As part of Black History Month 2020, we celebrate a few of Birmingham’s black celebrities within music, sport and entertainment, whose contributions and achievements make them fitting role models for our next generation.
Formed at Duddeston Manor School in Birmingham, the Musical Youth group featured two sets of brothers.
During 1982, the group released one of the fastest-selling singles of the year in 'Pass the Dutchie' (YouTube). The infectious enthusiasm of the group's performance captured the public's imagination and propelled the record to number one in the UK charts and spent eight weeks in the Top 40.
Lead singer Dennis Seaton is an ex-student of South & City College, having studied music after the group split in 1985. He and fellow band member Michael Grant returned to the college in February 2016, as the Digbeth Auditorium played host to the launch of Musical Youth’s then new album When Reggae was King.
Apache Indian is the stage name of Steve Kapur, born in Handsworth and arguably best known for his 1993 top 5 single ‘Boom Shack-A-Lak' (YouTube), which has featured in many Hollywood films.
The AIM Academy is a community project created by Apache in 2013 and based at our Handsworth campus. It has been set up to help young people with music and life skills, whilst encouraging pride in the community and celebrating diversity. In 2016 they won the National Diversity Award for being the best group in the Age category in the country.
Apache is also working with the college on one of its latest projects funded by the West Midlands Combined Authority. The Ignite programme offers support through music and sports to young people aged 19-23 who aren’t currently studying or in work.
Jamila Niela Davis is an award-winning singer, songwriter and television presenter. Her best known song, 'Superstar' (YouTube), reached number three and spent 20 weeks in the UK Top 40 charts in 2003. Born in Handsworth to a single mum, at 15 Jamelia signed to Capitol Records, after record producers heard recordings of her self-written a cappella songs that she had made on a karaoke machine.
Jamelia is also active in working with ActionAid, Princes Trust and the Food Aid branch of the UN, the World Food programme, which has seen her visit Kenya, Uganda and India. Jamelia has met Nelson Mandela and performed for him at a concert in Johannesburg and his 90th birthday celebrations in Hyde Park.
Mark Lewis-Francis MBE
People probably remember Mark (aka “the Darlaston Dart”) best for running the anchor leg in Great Britain’s 4x100m relay team’s Olympic Gold, holding off the favourites USA with a narrow victory at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. He has quite the collection of international medals at Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth Games level in the 100m and 4x100m relay sprint events.
He was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2005 Queen's New Year's Honours List for his services to athletics.
Since retirement, Mark has been involved with various charities, encouraging children's sports schemes and other community-led sport projects.
Kash ‘The Flash’ Gill
A friend of the college, Kashmir Gill was born in Handsworth in 1966. Not only is he a four-time world kickboxing champion, he is also a graduate of Oxford University, where he studied biochemistry.
After discovering martial arts at 14, his athleticism, speed and showmanship soon earned him the nickname ‘The Flash’. He won his first professional world title, the WKA Junior Middleweight in 1991, when he also won the world full-contact Karate championships. In the following two consecutive years, he went on to win the WKA World Middleweight kickboxing title and the ISKA World Light Middleweight title.
Since retiring from fighting in 2002, he has opened his own gym, has become a coach and tirelessly raises much-needed funds for various charities and community projects with the same determination that made him a world champion.
Birmingham born Alice is Great Britain's only black elite swimmer. Specialising in open water swimming, she achieved the best result of her senior career to date at the FINA Marathon Swim World Series event in Doha in February 2020, finishing tenth.
Alice, who currently trains at Loughborough University while studying for a Masters in Social Media and Political Communication, first started swimming at the age of eight at her local club in Oldbury.
Determined to use her own platform to change the perception of swimming for the black community, believing something has been missing in getting more ethnic minorities into the pool, Alice wants to campaign for more diversity because she believes the amount of black children who can’t swim is “really upsetting”. This has led to her to create the Black Swimming Association (BSA) alongside journalist Seren Jones, inventor Danielle Obe and musician and filmmaker Ed Accura earlier this year.
Born 1975 in the Kingstanding area of Birmingham, Alison is a television personality, presenter and actress.
Alison had already appeared in three films before becoming a contestant in the 2002 series of Big Brother. Since Big Brother, her career took off and to name but a few, she has been a regular panellist on Loose Women, a contestant on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here (2010), Celebrity Master Chef (2014) and Strictly Come Dancing (2014). However she is probably now best-known for being a presenter and journalist on This Morning, presiding over insane exploits and celebrity interviews, which she has done for the last 17 years. Her 2017 interview with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling has racked up more than 11m views on YouTube.
Her latest project, Alison Hammond: Back to School, aired at the beginning of Black History Month this year. The hour-long ITV documentary saw her travel around the UK to learn about key, and often overlooked, figures from black British history.
Friend of the college, Nicholas is probably best known for starring as Dr Trueman in Eastenders from 2000-2005. He has also starred in Holby City, Comic Relief, Casualty and Coronation Street.
He is passionate about fostering young talent in Birmingham and launched Fly Performance for kids who love to dance, act and sing. Fly Performance runs courses every day for 5 to 11-year-olds during the school holidays at West House School and uses creative specialists to help youngsters gain self-confidence and realise their potential across a wide range of arts, crafts and drama.
Nicholas is also an educational ambassador for Learning Labs, the Birmingham-based company behind the award-winning FlashAcademy app, which has already been adopted by more than one-in-five schools and allows EAL (English as an Additional Language) pupils to learn English independently and at their own pace and level via visual lessons in their home language.
Poet, author, playwright and musician, Dr Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah was born and raised in Handsworth. His background seems unlikely for a poet, as a dyslexic who left school unable to properly read and write, and a black British Brummie whose teenage years of petty crime ended up with some time spent in prison.
His first real public performance was in church when he was 10 years old and by the time he was 15 he had developed a strong following in Handsworth, where he had gained a reputation as a young poet who was capable of speaking on local and international issues. Not being satisfied preaching about the sufferings of black people to black people, he sought a wider mainstream audience and at the age of 22 he headed south to London where his first book Pen Rhythm was published.
Zephaniah has ended up the people’s poet. Today he holds a handful of honorary degrees. In 2008 he appeared in The Times' list of top 50 post-war writers.