I can remember way back in 2005, when my friend and former colleague, Isabel Appio, asked if I wanted to buy a magazine from her. She had launched Keep The Faith magazine with the help of the late Barbara Campbell the year before. They had only published three or four issues, but decided not to continue with the title. At the time, I had recently left my role as the former CEO of The Voice Newspaper Group, and had set up my own online newspaper, Black UK Online, with two ex-Voice colleagues: the late, great Flip Frazer – the first editor of The Voice newspaper and founder of the acclaimed ‘Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame’, and a superb journalist, Mike Best – the then editor of The Voice. Neither of my colleagues were very keen to work on Keep The Faith, but my spirit told me to go for it. So I purchased the title with my own funds, and have never looked back.
Mike Best was the original editor, and he worked with a former designer from The Voice newspaper, but I decided to take over the role of editing and overseeing the design of the magazine from issue 20. I remember working on my first issue as editor and alongside our new designer, Becky, who was a young 20-something girl, still at university studying design. We both found it so hard to do the first issue – both of us were novices – and, although I had worked in media, my role was organisational, overseeing the team of professionals. Yet there we were, at 3am, trying to complete our first issue so that it could go to print the next morning. Becky was in tears; it was her first major design and she was stressed. And to add to her stress, at the last minute we decided to completely change the format, layout, and design of the magazine, and our first front cover girl was the beautiful Carole Pyke. Becky excelled with the new design! 100 issues later, a married woman with a beautiful daughter, she is still excelling at designing the magazine.
The purpose of the magazine was to highlight people within the Black and Christian community, who were dedicating time and effort to better the lives and surroundings of others. We also wanted to support the small grassroots organisations, with the aim of raising their profile in order to garner support from the community. We were tired of the constant negativity around the Black community being spewed out by mainstream media. So, for Keep The Faith, choosing front covers was easy!
But our covers were not without controversy. In 2006, the movie, Amazing Grace, was released, and there was great objection to the film’s content and worldwide calls to boycott the movie. We had included a feature about the words of the beautiful hymn and a great article about the film. At 7am – a few hours before the magazine was due to go to print – we still had no front cover! So I decided to use the image of the actor, Youssou N’Dor, who played the role of Olaudah Equiano. Somehow this cover made the newsdesk of CNN New York – for all the wrong reasons!
The issue was handed out at a celebration at Westminster Abbey attended by HRH The Queen, HRH Prince Phillip, and other members of the Royal family, and someone complained to all the news outlets, protesting about our cover. The news editor at CNN was humbled and full of praise when I explained our reasoning, and even Youssou N’Dor sent us a message of thanks, as he was sooo surprised to see his character on the cover!
In the early days, the old assumption was that the Black Church community was made up mostly of old ladies, sitting in the pews in their big hats, singing and clapping, when in fact our members are some of the most powerful, influential and professional members of the BME community – old and young!
Over the years, we have been recognised for our strong position in the community, and we were very grateful that the past four Prime Ministers and three London Mayors have recognised us as leaders in our field, and have often invited us to race and faith events at No 10 and City Hall. We have also been included in race and faith consultations with the heads of all of the UK TV channels, radio and print media houses, the Met Police, and with many great Black and church leaders, which include the Rev Jesse Jackson, Rev Al Sharpton and Bishop TD Jakes.
Baroness Oona King once said I was the first female media mogul that she had ever met, LOL. I love that!
It has been a memorable 16 years, and I hope the next 16 will be just as exciting!
Tributes from our contributors
We asked some of the KTF contributors to say a few words…
I am grateful and blessed that I was able to be a part of the magazine while you were in charge. You used your God-given talent to create a wonderful long-lasting magazine that will no doubt continue for generations come.
Thank you for the opportunity to write for Keep the Faith magazine. Your legacy will continue and remain. You will be missed, but I am pleased for you that you are moving onto your next venture. Remain blessed and favoured.
Shirley is a formidable woman, with drive, persistence, and humility. I thank God for the platform she has provided that so many of us could express ourselves literally to thousands of people. Thank you, Shirley, for helping me to move from impression to impact. I pray the Lord will continue to keep you and yours until we can meet again.
Rev Stephen Brooks
Thank you for being an inspiration over the last few years. Both personally, and as a contributor to Keep the Faith, you have enriched my life and I am grateful for your dedication, passion and generosity. I wish you all the best for the journey ahead.
Shirley, you are a warm, caring, beautiful and intelligent lady, with an out-of-this-world sense of humour, who I instantly connected with because we are very similar: we love people and adore animals. What you have done with KTF has been simply amazing. Just one feature (or cover, lol) has transformed lives. Enjoy life after KTF and, when you are ready to set up your farm, I’M IN! God bless you and your family richly. Love you much.
Juliet Coley (your saved-the-best-till-last cover girl!)
“Shirley is a personification of courageous opulence – leading by serving.“
Ade Omooba MBE, NCLF chair
Shirley McGreal is one of the most selfless people I know. During her time serving as Publisher of Keep The Faith, Shirley ensured the magazine spotlighted the impact Black Christians were having in the Church and society and the good things they were doing in the community. She did so humbly and sacrificially. As Shirley steps down from her role, I wish her all the best in her new life as a retiree, looking after her family and much loved dogs.
Marcia Dixon – former Keep the Faith Editor, columnist and founder of Marcia Dixon PR
Shirley’s tenacity and ingenuity in spearheading this unique publication for the UK Black Church community over so many years has been nothing short of miraculous. Keep The Faith has become an invaluable resource for which we are all in her debt. Have a happy, well deserved retirement, Shirley.
Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, NCLF trustee
“Shirley’s hard work and dedication, commitment and devotion have been the anchor for KTF magazine. Thank you for your tireless service and vision. Keep The Faith is, because you are!”
Dionne Gravesande, KTF contributor and NCLF Secretary
Warm, humorous, kind, generous… These are a few words that spring to mind when I think of Shirley. I should also add service, helpfulness and supportive. The list would be incomplete without mentioning her acute business acumen and gentle but determined disposition. Thank you, Shirley, for all that you have done. You will be missed!
Shirley is a phenomenal person. I don’t know anyone like her – a genuine TREASURE. She has been tirelessly resilient, patient, purposeful and determined. It’s an honour to be a small contributor to a big real dream. You have left an indelible imprint upon our hearts, and we are indebted to you as a community. God bless you in every way.
Written by: Shirley McGreal