growing up on a borrowed surname

a symbol of identity and family history, which connects us to one another. It has no meaning for me.

I stopped using my surname on my 23rd birthday.

It was decision I made after researching and educating myself about my heritage. As we know surnames are used for everything, identity documentation, forms, job applications and CV’s, getting a mortgage, placing an online order, the list is endless. It is our identifier – well that is not the case not for me. I do not identify with my surname because it is not my name. My ancestor adopted the name from a slave master whom they were property of. This prominent slave owning family was well-known in the UK and made their fortunes in Liverpool, trading slaves, tobacco, sugar and iron around the 1700’s.

As painful as it is to type, this is just part of the story which fills me with the most sadness, anger and disappointment. It took 23 years, twenty three years for me to find out a bit more about my heritage. I do feel I have been lazy. I still have much, much more to learn about my own family, as well as a greater understanding of Black history, one I will continue to research in more depth moving forward. Sometimes the lack of resources coupled with sadness and anger, can make it feel like an overwhelming pursuit, but this is no excuse for not broadening my own knowledge.

Thinking back, I have fought many battles when it comes to race, however it was something I rarely shared outside of family and close friendship groups. I don’t necessarily believe this is a negative thing, the more information I share, the more I help the closest people around me. Not just on the topic of race, heritage or culture, but also on my skills and knowledge in a wealth of subjects like photography, architecture, fashion and interior design.

Sharing can have such a powerful effect. Having said this, as a black person I do not believe I should feel as if I have a responsibility to educate non-black people about my heritage – it is up to every individual to be proactive in learning and educating themselves. I will continue to focus my energy on what I have always done – everyday acts of sharing, helping, listening and offering support and opportunities – all valuable ways to help on a individual basis in my life, which in turn contributes to the wider black community.

There are also so many things to be proud of and to shout about – outstanding achievements of black people across the globe.

The building behind me is Rivington Place and is home to Autograph ABP

which showcases and celebrates photography and art highlighting identity, representation, human rights & social justice. When on my quest to find out more about my culture and heritage, I discovered the amazing and in my opinion underrated work the team were doing here and wanted to offer my support. So I became a volunteer, worked in the archives and met some amazing people in my time.

The second reason why this building has a special place in my heart is because it was designed by Adjaye Associates. The practice is founded by Black British architect Sir David Adjaye OBE work is known internationally with studios in London, New York and Accra. He has designed some of my favourite buildings of all time, from private homes to public buildings.

The building is currently closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, however there is so much to discover and read on their website and I highly recommend visiting once they re-open.

Today I feel pride I am so proud of Black Lives Matter and the work they are and continue to do to help change this world. It has had a profound effect on me and changed my life as I knew it – I fully embrace this change.

Building: Rivington Place, London EC2A 3BA | Architect: Sir David Adjaye OBE

Outfit: Hat: Zara, Blazer: H&M Men, T-Shirt: Uniqlo, Trousers : H&M Trend, Mules: Topshop.

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