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Black History Month: MDX graduate behind campaign to challenge perceptions of the black male and build pride

International Politics graduate says: "we are constantly being told that boys need more black male role models, but we are all here already"

A high-flying MDX graduate who fled Zimbabwe as a teenager is on the team behind one of this year's most eye-catching campaigns, to celebrate the successes of black men in fields from finance to medicine, from law to hospitality.

Civil servant Harry Phinda is Operations Coordinator of 56 Black Men, founded by social entrepreneur Cephas Williams to counter negative media stereotypes and ensure black men "take the lead on our own conversation". The campaign, which initially appeared on electronic billboards in the spring, centres around a set of striking portraits taken by Cephas of black male professionals dressed in identical black hoodies, with accompanying text introducing the men and listing their achievements; among them is Tottenham MP David Lammy.

The project's name refers to the number of black people murdered in London in 2017. The campaign has now partnered with advertising agency M&C Saatchi and out-of-doors media owner Clear Channel. An exhibition of the 56 portraits runs at M&C Saatchi's Soho headquarters until the end of the month (open to the public 2-5pm). The team has also developed a live show, featuring the black men in the photographs and combining story-telling and performance art.

Phinda came to the UK in 2007 and grew up in Croydon with his mother and sister. He studied BA International Politics at Middlesex, graduating in 2017. While still at university he co-founded Youth for Change, which grew from a one day event into a global advocacy movement to protect women and girls. Since it was set up, the group's volunteers have trained more than 100 teachers at Harris Academy schools in South London in spotting the signs of FGM and forced marriage, and educated hundreds of people in the UK, Tanzania and Bangladesh about preventing gender-based violence before it happens.

On the strength of this work, Phinda won a Queen's Young Leaders Award in 2018, earning praise from Prince Harry. In addition to his role at 56 Black Men, he has served as a trustee of UNICEF, been a youth delegate at a UN High Level panel and presented live interviews with speakers and panellists at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018.

"A crucial part in [addressing] gender-based violence is including men and boys," Harry says of his work with Youth for Change. "Each and every gender-based violence is as a result of patriarchy. We’ve been pushed out of the problem too long.

"We are constantly being told that boys need more black male role models" he adds, "but we are all here already. It's just that people aren't interested in celebrating that."

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