John Lewis, American politician and non-violent civil rights activist for six decades, died on 17th July 2020.
In his posthumous OpEd in the NY Times, Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation, he left us with these words.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.
Close your eyes and visualise the answer to the following questions;
What brings a smile to your face?
Who brings a smile to your face?
Who are the people in the world with something to smile about?
“In terms of challenging stereotypes and representations of black boys this [image] was so powerful for me … because it’s not an image that you’re used to ever seeing, and you question why it has such an impact on you,” - Kay Rufai, photographer and mastermind of the S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys Project.
Kay Rufai started the S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys Project (short for Send Me Inspiring Loving Energy) in response to the government’s harsh response and the media’s violent stereotyping of young black men after the rise in youth stabbings in 2017-18. Kay felt certain that the rise in knife crime was a “symptom of something bigger” and decided to provide young black men with mental health support and tools.
The project’s research stage took Kay to Denmark, Sweden and Bhutan to study the Happiness Institute’s eight pillars of happiness (trust, belonging, wealth, freedom, democracy, health, balance and purpose) and how they can be implemented into society. He then created workshops, based on these pillars, harnessing a variety of art forms to enable participants to express themselves.
With the help of teachers in South London schools, Kay selected 20 - 50 black boys from three schools to participate in the project. These boys participated in the workshops, engaged in photographic, creative writing and film projects, visited exhibitions, had their own work exhibited, produced a poetry album called Boy and a Bike (Miseducation of Black Youth) and accessed mentoring. The workshops aimed to identify factors of happiness which were within the boys’ control and to create a safe space for them to express themselves. One activity the boys undertook was taking photographs of the things in their lives that contributed to, and worked against, their happiness, which they later discussed together.
The project’s impact was evaluated through questionnaires, films, focus groups and interviews with the boys and their teachers. The project saw an improvement in the boys’ well-being in many ways and a 28% increase in their overall happiness. The boys themselves had really positive responses:
“Before the project, I wasn’t as confident, and I wouldn’t share my feelings as much, but the programme has helped me build my confidence. Whenever I feel something, I’m not scared to let it out. Since I’ve started coming here, it’s not about people judging you, it’s about trying to get help and trying to work with our imperfections.” - Abrar
“Kay told us to take pictures. He really inspired me. He taught me to always stay off the road and stay in school to get my studies and my education. He’s really a joyful guy, a guy I can really speak to. Since he came here, it’s opened up my mind to so many things. It makes me want to wake up to the morning and see him speak. It’s inspirational.” - Darnell
“It’s been amazing to hang out with other black boys and to learn that we don’t have to change who we are to be accepted in society.” - Isaac
“It’s opened my eyes about things I can change in my day-to-day life to make me feel happier and it’s inspired me to be a leader because I have it in me.” - Zion
As this stage of the project ends, a peer mentorship scheme has been set up so that the boys can continue to support and encourage each other to make positive choices. Upon reviewing the project, four conclusions have been drawn and will be explored in future workshops. First, that there needs to be more well-being focused approaches in school and youth services. Second, creativity is key to unlocking wellbeing, but art spaces need to reflect this demographic better and make them feel welcome. Third, projects like this should be used to challenge negative perceptions of young boys of colour. And finally, more targeted wellbeing initiatives for young people of colour need to be provided, and at an early age.
This project has put a smile on our faces and we hope it has for you too.
Words: Rachel Finegan
Photography: Kay Rufai
I set up Brothers We Stand to stand alongside the men and women who make our clothes. Too easily we view the makers as ‘other’ and not deserving of the same respect as ourselves.
At the heart of discrimination of all forms is when we see our fellow human beings as somehow ‘other’. Race, tragically, is all too often the basis by which we pronounce these judgements of ‘other’.
At Brothers We Stand, we join with many around the world, to call out discrimination by race as wholly unacceptable. As a fashion business Brothers We Stand benefits from the diverse influences of our global community. I want Brothers We Stand to be an organisation that celebrates diversity, champions justice and contributes to a culture that does so too.
My thoughts are with all who have suffered and are fighting racial injustice; above all else their stories must be heard.
Brothers We Stand founder
Photo: Man at Hyde Park Black Lives Matter demonstration 3rd June 2020 by Ollie Reimann
As the earth starts showing the cracks from a modern polluting lifestyle, individuals are taking notice, speaking out and doing things differently. Today we meet Lars, a slow fashion designer and environmentalist, to chat about the environment and his initiative, World Supporting Goods.
Covid-19 has revealed weaknesses in our existing systems, and panic-buying in particular has revealed that we do not think about how our consumer choices affect others. Although there is plenty of toilet paper to go around, we now have an unequal distribution because with heightened anxiety, a handful of buyers have first considered their own needs above the needs of society as a whole. I don’t blame them.
Over the last 500 years of Western thought, we have seen a gradual trend towards placing value on the individual above the relational ties between individuals. We consider ourselves to be autonomous units that are self-contained, rather than relational creatures who are designed to love.
The rise of consumerism over the past 100 years has been somewhat unprecedented. If we evaluate our cultural values based on our collective actions and habits, we can easily assert that our culture believes that more stuff will make us happy. Put simply, the end goal of human flourishing is to have lots of stuff. Indeed, there has been pushback with the minimalist movement. Their claim is that more stuff clearly doesn’t make us happy, so we should try and have less stuff instead. The problem is that stuff is still at the centre of their philosophy.
To understand the problems with our collective buying habits, we actually need to dig deeper. Typically, we think, ‘will this thing (or will throwing away this thing) make me happy?’ What we need to think is, ‘how does this thing impact the people it connects me with?’
Consumerism as we know it is based on the flawed cultural assumption that our spending has no impact on other people. And yet consumption is not amoral. We know this because there is a supply chain, which links the stuff we consume to a lot of other people all over the planet.
Other cultures know that consumption is relational because when they go to market, they have to look the merchant in the eye. When they haggle or bargain on the value of a product, they have to do so face to face with the person who is selling it to feed their family. But for us in the West, this process is out of sight and out of mind. If I buy a new phone, I do not have to think about how the materials that made it were mined from the earth’s resources, nor do I have to think of the people who worked in the factory where it was made.
So, if we want to save our planet and consider how others are impacted by our consumption, we need to completely reimagine our cultural values.
Every consumer choice that you make will impact another person. In fact, it will impact hundreds of people plus the planet that 7.8 billion people live on. There is not one purchase that has not had an impact on another human. But, if we bring back the value of relationship into our society, then can we learn how to make consistently ethical choices in our everyday spending habits. When we buy, we need to ask, ‘who does this affect?’ and ‘how will this empower or disempower the people whom I share this planet with?’
This is not a case of throwing away the value of the individual, rather it is a case of understanding that there are other individuals on this earth too. We need to remember to value the relationships between these individuals, not just ourselves as self-contained units.
To summarise, nothing you buy is amoral. It’s just a question of what sort of impact you want to have on other people, and what sort of world you want to build for future generations.
So, how do we begin to reshape our cultural values? As a first century Rabbi once stated, ‘you should love your neighbour as yourself.’ I think this is a good place to start.
Sarah Coppin is a theologian and artist based in Cambridge.
It is a strange time for us all right now. I personally feel like the ground has shifted and I haven’t fully found my feet. I'm hopeful of finding a new rhythm to daily life as we slow down and work through the challenges ahead.
The Brothers We Stand website remains open for now. The guidance from the WHO (World Health Organisation) is that the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.
We have been in touch with our designers and the majority will continue to fulfil orders. If a designer is pausing operations or predicts delays we will share this on our product pages.
Our delivery partners such as Royal Mail are working hard to maintain a safe and as comprehensive a service as possible. It is likely that they may experience some reduction in service levels and we thank you in advance for your patience.
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Given the evolving nature of this crisis we will keep you up to date as circumstances change.
Brothers We Stand will continue to support those designing and making our clothes in a more sustainable and ethical way, as we all play our part in caring for each other and our world through the difficult months ahead.
Brothers We Stand Founder