher and maths teacher at school were both black, seeing these role models really inspired me to excel in my education. There is no place like Newham!

Tell me about the women that have influenced you

My biggest influence is my mother, a strong black woman who has worked hard throughout her life. I definitely got my determination, drive and passion from her.

What would you say is your proudest achievement?

Working at the hospital throughout the pandemic making chemotherapy for vulnerable cancer patients as well as medicines for COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit. It was a stressful and challenging time, not knowing if I was going to be the next victim, especially knowing that BAME health workers are more at risk from COVID-19.

How would you want history to remember you?

Someone who made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people with cancer.

Eni Awoyemi

Tell me a bit about yourself

I’m a 20 something year old creative, working a 9-5 in the TV industry as a Producer. When I’m not on set, I’m running my side hustle Yo Crackers, a gifting company that specialises in hilarious cards and custom products. In my spare time, I run a network group of Black Women who work off screen in the creative industries.

Tell me about your black experience in Newham

My black experience in Newham is one that I will never take for granted. Growing up with people from diverse backgrounds and similar homes, I was able to learn from so many people and make friends with people who have grown up with the same struggles I have. Newham isn’t always perceived as the safest place to live, however I feel most safe in Newham and there is no other place I would call home. From the local corner shops, my teachers at my community school, being in Newham is like having one big family. When I left Newham for University several years ago, I was able to appreciate my upbringing. Meeting people who have never seen anyone who looked like me or understood what it’s like to grow up as a black woman, it really made me appreciate growing up in an area like Newham. Which is why I fight hard for diversity in everything I do.

Tell me about the women that have influenced you

There are so many women who have influenced me into becoming who I am today. I love travelling to work and seeing so many black women entering big corporate buildings, where I know they are the minority. I always wonder what role and position they are in. It inspires me to want to break into more doors and strive to be more successful. If I had to choose one woman who has had a big influence in my life, it would have to be my mother who left everything in the country she had grown up in to migrate to the UK, and begin a life for me and my sisters in Newham. She worked so many different jobs despite the language barriers and is now a Nurse in the NHS. I realised how brave my mum was during the pandemic when she decided not to take any time off to support the NHS. I was frightened for her health and offered to help her financially until the pandemic was over, but she told me “what if everybody else was scared and didn’t go to work, there would be no one to look after the people” I always knew my mum was strong, but her decision here made me so inspired to be a better woman.

What would you say is your proudest achievement?

My proudest achievement to date would be directing a shoot with Lupita Nyong’o, she is such an inspirational black woman and I was so excited to have had the opportunity to shoot with her. I also am really proud to have opened my shop in East London during the pandemic. It is the only black owned greeting card shop in the area, and it makes me proud to see people from all backgrounds travel to come and shop in the store.

How would you want history to remember you? 

I want to be remembered as someone who wasn’t afraid to chase her dreams. An Ambitious, courageous, and loving black woman.

Adeyam Tsehaye

Tell me a bit about yourself

I am an artist. I paint and embroider artwork that explores my emotions and connections to people and places. I’ve spent most of my life in Newham, but I’m originally from Eritrea. I went to school at St. Angela’s and later went on to study graphic design at university. I eventually took a career break in Thailand, which helped me cultivate my love for painting.

Tell me about your black experience in Newham

As a member of the African diaspora, there is a real sense of belonging in Newham. Being a black woman, “a black person”, is not always the first characteristic a person notices. It also means I have the opportunity to connect with people of different backgrounds and share our experiences of living in a multi-cultural society.

Tell me about the women that have influenced you

My mother has to be my greatest influence. She is a very creative person, from studying fashion design to making cakes and flower arranging. I inherited that love for art and design from her. She taught me the importance of working hard to earn the things you want and the value of family. I’m also lucky to have friends that are like sisters to me. Their unconditional support and love over the years has gotten me to where I am today.

What would you say is your proudest achievement? 

It would have to be co-curating the group exhibition Somewhere I Live. Working with Judith Kusi to bring attention to the Boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets and the amazing artists within them, has been a brilliant experience. I had never considered curation as something I was capable of, but now having done it, it’s a moment I’ll look back on proudly.

How would you want history to remember you?

If I am remembered for having touched a few hearts, opening a few minds and making even a small positive difference, that would be more than enough.

An online photographic exhibition with interviews profiling five inspirational black women from Newham. This exhibition will highlight these positive role models, their hidden stories and achievements.

How to Attend

Booking not required.  The exhibition will be available to view from this website from 7pm on 20 October.

Discover more

Black History Month has lots more to offer, take a look at our other exciting events