Akokuno Oduniyi – Capturing the moment
Former CEO of Apple Inc, Steve Jobs, said: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” In a culture where we’re employed to work a 40-hour week, clocking in at 9 and clocking out at 5, unless we love what we do Monday to Friday, most would agree that this would leave very little space to pursue a passion or hobby. Director of AO Media Studios and freelance photographer and minister, Ayokuno Oduniyi, is blessed to have the privilege of having the work he loves as his 9-5.
“AO Media is a media studio that specialises in wedding, commercial and portraiture photography,” explains Ayo. His love of photography started during his college years at the age of 17, when using his father’s camera during a holiday abroad. Sparking something within him, he went on to study a BA in Production at Ravensbourne College of Design & Communication, and decided to take a unit in photography. “I was able to develop my eye and perspective on how to shoot and also see the wider effect of photography and how it is used. It was then that I realised that I had an eye for it!”
In 2010, whilst at university, AO Media was birthed and Ayo decided to leave his part-time job working in a seasonal role at the Olympics, to pursue his passion in photography full time. Speaking on the support he received from his parents to pursue photography, Ayo states: “My parents were always supportive in me doing what I’m passionate in, and they encouraged me to be the best at it. I think it’s imperative that a child’s natural gifting is nurtured and developed, because there’s no better feeling than knowing that you are doing what you were created for.”
Having run AO Media for five years now, Ayo’s company has been recognised both nationally and internationally for his professional, individual and personable style of photography. In Autumn 2014, he was given the REEBA Excellence in Media Award, in addition to being nominated for the British Black Business
Awards in Spring 2015, and being featured on www.essence.com in 2013. Speaking on the greater significance of having a platform as both a minister and photographer, Ayo explains: “One of my main reasons for my pursuit in media was my belief that it is the most powerful force in the world when it comes to influencing people, and I want to infiltrate it with the Gospel. All of what we should do as Christians must come from a perspective that we want to influence something with God’s Kingdom.”
Looking five years ahead, Ayo has tremendous plans to produce documentaries, short films and book international wedding photography events, and also create an evangelical internet platform to spread the Gospel. The sky is definitely the limit for Mr Oduniyi, so watch this space!
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Andy Parnham – The pursuit of happiness
In 1988, the four words from Bobby McFerrin’s famous song, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’, gave its listeners the most simplistic instruction on how to be happy; it came from the absence of worry. Today we live in a consumerist society that requires us to spend our energies, time and money in exchange for ‘things’ that will bring us ‘happiness’. But what is happiness, and how can we be happier? Doctor, church leader and wellbeing advisor, Andy Parnham, seeks to answer these questions as a prelude to going beneath the surface in his programme, The Happiness Course.
Beginning his career as a doctor in the 70s, Andy expresses that he had a growing interest for the general wellbeing of people: “I was always struck by the importance of the health of the whole person, and not just the particular part of the body I was looking at. This only increased as I worked many years in church and community work.”
The Happiness Course was developed from a community project called ‘Healthy Brockley’ back in 2005, where Andy engaged with his local community in south London, through workshops, events and courses that explored wellbeing and health. “We began in our local community, seeking to ‘scratch where people were itching’. We found that the ‘itching’ was: stress, money, parenting, loneliness and lifestyle-
related diseases. The challenge was to find ways of ‘scratching’! So, when I discovered a new branch of Psychology called Positive Psychology, I found that the researchers were uncovering many ways to enable human flourishing. This resonated powerfully with what I knew and practised: gratitude, nurturing healthy relationships, forgiveness, and discovering greater meaning and purpose in life. So we started to construct a course that was not only accessible, but also powerful in helping ordinary people to navigate their way through the minefields of their lives!” says Andy.
The Happiness Course was launched in 2009 and, since then, Andy has delivered over 80 courses to diverse groups of people. He says, “Almost always, people say that it’s really helped them. One lady came up to me after the course, and said that she’d suffered with moderate to severe depression for the past 20 years, and if she’d been able to access some of the things we did on the course sooner, maybe she wouldn’t have had to take all of her anti-depressants.”
Taking a non-anecdotal approach, and seeking to help both Christians and non-Christians on their journey, Andy describes what makes The Happiness Course stand out: “The course challenges some of the assumptions we make in our culture about what the ‘Good Life’ is all about, and points towards a mindset and lifestyle that focus on those things that wellbeing research clearly shows as being more fruitful – especially healthy relationships and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.”
Patricia Muirhead-Hewitt – When tragedy births change
The formative years of a girl’s life can sometimes be a challenging time. Looking back, we can all recall those awkward stages of adolescence, when we started puberty, secondary school or tried to find our identity within a friendship group. This time was a whirlwind of change that seemed to happen all at once. With cyberbullying, social and peer pressure on the increase for young girls today, those awkward stages are ‘mountains’ compared to our ‘molehill’ experiences. After taking her life at 14 years old in 2014, Patricia Muirhead-Hewitt set up the Ashdon Jazz Academy in memory of her daughter, Ashdon, to empower and support young women through their challenges, before it becomes too late.
South London-born, Early Years Manager, Patricia Muirhead-Hewitt, has always had a heart for young people, and felt there was a calling on her life to address some of the difficulties they faced. “A few years ago, before Ashdon’s death, I started up a mentoring/coaching programme for youngsters that would provide career coaching and encourage them to make positive future choices. It was called Ajani (‘he who wins the struggle’) – a name I prayed for and believed God dropped into my spirit – which I believe, now, was a sign of the vision and plans that were to come,” recalls Patricia.
Providing a mentoring programme for girls between the ages of 11-16 in the Merton, Croydon and Lambeth boroughs, the Ashdon Jazz Academy arranges for trained mentors to meet with young women for two hours on a weekly basis, at a location of their choice. Explaining the role of the mentor, Patricia states, “The mentor will work on setting personal targets; exploring new experiences and places to visit; encouraging better communication skills, and empowering them to find confidence and self-coping skills that they will be able to utilise when faced with challenges. The charity aims to act as an early form of prevention and intervention, by working with females who are experiencing challenges from low self-esteem and bullying to self-harming and gang involvement.”
With plans to deliver interactive Girl Social Seminars, for young women to connect and voice their concerns and solutions, in addition to workshops, residential trips and an end-of-year Gala, Patricia desires to see the Ashdon Jazz Academy project established and made accessible to young women across London.
Penning her first book, ‘Imma Miss You All’ – influenced by the tragedy of losing her daughter – Patricia opens up her heart and expresses her journey through poetic memory excerpts of Ashdon’s unique and captivating character. “I could hide and shy away, but my story is one that needs to be told, as it may save another young life as well as heighten parents’ awareness. I am very proud of Ashdon and the impact that she has made in her lifetime, and it is my job to ensure that her impact and legacy continue.”