Hidden Heroes

Photo Credit: Tejas Sandhu

Sub-editor Michele Theil looks at the successes of RHUL's BAME alumnI.

In celebration of Black History Month, Orbital Magazine decided to take a look at the successes of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) alumna in the history of Bedford College, Holloway College and Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL).

There are many prominent people that attended Royal Holloway and Bedford New College but there are only a few that have made such a difference in the world.

Sarah Parker Redmond attended Royal Holloway’s predecessor, Bedford College. It is often not mentioned that Bedford College, established in 1849 “the first higher education college for women in the UK”, previously merged with Royal Holloway College to become what we know it as today.Redmond was a lecturer on slavery and race and was part of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS). She is heralded as an abolitionist and an anti-slavery activist.  As an agent of the AAS, she was sent to England to gain support from the British for the Union Army. It was during this time that she attended Bedford New College.

Later in life, Redmond studied medicine in Italy and became a physician. Many people voted for the new library to be named the Sarah Parker Redmond building, due to her inspiring story and the work she did for the abolition of slavery movement.

Valerie Vaz, a prominent labour MP, previously studied biochemistry at Bedford College. She grew up in Twickenham, a nearby borough. Vaz qualified as a solicitor in 1984 and became an MP for Walsall South first in 2010 and was reelected in the recent snap election. She has done a lot of work for the community, including being a school governor and a member of a health authority.

In more recent years, famed comedian Sir Lenny Henry attended Royal Holloway and studied for an MA in Screenwriting for Television and Film. Many may recognise Henry from his stand-up career as well as his presence in several Premier Inn adverts around the country. He is also a prominent actor, having starred in many of his own screenplays. He previously graduated with a degree in English Literature (BA, Hons) from The Open University in 2007 before choosing to attend Royal Holloway for his Master’s degree. In 2010, he began studying as a Postgraduate Research Student in the Department of Media Arts, choosing to look at race, class and gender in the film industry.

Henry has always praised Royal Holloway and really enjoyed studying here. He is quoted as saying: “Royal Holloway has opened up a huge door for me with regard to screenplay writing and other kinds of creativity that I wouldn’t have imagined possible.”

Recently, Lenny Henry was involved in a campaign led by Sadiq Khan, calling for more ethnically diverse TV Programmes. Khan wrote “a strongly worded letter to Ofcom head Sharon White”, calling for BAME productions to hire BAME people for at least 50% of its staff and 30% of its senior personnel. This is actually Henry’s plan and is strongly endorsed by Khan, raising awareness for more diversity within the media, both on-air and off-air.

Royal Holloway’s Principal, Paul Layzell, recently tweeted an article describing Vanessa Kingori’s new appointment as the Publishing Director of British Vogue. Layzell congratulated her as an alumni of RHUL. Kingori, a British woman of Kenyan origin previously studied Management and Sociology at RHUL. She will take over British Vogue’s publishing from esteemed publisher Stephen Quinn at the end of this calendar year.Kingori used to work for the Evening Standard’s ES magazine and Esquire Magazine before being appointed as the Publisher of British GQ Magazine in March 2015; an appointment that made history as she was the first woman to lead the male-dominated magazine.

Both GQ and Vogue are under the control of media company Condé Nast. Within Condé Nast’s 100-year history, Kingori was the first and only black woman to be appointed as a publisher. She was also the youngest publisher at the company when she was first appointed to GQ. In 2016, Kingori was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth on the Queen’s 90th birthday. She was also listed as one of the UK’s Most Influential Black Britons and sits on Sadiq Khan’s Brexit Expert Advisory Panel as a result of her impressive achievements.

Redmond, Vaz, Henry and Kingori are only a few of the amazing people that have attended Royal Holloway and gone on to do some wonderful and inspiring things for the community. For more amazing people, check out the alumni page of RHUL’s website.