Who Are Their Heroes?

As part of Black History Month, Keep The Faith asked leading Christians to name a Black hero or shero and share the reasons for their choice.  Here are their responses…

MY BLACK HERO: MARY PRINCE 

A formally enslaved woman in the Caribbean, Mary Prince’s voice made a significant contribution to the abolition of the slave trade. 

The book, A History of Mary Prince, was published in 1831, which detailed the inhumane treatment of enslaved Africans on British plantations. 

Prince’s story revealed the awful experience of Black women but also demonstrated a resolute belief in God, and commitment to abolition. 

Clare Williams is founder of Get Real Apologetics.

MY BLACK HERO: PROFESSOR GUS JOHN

My work in education, which has included raising achievement in an inner-city school and winning the borough’s Outstanding Teacher Award, would have been cut short had I not received the support of Professor Gus John.

I was denied a maintenance grant, and without it I would have been unable to embark on a four-year teacher training programme. I pleaded for the decision to be reconsidered to the then Director of Education at Hackney Council, Gus John. Three days later I received a letter overturning the original ruling, which enabled me to begin my studies and become a qualified teacher. 

I’m grateful to Professor John for his stellar work in education, and for giving me the opportunity to train to be a teacher. His legacy of changing lives through education continues.  

Juliet Coley BCAe is an award-winning educator and publisher who retired as a Senior Deputy Headteacher after 20 years in education.

MY BLACK HERO:  DILLIBE ONYEAMA 

Dillibe Onyeama was the first Black person to finish their studies at Eton College – one of the most well-known educational establishments in the world. Although Tokunbo Akanni Akintola, the 13-year‐old son of the then Prime Minister of Western Nigeria, became the first to be enrolled at the prestigious school in 1964, Onyeama was the first Black student to actually graduate from Eton.  

Onyeama was banned from visiting the school by then headmaster Michael McCrum for 50 years after writing a book – Nigger at Eton — about his experiences of racism at the school. However, he opened the door to the school that has educated the most UK Prime Ministers for future Black students.

Muyiwa Olarewaju is a gospel artist, station director, and presenter of Turning Point International.

MY BLACK HERO: REV DR JOEL EDWARDS

“If the devil said to me, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ I would agree with him. Would I argue with him to hell about it? No, I would not.”

Thought-provoking and simply brilliant. These were the words of the late Rev Dr Joel Edwards, delivered during a Christian Evidence Society webinar, ‘Which Lives Matter?’

He was unlike any other leader known to my generation. Impressive in faith and statesmanship, he would garner the attention of any people — irrespective of demographic — for such was his calibre; he made everyone listen. 

He challenged the long-held typecast of the clergy man as one who excelled only within the confines of the church or among the faithful. He was a blueprint for cutting-edge ministry that showcased the credibility of Christ. Through his unique style, he championed young Black ministers to pursue the call and the Black Church to do justice that benefits society. 

We are better because he showed us we can do better.

Rev Dr Garrick Wilson is Senior Pastor NTCG Reading, Berkshire; a research scientist and medical academic at two leading universities and affiliated hospitals where he works in cancer research and infectious disease control.

MY BLACK HERO: BILL MORRIS, BARON MORRIS OF HANDSWORTH

I salute Lord Bill Morris, one of Britain’s very own Labour movement veterans. Lord Morris was the first Black General Secretary of a trade union – notwithstanding the largest union in the UK, the Transport and General Workers’ Union — and is one of the most influential Black people in Britain.

From childhood I have been inspired by seeing this high-profile Black man in the public domain, promoting human dignity, fairness and equality. He is an exceptional leader with strong values, uncompromising in his belief, and a positive role model for Black boys. He fittingly served as the Patron for my charity, Black Boys Can, for many years.

Dr Cheron Byfield is a visionary, trailblazer, transformational leader, author and co-founder of the educational charity, Excell3 and King Solomon International Business School, an all-through school in Birmingham.

MY BLACK HERO: FATHER OLU ABIOLA

For half a century, Father Olu Abiola, Chair of the Council of African and Caribbean Churches, has been a builder of bridges for better understanding between African Indigenous churches and other churches in Britain. From the British Council of Churches to Churches Together he has ensured participation by African and Caribbean churches in national ecumenical affairs. He has been the outstanding African ecumenist in Britain.

Father Abiola has been an inspirational figure in his exemplary practice of inter-denominational and cross-cultural relationships in Britain since the 1970s. He has been for me a reassuring father figure in the important work Churches Together does. He has also shed much light on the importance of the prayer ministry of white-garmented Christian movements, like Aladura.

Bishop Joe Aldred is a retired Christian ecumenist, writer, speaker and broadcaster and part of the National Church Leaders Forum.

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