Black Britain’s Social Enterprises in the Aftermath of Brexit: The Ubele Initiative

Standing at the intersection of the Seven Sisters Tube Station and a small cafe playing Latin American music, I met Yvonne Field for warm coffee and the chance to talk about her work and the importance of social enterprises in Britain. It was mid-July, meaning that this day was not only hot and sunny, but also four months since the UK triggered Article 50 in the European Parliament. The decision officially initiated Brexit negotiations, and in less than two years the UK will be permanently out of the EU.

Things have changed drastically since I first visited the UK in 2012. My first trip was during the Summer Olympics and it was an exciting time to visit London. I met the Mexican track and field team while riding the Tube, and visited the Olympic Village in West Ham. I learned as a tourist that the construction of the Olympic Village had posed a direct confrontation for local community members, who were forced to permanently relocate for the event. This was one of my first experiences with the impact of large-scale redevelopment projects that result in gentrification. With similar scenarios occurring for the Sochi and Rio Olympic Games, this effect is not geographically limited to the West. Most concerningly, the impact of gentrification anywhere almost always affects the low-income communities of color who live there.

Since the British public voted to leave the European Union in the Summer 2016 referendum, there is an atmosphere lingering over the UK that is difficult to articulate. Hate crimes are on the rise – from verbal and physical altercations to acid attacks in public – and in less than six months there were five terrorist attacks across the UK targeting everyone from pedestrians along bridges in London, young girls at a pop concert in Manchester, and two Muslim worshippers at the Finsbury Park Mosque.

London has been associated with summers of unrest since as early as 2011 when widespread rioting took hold in response to the Metropolitan Police’s shooting of Mark Duggan under questionable circumstances. However, on June 14th, 2017 a new tragedy was added to the powderkeg of rising social inequality. A fire broke through Grenfell Tower, a low-income, high-rise apartment complex in North West London, completely engulfing it in flames in less than 15 minutes. The official death toll was revised to 71, but local residents say hundreds could have lived in the building, many of whom are still missing.

Yvonne from the Ubele Initiative and Dan Biss

“Grenfell is the tip of the iceberg,” Yvonne tells me as she sips her coffee. We sit outside on the screened-in porch of Pueblito Paisa cafe, while fans buzz above us and the Latin American music continues to blare. The horror of Grenfell is hard to fathom, but the aftermath is unimaginable. Yvonne founded the Ubele Initiative, and her work focuses on spatial issues and anti-gentrification initiatives.                                                                       

“I think that the building itself will be knocked down. It still has to be decided but my sense is too many people died for them to build another.” Yvonne tells me about her own nephew’s son, who lives in the area and went to nursery school with a three-year-old girl that lived on the 19th floor of Grenfell. “She’s gone. Her whole family is gone. Even if you don’t live there, you feel the impact.”

The living spaces and social centers dedicated to working-class communities are often the main targets of gentrification. Words like “upscale” “pop-up” and “renovation” are used to describe what is, in reality, market-cruelty and internal displacement of marginalized communities. The UK’s go-to words to defend this behavior is to claim these policies  “regenerate” the spaces and turn them into “opportunity areas”. To that Field says, “Opportunity areas for who? Not for local people. People are being locally cleansed.”

The effects of austerity and Brexit on communities of color in the UK have decimated grassroots organizations that depended on government funding to serve the community. The current situation in Britain did not just spring up after the 2016 referendum, and its foundation was laid long before I first came to the UK in 2012. This stems back to 2010, when the Conservatives began implementing austerity measures throughout the UK in response to the 2007-2009 global recession. One of the effects of these measures was that funding cuts were unevenly distributed across the public sector. Many organizations by Black and Minority Ethnic groups were forced to close their services – and today the organizations which still exist remain under threat.

With this in mind, Yvonne and the Ubele Initiative are working in London to create a dynamic network of independent Black and Minority Ethnic social enterprises. These projects all work for, and with, leaders in working class communities of color around the United Kingdom.

“For us, Grenfell is real. It’s a lived experience. People are living it now and it’s going to go on for years and years and years. But also, it is a bit of a metaphor for what’s going on across the country and certainly in cities. What it represents is the developers having their way, [local] people not being listened to and being totally disregarded as irrelevant, seen in a way by local authorities with disdain, as less than human. That’s what [Grenfell] represents. That’s why the change that comes from this has to be transformational. Not just about housing and development of the city. It has to be about communities.”

The location of our cafe meeting is a perfect example of this. By no means is our meeting point a coincidence. Yvonne has invited me to the Seven Sisters Market in the Tottenham Latin Quarter, an area that is currently being contested by local officials. “They want to knock all this down with developers and build a shopping center.” She says.


After our conversation, I walk through the indoor market and speak with the people who do business every day there. Many of them own their office space and have invested thousands of pounds into their businesses that are now under threat. One local realtor and his wife tell me how they have been in business in the market for almost 10 years and have spent more than £70,000 on maintaining their livelihood.

Please check out the proposed plan to change the Seven Sisters Market into the Wards Corner, juxtaposed with portraits of the people who actually engage and invest in the neighborhood today.  I can only understand how the local government can treat people this way if they see someone’s worth based in their capital, and not in the blood, sweat, and tears they put into building their community.

The UN agrees. In October 2017, the UN working group for business and human rights began an investigation into the Seven Sisters Market and the proposed plan by private developers as a potential human rights case. The decision certainly marks a victory, but the fight has been going on for ten years and isn’t over yet. We cannot take our eyes off of the Seven Sisters Market, the victims of Grenfell, the communities being pushed out of their homes for multi-million dollar shopping centers, or the organizations who work to serve the public. These assaults have been ongoing, and the struggle is long-term. There is no rest until policies protect us instead of greasing rich pockets with our ashes. A society is only as good as it treats its most marginalized peoples and only as vibrant as the communities of color free to brighten it.

This article is part of a two-part series. To find out more about Yvonne Field’s incredible life and the Ubele Initiative’s current campaigns, check back soon for Part 2.


About the Author: Dan Biss currently resides in Southern Germany. Originally from outside of Washington, D.C., Biss organizes events for People of the African Diaspora, facilitates workshops for justice and empowerment, and writes down everything in her mind. In 2014 she began a blog about sexuality, pop culture, and her pursuits to live more intersectionally… You can follow her journey on Twitter @xDanBiss.

German Civil Society’s Declaration on the International Decade for People of African Descent

Joint Declaration of the German Civil Society Delegation

We the undersigned Members of the German Civil Society Delegation to the Regional Meeting on the International Decade for People of African Descent, 23 – 24.11.2017, in Geneva:

Welcoming the decision of the United Nations Office of Human Rights to organise and host the Regional Meeting on the International Decade for People of African Descent for Europe, Central Asia and Northern America, in Geneva, Switzerland,

Recalling that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action has identified People of African Descent as a distinct group, affected by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and recognised that slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were appalling crimes against humanity,

Noting with grave concern that despite three previous UN Decades against racism and racial discrimination, the adoption of the Durban Declaration (2001), the International Year for People of African Descent (2011) and proclamation of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), countless People of African Descent continue to be victims of racism and racial discrimination in Europe and Northern America,

Recalling that member states have an obligation under international law to fight racial discrimination and protect victims through legal and social measures. Highlightingespecially Article 2 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), stating that “States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races”,

Recalling that member states have an obligation under international law to protect the rights of People of African Descent as stipulated in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and further underlined by General Recommendation 34 of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on People of African Descent, Joint Declaration of the German Civil Society Delegation

Welcoming the mandate of the Intergovernmental Working Group for the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the mandate of the Working Group on People of African Descent to monitor the human rights situation of People of African Descent,

Recognizing that civil society organisations have made great strides in protecting the human rights of People of African Descent and that without their engagement the human rights situation of People of African Descent would have remained invisible in many countries,

Dedicating ourselves to being active drivers of the International Decade for People of African Descent with the aim to defend the human rights of People of African Descent, create awareness about their history and societal contribution, promote human rights education to prevent the reproduction of racism and stereotypes within society, fight injustice, achieve their full inclusion and participation with regard to their economic, social, political and cultural rights.

Being mandated to represent the people’s voices at this Regional Meeting.


We call for the recognition of crimes against humanity committed under European colonialism against Africans.

We underscore the importance of recognising People of African Descent in European history, especially their contribution to human civilisation, by way of creating a complete account of history.

We demand the full recognition of the damages caused by enslavement, colonialism and genocide and support the demand for reparations by the affected peoples.

We especially call for the recognition of the Genocide against the Ovaherero and Nama under German colonial rule and demand that the international community renders justice to their descendants by including them in political negotiations, returning to them their human remains as well as their ancestral land.

We recommend the promotion of knowledge and recognition of the cultures, histories and heritages of People of African Descent, including through research and education and funding for exhibitions and programmes at museums and cultural centres.

We demand a truthful representation of the history of enslavement and colonialism in academic history books and other sources.

We note that today the exhibition and display of cultural artefacts is a practice by government-funded museums that refuse the dialogue with the societies and cultures to which the artefacts belong. Often these objects displayed as art in Germany are in fact looted art or important, which has been brought to Germany during Germany’s colonial period. We therefore demand an end to a historical exposition – out of context – of looted art in German museums.

We demand the funding of provenance research as well as a societal discussion on colonialism and

We demand that People of African Descent are to be included as experts in the process of historical rehabilitation.

We are very concerned about the recent severe human rights violations of People of African Descent on the European borders, re-exposing neo-colonial structures and enslavement.

We therefore demand for all European states to take strong actions against the abuses, as well as a change of the European border politics that continues to lead to uncountable deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.

We demand the end of degrading imagery and stereotyping of People of African Descent, such as black-facing in cultural events and mainstream media in European states.

We recommend expanding the scope of existing political education programmes to include the history and social contribution of People of African Descent.

We recommend a sustainable funding for human rights education on People of African Descent in order to enable People of African Descent to claim their human rights.

We call for recognition of multidimensional discrimination of People of African Descent. They especially experience intersecting grounds of discrimination such as ethnicity, descent, skin colour, gender, class, age, ability, sexual orientation and religion. These intersections aggravate the extent of discrimination faced by People of African Descent and jeopardises their economic, social and political rights.


We note that People of African Descent are a group vulnerable to marginalisation and racism.

Therefore victimization by state authorities has an especially severe effect on them.

We note with grave concern that racial profiling is a widespread practice in European states, affecting People of African Descent in a disproportionate manner. Racial Profiling is a human rights violation, undermining the rights and dignity of People of African Descent. Additionally there is no supportive data to justify this practice.

We therefore recommend:

  • to repeal laws and norms authorizing the police to stop and search without reasonable cause;,
  • that norms formulated in a broad way, have to be altered so to limit the discretionary powers of the individual police officer;
  • that abusive behaviours should be sanctioned by an independent body;
  • that police officers should be obliged to explain the alleged reason for any “stop and search”, those reasons should be given to the subject in a ticket (protocol of the stop and search);
  • that there should be programmes to combat unconscious racial bias among police officers;
  • that there should be mandatory anti-racism trainings for all police officers especially for those at a higher rank.

We condemn brutality exercised by state authorities, which in grave cases lead to the death of People of African Descent at the hands of the police or in police custody.

We note that there is a lack of prosecution and sanction of racist crime.

We demand a comprehensive investigation on any case of police brutality by an independent task force that should not include active police officers.

We recommend competent independent bodies to protect complainants and comprehensively register allegations of racial discrimination.

We demand standardized and extended research and documentation of police brutality against People of African Descent in Germany and other European states.

We demand justice for victims of police brutality and adequate compensation to their families.

We call for equal access for People of African Descent to the justice system, including the access to effective and adequate remedies.

Therefore we recommend implementing the right to initiate collective legal actions by civil society organisations in incidences of racism and other forms of discrimination. Until now this right is denied in several states including Germany.


We are concerned about the underdevelopment of People of African Descent in European states, reflected in their exclusion from quality education, especially higher education, adequate employment and lack of access to housing. People of African Descent continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty.

We note with concern that community organisations are underfunded, a situation that limits their ability to promote the human rights of People of African Descent in a sustainable manner. We therefore demand the structural and sustainable funding of civil society organizations and their equal access to public funds.

Germany has one of the lowest levels of social mobility. People of African Descent are especially vulnerable to this social imbalance undermining their economic, social, political and cultural rights.

We note that data trends demonstrate that People of African Descent systematically have higher unemployment rates than the national average of the German population.

We therefore demand to take positive measures to address the structural disadvantages of People of African Descent in the field of employment, including:

  • establishing public duties to promote equality and increase diversity within all public bodies;
  • developing special measures and traineeships for People of African Descent;
  • creating subsidised government schemes and guidelines that encourage diversity in private companies at all levels;
  • strengthening rules and practices of labour inspections to combat exploitation of migrants and reinforce complaint mechanisms for access to legal redress for migrants.

We note that racism has a negative impact on the health of People of African Descent by causing trauma leading to mental and physical health problems.

We demand to conduct health outreach activities in cooperation with African Descent populations to better inform communities of how they can progress in utilising health systems.

We note with great concern that students of African Descent face institutional discrimination and exclusion by teachers, counsellors, administrators, as well as students based on their skin colour, ranging from stereotyping to unduly placing children of African Descent in segregated, special and/or vocational education schooling.

We therefore demand to take steps to combat racism, individual and structural discrimination in the educational system. This should include:

  • providing vocational training on non-discrimination and diversity for school administrators and teachers;
  • conducting independent reviews of grades and records of students of African Descent being sent to ‘special education’;
  • providing counselling, student mediation and psychological services to student African Descent being victims of racism;
  • ensuring legal consequences and sanctions on discriminatory behaviour by teachers, counsellors, administrators and other decision-makers in institutional structures;
  • ensuring fair representation of teachers and professors of African Descent in leading positions;
  • ensuring that the school curriculum teaches accurately and truthful on the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism.

We note with concern that the full recognition and accreditation of university degrees obtained in African countries is lacking. Therefore we demand the full recognition and accreditation of those university degrees allowing People of African Descent to fully access their right for economic and personal development.

We note that the market for fair housing in Germany is oftentimes closed for People of African Descent. More recent developments show that even in neighbourhoods with a traditionally high percentage of People of African Descent those peoples are forced out due to gentrification tendencies.

We therefore demand an effective anti-discrimination law that protects People of African Descent from discrimination on the housing market.

We also demand that People of African Descent should be protected from eviction from affordable housing.

We note that People of African Descent are among the largest group of refugees in Germany.

Refugees in Germany face specific social exclusion. This includes restrictions to the freedom of movement, prohibition from working, being obliged to live in specific asylum camps, being denied the free disposal of financial resources provided by the state. Refugee children and youth often don’t have access to primary and secondary education. Refugees experience racial violence on a regular basis, reflected by, numerous attacks on asylum homes and groups of refugees.

We demand an end to the restriction of the freedom of movement and the obligatory stay of refugees in asylum camps. We demand the full inclusion of refugee minors into the education system.

We strongly urge to take the special legal status of Refugees into account which in many cases leads to long periods of uncleared residence status, sometimes over generations. Human rights violations need to be prevented and prosecuted not matter the legal status of the victim.

We note the importance of cultural representation for positive self-identification. We recommend therefore the establishment of cultural institutions promoting the art and culture of the African diaspora, among others, cultural festivals celebrating Black culture.

We note that the situation of People of African Descent is worsened by stereotypes that are enforced by the media. In addition racial discrimination now takes place in social media, in which hate speech is a growing trend. We demand effective legislation banning hate speech on the internet, especially social media platforms, with the effect to holding the perpetrators and involved operators accountable.

Media has the potential to play a transformative role for the empowerment of People of African Descent. It can help giving expression to their cultural rights and promote a positive self-image. We recommend that media initiatives of People of African Descent receive sufficient funding in order to sustain in the media industry and present alternative perspectives to building public opinion.


Adetoun Adebisi-Küppers, Afrotak Cybernomads

Damaris Uzoma, ISD – Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland e.V.

Elisabeth Kaneza, UN Fellowship Programme for People of African Descent

Jamie Schaerer-Udeh, ENPAD – European Network for People of African Descent

Joyce Maria Muvunyi, ENPAD – European Network for People of African Descent

Karen Taylor, EOTO – Each One Teach One e.V.

Marisa Twahirwa, Kaneza Foundation for Dialogue and Empowerment e.V.

Tmnit Zere, ADAN – Afro Deutsches Akademiker Netzwerk e.V.

Yonas Endrias, Zentralrat der Afrikanischen Gemeinde in Deutschland e.V.

Death in Custody: 13 years after Oury Jalloh burned to death in a police cell in Germany the murder remains unsolved

A large demonstration in Dessau, Germany on Sunday, January 7th will demand justice for Oury Jalloh, a Sierra Leonean asylum seeker, who died 13 years ago in custody. The demonstration also brings attention to the structural problem of racial profiling in Germany. Take action and sign the petition to demand justice for Oury Jalloh.

Sunday, January 7th will mark the 13th anniversary of the death of Sierra Leonean asylum seeker Oury Jalloh. Jalloh was a 37 years old father who in 2005 burned to death in a police holding cell in Dessau, Germany.

The circumstances of Oury Jalloh’s death have been subject to several investigations. According to the official account, Jalloh’s hands and feet were tied to the wall and floor by law-enforcement officers, when he set fire to the fireproof mattress he was lying on. These accounts have been refuted by multiple independent arson investigations paid for by the Oury Jalloh Initiative. Outcomes indicated that Jalloh was unconscious or already dead at the time the fire in the cell broke out. Further the results indicated that fire accelerant had been used on Jalloh. Upon growing pressure the prosecution office ordered another arson investigation, coming to the same conclusions. The investigation also addresses strong suspicion of third party (potentially police) involvement in Jalloh’s death. In light of these findings of the prosecutor’s office the case was subsequently closed. These events indicate a cover-up by the police and the prosecutor, but also highlight the issue of institutional racism in Germany.

In November 2017 Jalloh’s close friend Mouctar Bah from the Initiative in Remembrance of Oury Jalloh initiated a petition. It reached more than 102.000 signatures within a month. The main demand is the reopening if the case and a fair and unbiased trial. It can still be signed here.

Cases of Police brutality and racial profiling are severely affecting People of African descent in all parts of Europe. Sarah Reed, Mark Duggan (UK), Oury Jalloh and Mariam Saar (Germany), Mitch Henriquez (Netherlands) and Amadou Koumé or Lamine Dieng (France) are a few well-known examples of African descendants who all have died at the hands of the police.

We, the European Network of People of African Descent (ENPAD), are calling upon the attorney-generalship in Naumburg to re-open the case of Oury Jalloh with adequate means for a fair and independent investigation into his death.


Signing parties:

ADEFRA Grassroots e.v., Germany

African Empowerment Center, Denmark

Africa Solidarity Centre Ireland

AK Panafrikanismus – Panafricanism Working Group Germany, Germany

Black Study Group, United Kingdom

Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires, France

Conseil des Communautés Africaines en Europe et en Belgique , Belgium

Decades of Heroes for the Elimination of Racism and Oppression, Netherlands

Fight Racism Now, Sweden

Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, Germany

Narrative Eye, United Kingdom

New Urban Collective, Netherlands

Raad van Afrikaanse gemeenschappen in Europa afdeling Vlaanderen, Belgium

Soul Rebel Movement, Netherlands

The Ubele Initiative, United Kingdom

Too anti-racist for French advisory board

Rokhaya Diallo was appointed last week to France’s national digital council, which is an independent commission of digital experts that advises the president Emmanuel Marcon. Due to complaints by rightwing politicians and commentators, her position on the council has been revoked. Diallo is known for her feminist and anti-racist work. She sheds light on politics of resistance of people of colour and Black women, who are barely noticed in the French discourse. More information can be found here

Please sign and share the petition on behalf of Rokhaya Diallo

UN Regional Conference for Europe, Central Asia and North America

Members of the European Network of People of African Descent – ENPAD joined the UN Regional Conference for Europe, Central Asia and North America in light of the International UN Decade for People of African Descent from 2015 – 2024. The conference was held on the 23rd and 24th of November, 2017 in Geneva. In preparation for the conference ENPAD members, amongst others, drafted Civil Society Recommendations urging their consideration in the outcome document of the conference. Beyond that, we hope that this document will find consideration during next year’s drafting process of a UN Declaration for People of African Descent. The full document can be found here: 

Civil Society Recommendations to UN OHCHR & Regional Meeting Outcomes Drafting Committee

The sessions of Conference have been recorded and can be viewed here

  1. Opening Session

2. Panel Discussion on Justice

3. Panel Discussion Development

4. Panel Discussion Development & Closing