This article is a follow on from “On Opportunity” Written by Connor Allen in 2017, which can be found below
“We need to ask ourselves how do we encourage the next generation of artists and creatives to strive and aim for the stars? A big factor in encouragement is inspiration. If they never see role models they can relate to win awards how are they ever encouraged to become the next Octavia Spencer or the next Steve McQueen.”
2 years ago I wrote that above quote
On Friday 28th June 2019 … Thousands of young boys and girls sat at home from their “cheap seats” and watched history play out.
They watched a 24 year old Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. headline The biggest music festival in the world. Or as many and most people know him by the name of Stormzy.
The reason I start this article with that is because 2 years ago I wrote about Oprah being sat at home as a little girl in 1964 and watching history play out with Sidney Poitier winning an award and found herself inspired.
Now fast forward over 50 years and the exact same thing has happened.
There are little boys and girls who were either there like I was lucky enough to be, or at home watching, but either way were inspired to see a young Black British man on the biggest stage in the world and his talent and hard work got him to that position.
That inspiration is priceless. And that’s how we encourage the next generation to strive for bigger and better things.
By showing them what they can achieve.
Like I said 2 years ago “If opportunity is not given to people then how are we ever going to be in a position where we can showcase our talents?, be nominated for awards? and inspire our peers and the next generation?”
Stormzy, for example, got the opportunity to headline and smashed it out of Worthy Farm. His talent got him there, not the colour of his skin and that’s inspirational to everyone that can relate. Thats inspirational to all our peers and to the next generation who can watch that and believe that they can headline Glastonbury, Or perform or direct at the National Theatre or on Broadway, Or be on the front cover of GQ, Or play football for a premiership team, or be in the next avengers movie. Or be the next Stormzy or Oprah.
During Stormzy’s set he bought on Dave and Fredo to perform ‘Funky Friday’
He used his platform and his moment to give an opportunity to Dave and Fredo to perform on the pyramid stage and to experience that thrill and allow them to share in the moment.
I say it all the time in conversations with friends, when running workshops or giving talks – If I’m winning then we’re all winning because I’m going to learn some new skills, new knowledge and make new networks etc which I can then relay back to others to allow them to bask in the new found knowledge and glory I have gained and vice versa.
If YOU are winning then we are all winning because you’re going to learn things that can only help benefit others journeys and careers.
To quote Denzel (as I always do) – “I’m not in this to compete, I’m in this to get better”
That night in June at Glasto, Stormzy was winning but he gave an opportunity for others to win as well.
That for me is on the Macro Level in Stormzy and Oprah and I’m going to bring it to the Micro Level of myself and Wales.
Back home in Wales the last 2 years have been a whirlwind (for me personally)
I’ve been given so many opportunities that have led to me:
- Being on both the BBC Welsh Voices Writers Group and the Welsh Royal Court Writers Group headed by Gary Owen.
- I’ve had my debut play, Working Not Begging, funded
- I’ve had organisations like Literature Wales believe in me and my talent to help develop further works of mine.
- I’ve been on TV (which for a kid from Hammond Drive is huge – Check out changing the narrative from 27 for more clarity)
- I’ve been a part of a sold out show by the incredible Tin Shed Theatre again in my hometown.. bringing top class theatre to my doorstep (something I never had when I was growing up)
- I’m one of the youngest members of Dirty Protests Board
- Ive been made Associate Artist of The Riverfront in my hometown of Newport.
- I’m being mentored by Bryony Kimmings
And so much more
And when I think of all that and more, I’m so blessed to have had the opportunities to get me to this position in my life and career 2 years later.
Ive had so many people like Julia Thomas, Branwen Davies, Gary Owen, Helen Perry, Justin Cliffe, Louise Richards, Olivia Harris, Bryony Kimmings and more, all give me an opportunity and help nurture my talent and craft so I can be in a position where I can help and inspire the younger generation. I can open doors for them (potentially) that were never opened for me.
But again as I echoed 2 years ago the key word in ALL of that is opportunity.
They’ve given me the opportunity so i’m on the same page as other creatives and artists.
They gave me that opportunity to either sink or swim but it’s that chance that is so greatly needed. Without that chance, very few people can reach the potential that they have the ability to reach.
Without opportunity all that remains is an imbalanced and under-represented system where inspiration can’t flourish.
And without Inspiration many journeys won’t even start and many potentials never realised.
I can’t write this and act like opportunity hasn’t been present for me because it has but hard work and determination has been right along side it as I’ve built a career for the past 6 years.
The more I reflect on the past 2 years since writing that article the more I realise that it has been a good starting point in Wales where more of my peers and community are getting given opportunities and they’re smashing it outta the park everytime.
Alex Riley is breaking down barriers with her Mixed documentary and being a member on the above writing groups alongside myself and starring in smash hit TV like The Tuckers and End of the F***ing World
Mali-Ann Rees is killing it in the Tourist Trap alongside Leroy Brito.
Kyle Lima, like myself with The Riverfront has been made associate artist of HIS hometown theatre at The Sherman.
The reason I list these Kings and Queens is simply because like myself, 2 years ago they weren’t in the position that they are now.
Through hard work they’ve been given opportunities which they have consistently smashed.
So many young Welsh black and mixed race girls can turn on the tele and see Alex and Mali on their screens. Thats huge! because that’s inspirational. Thats showing them that it can be done and they can one day be in the same position as them.
Like Oprah did when she turned on the TV back five decades ago.
Youth who see Kyle and myself in Associate roles at their hometown theatres again can start to think that they too can achieve the same success. That those local buildings are for them as much as anyone else. They can start to aim for similar aspirations.
Once opportunity is given then all you’re judged on is your talent. It’s a level playing field where all it comes down to is you. BUT opportunity has to be given for the talent to shine.
So carry on giving opportunities to the talented individuals that warrant them and if you can’t find those talented individuals then seek them out. Because trust me theres plenty of them!
Talent comes in all shapes and sizes and we simply HAVE to find that and represent that.
We can’t afford to be lazy.
I guess what am I trying to say with all of this ….
Well simply put, I recently asked a close friend of mine to list White Welsh Published Playwrights and without hesitation they were able to list many amazing playwrights, many of whom I look up to myself and have helped paved the way for me BUT then I said now name me Black Welsh Published Playwrights and there was a pause as we both tried to think.
That pause is what has to change!
And that’s why I list the amazing individuals and there are so many more but in future when little welsh boys and girls of colour are talking about playwrights and writing that represents them and inspires them, they can think of Connor Allen, Alex Riley, Kyle Lima, Darragh Mortell, Taylor Edmonds, Durre Shahwar and so many more
There won’t be a pause.
Thats how we change the system and keep that encouragement for the next generation to follow in the footsteps that we lay before them. We must become the change that we seek. We must become the role models that we never had growing up.
Mentorship and role models are huge and so vital to development. It’s the work of them that lays solid foundations and blueprints down for the next generation to follow and build upon, so they can make a more equal and justified system and industry.
Opportunity is now being given and its a great and much needed starting point.
But we have to develop that starting point.
There is still more that can be done to make equality and inclusivity a more normalised thing within the arts.
Create more gate keepers, role models and mentors that relate to and represent the communities that make up Wales’ rich diverse culture and history.
According to Welsh Government Data only 6% of Wales is made up of “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic” (not sure how much I believe that) but my point is that in a country that is predominantly white we need to make systems and industries that represent ALL walks of life. Even the 6%.
We are experiencing a real positive shift at the moment and this can only be fully realised through education and sacrifice of power and privilege.
I realise that the more I am improving and the more success I gain, the more power and privilege I am given. BUT with that power and privilege I am given, I can make a choice to share that.
Take my recent Literature Wales commission 27, I chose to give some of my commission to other artists to allow them the opportunity to have paid artistic work where one of the artists is still in high school, one is yet to graduate and another has only recently graduated. Now I don’t say that to be like “oh look at me” I say it simply because if I can do that then people in far bigger and more important positions than me can do that as well.
I know how important opportunity has been in getting me to the position I am in today so i’ll never shy away from offering opportunity to those coming up
J Cole says it brilliantly in Middle Child – “I’m dead in the middle of two generations I’m little bro and big bro all at once”
It was only 5/6 years back that I myself was one of those artists looking for a chance and if it wasn’t for people taking a chance on me and believing in me well, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so its only fair that I give back where and when I can.
And if I can do that so can other organisations and institutions. I’m just one man with a modicum of influence. Imagine the potential if others with far more influence and power made the same approach that I have done.
Its about being courageous and then we will see some positive changes. Changes that are generational. That can have an impact for future generations.
Every single role model/person that we look up to, started off exactly like us. As people learning and working to get better.
Yes, many of my community are angry, upset, confused and more at the moment. And its the likes of role models on a global and local level that will maintain the inspiration and development of the next generation. If we don’t see ourselves and our representation then how are we meant to be engaged and inspired to be the next generation of role models and trend setters.
In these dark times we must never forget our own power, our own talent, our own strength.
It’s only in the darkest of times that we can see the light.
And even though opportunities are becoming more and hopefully more of the younger generation are finding hope and inspiration in looking at the current generation of us achieving success we have to strive for more.
Opportunity is just the planting of the seeds, For real fruition we have to see representation in all forms, from all walks of lives showcased throughout the arts and throughout all sectors.
We live in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world where all forms of race, gender, sexuality, disability and more are ripe and without positive and sustained change then we run the risk of an industry not embracing that and not showcasing every form of the human condition.
Art is a reflection of life, in ALL its forms.
Real collective change can only be made when representation is across all levels of infrastructure.
So as always