Beyond the Spotlight News

Beyond the Spotlight: Wilfred Zaha

BORN:  10th November 1992 in Abidjan , Ivory Coast

Currently plays as a Winger for Crystal Palace, where he has been for a majority of his career to date, since making his debut in 2010.

Outside of football he does the following;

1. He donates 10% of his  monthly salary to charities in the UK and Ivory Coast CLICK HERE

2. Every year he funds  football tournament in the suburb of where he was born in Abidjan. The tournament is a platform to showcase upcoming talented footballers who are able to connect with potential clubs and agents.(This is mentioned 6.15 minutes into the documentary below)

3. He launched his own fashion brand “Long Live Studios”. Read more about it HERE. Checkout their website


Beyond the Spotlight is  brand new initiative of AC Global Voices. The purpose of this section is to uncover the whereabouts of past African Caribbean  sporting figures to find out where they are now, as well as unearthing the positive works that current African Caribbean sporting figures are involved  in behind the scenes.

Initially this was going to be a separate blog, but I decided to merge this with AC Global Voices at it fits in with the overall concept of the platform.


News Online Shows

The Brit-Nigerian Host Providing A Platform For Black Women

Jo (Ibijoke) Maxwell wants to give black women in Britain a platform to share their stories

BRITISH-NIGERIAN media personality, Jo (Ibijoke) Maxwell is not your typical talk show host. After studying Accounting and Finance, Jo changed careers to become an IT Specialist within the Financial Industry and developed a passion for the media when she struggled to find images of black women consistently on British screens.

She rarely saw black women and men on TV who reflected the positive success stories that she was surrounded by within her network. Jo is particularly passionate about seeing individuals within the Black community succeed in all of their endeavours; in their personal lives, careers, businesses. She decided to launch her very own talk show to give women an opportunity to showcase these successes and counteract the lack of visibility for Black women in the UK within Mainstream media. Her show also features inspirational black men who enrich their communities.

The Jo Maxwell Show was launched on YouTube in 2017 with the first season PEPTALK, covering a range of topics that pushed the boundaries of the usual conversations within the Black Community in the UK. Using a new media platform like YouTube has given Jo the opportunity to take control of a positive narrative and reach a far wider audience without relying on traditional media.

“I decided to undertake this journey to allow me to showcase some of the inspiring and amazing black people who have done so well for themselves in the UK,” said Maxwell. “I also wanted to tackle real life issues and topics that the Black British Community is not always confident in talking about i.e. Child Sexual Abuse, Why African men do not like to marry older women, Should a Woman downplay her success to keep a man, domestic violence and more.”

In 2018 Jo will be releasing the seconnd series of PEPTALK aimed at black women from all over the world and The UK including African and Caribbean diaspora and African-American community and a new show called One to One, aimed at Black men and women across the world.

The show is currently based in the UK but the power of YouTube means that it has a global audience and Jo will be filming the show internationally in the future. Maxwell believes that everyone exists to add value to people around them and the world they live in.

The Jo Maxwell Show motto is to “Stand out and make a difference.”

International News News

KweliTV is Netflix for black people, by black people, starring black people aims to be the go-to streaming media platform for black filmmakers all over the world to share their content and make money from its distribution. KweliTV handpicks all of its content, with 98 percent of the content having been official selections at film festivals worldwide.

“There are a lot of really great filmmakers out there globally,” KweliTV founder DeShuna Spencer told me. “For us, we’re offering an avenue for filmmakers of color to make money off of their work and be celebrated for the work they do.”

Perhaps, more importantly, KweliTV wants to be a source of authentic storytelling of the black community from the black perspective. A recent study showed the mainstream media (news and opinion media) offers a consistently warped view of black people and black families. For example, black families represent 59 percent of the poor in mainstream media even though they make up just 27 percent of low-income people, according to Color of Change. Meanwhile, white families make up just 17 percent of low-income people while they officially represent 66 percent of the country’s low-income population.

Kweli, which means “truth” in Swahili, aims to tell all sides of the black experience. In order for content to be featured on KweliTV, the the main character needs to be of African descent and “not the sidekick, the friend of the fairy godmother,” KweliTV founder DeShuna Spencer told me. “The black person has to be the main character.”

An example of some KweliTV content is a film called Something Necessary. Created by Kenyan filmmaker Judy Kibinge, Something Necessary explores life after the civil unrest in Kenya following the 2007 elections through the eyes of a woman named Anne. In 2013, the film was nominated for audience choice award at the Chicago International Film Festival and screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

There are currently 200 titles on the platform, with KweliTV adding about three titles a week in the categories of documentary, shorts and full-length features. Subscribers can watch KweliTV on the web or via Roku, Apple TV or Google Play. Unlike Netflix, the goal is not to have an endless library of content. Instead. KweliTV wants to keep it intimate with no more than 500 titles at a time.

KweliTV, which launched out of beta just a few months ago, currently has 2,000 paying subscribers. By the end of the year, the goal is to hit 30,000 paid subscribers. An annual membership costs $49.99/year and a monthly one costs $5.99.

As a value-add to the streaming content, KweliTV partners with other black-owned businesses to offer discounts and other perks to its subscribers. Subscribers can access discounts at companies like Heritage Box, Black Card Revoked, African Ancestry and others.

 On the creator side, filmmakers get paid based on how many minutes people spend viewing their content. More specifically, 60 percent of Kweli.TV’s revenue goes to filmmakers, who get paid quarterly.

In alignment with Spencer’s desire to keep it intimate, KweliTV is going to start hosting in-person events for its members to connect with each other. The first event will be next month.

“We really see Kweli as being a community more than a streaming service,” Spencer said. “Our customers are asking us to be more community-oriented.”

KweliTV is a bootstrapped company in the traditional sense, meaning it hasn’t raised funding from any angel investors or VCs. The company has, however, won $65,000 from a couple of startup competitions.

“It’s a full-time job to raise money,” Spencer said. “That’s not to say we’ll never raise but today, my focus is on revenue.”

One of KweliTV’s competitors, Afrostream, shut down last August, despite raising $4 million in capital. Spencer pointed to Afrostream as a bit of a cautionary tale of trying to grow too quickly.

Instead of becoming a unicorn, Spencer sees her company as a zebra. Unlike unicorns, zebras a profitable and work to improve society, and KweliTV is achieving both of those requirements.

News Radio

Meet The Critics returns to Colourful Radio on with a LIVE Black Panther special

Colourful Radio have announced that Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe will host a second series of panel show Meet The Critics.

The format will return for a 10 week run on Friday 16th February at the new time of 7pm. Joining him on each show will be 4 pundits from the world of film as they debate the week’s talking points in the movie business and other considered topics.

It’s also been announced that journalist Elizabeth Pears, news editor at Buzz Feed UK, will be joining the regular line-up of pundits for season 2.

The pundits for season 1 included Daryl Sledge, Paul Atherton,
Issac Tomiczek, Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, Simone Pennant, Paulette Harris-German, Stephan Pierre Mitchell, Jo Eluka and Jesse Quinones.

The new series will kick off with a live hour long discussion of the movie Black Panther – scheduled to be released across the UK on 12 February.

The new series will be universally accessible on digital radio via, via apps, mobile and across London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Listeners will also be able to interact with the show online via the Twitter handle (@_MeetTheCritics)

About Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe
Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe is the director of the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF) which he founded in 2005 having previously worked for the BFM (Black Filmmaker Magazine) International Film Festival and the Screen Nation Film & TV Awards. To date, the festival has screened over 500 films, securing broadcast platforms for BAME and urban independent writers, actors, actresses, producers and directors on the BBC i-player, Channel 4, Community Channel and London Live. In September 2015, BUFF launched its’ own awards and honours system to showcase creative talent that has been championed by the festival. In 2016, BUFF was ranked by as the top film festival for diversity for audiences to attend in the world. In 2017, the BUFF awards, which are hosted annually, was broadcast live on Facebook.

About Colourful Radio
Colourful Radio is a multi-award-winning, unique, independent 24/7 music and conversation digital radio service on DAB, Apps, TuneIn, and online at We do ‘great MUSIC. engaging CONVERSATION’.

International News News

How Black Hollywood Is Failing The Black Press

This article was written by staff writer and producer Keyaira Kelly and was originally published by our iONE sister site Hello Beautiful.

I was a budding journalist nervously going over my iPhone notes for my first red carpet interview when I noticed it. I was proudly standing on the HelloBeautiful place marker waiting for the behind-the-scenes chaos to begin, when I spotted around my feet the strategic placements of almost every other Black outlet in the space. It doesn’t take a veteran to realize the Black press cluster at the end of red carpet lineups makes Black reporters susceptible to the brush-by of celebs and publicists who politely quip, “sorry, ran out of time” as they scurry out of view. Black media often receives rushed statements, or no comment at all, even though that same Black celebrity stopped for E! Online just moments ago.

The strategic cafeteria table-esque segregation of Black press on red carpets is one of many micro-aggressions we face as Black journalists. And while being placed at the tail-end of a carpet is more indicative of the predominately White media system and its value assessment of Black press, these oversights are even more hurtful when they come from your own people. The fact is, too many of our Black celebrities are simply not supporting us.

Most, if not all, Black celeb power seeds in our communities. The dominant corporations and media powers-that-be mine our talent and resources for the “next big thing.” And Black media celebrates when our people are plucked out of our silos and make it. We cheer as they float up into mainstream heaven with the hopes that, as they ascend, that they will still feel our loose grips on their balloon strings and tug back.

But all too often, that mutual support just isn’t felt. In many cases, once a celebrity passes a certain status, they completely forget about those same Black media outlets who were among the first to cover them and their talents.

We live in an age where social capital immediately translates into monetary capital. Re-tweets and shares translate into clicks, which drive traffic and advertising dollars and revenue. That’s the reality of our business model. So when small teams of Black journalists take the time and effort to profile a Black celebrity with a large reach and that content isn’t shared with the influencer’s audiences, the impact reverberates through us all.

Just a simple scan of some of your favorite Black celebs Twitter and IG feeds and you would discover links to and RTs of interviews they did with White outlet after White outlet, while Black-owned, Black-run press is often omitted from the conversation.

I don’t write this with the intent to say the erasure is entirely malicious or even conscious. The lure of White validation is something we’ve all been conditioned to seek. In 2016, Very Smart Brothas writer Damon Young, unpacked how he, and many other Black people, subconsciously value “the attention of the mainstream platforms more than the Black ones”–even if they don’t show us the same love back. We still throw up our hands in outrage when we lose Oscars and Grammys and Golden Globes to mediocre White talent, when in reality those systems were never created to celebrate us in the first place.

After Beyoncés “Lemonade” album of the year Grammy snub in 2016, Solange echoed this sentiment urging black folks to “Create your own committees, build your own institutions, give your friends awards, award yourself, and be the gold you wanna hold my g’s.”

Black press was born from that same place of urgency. Early 19th-century Black newspapers like the Freedom’s Journal, the North Star and the Frederick Douglas Papers sought to inform Black people from Black perspectives during a time when literacy rates were dismal among our people.

After thriving for a century, many Black newspapers folded, unable to attract advertising dollars in the midst of economic crisis.

Fortunately, the spirit of those early Black media outlets were reincarnated digitally, with outlets like The Root, Ebony, The Grio, Blavity, Black Voices, Madame Noire, Essence, and HelloBeautiful’s own parent company iOne Digital now carrying the torch and commitment to telling our stories our way.

In a time where the press and freedom of speech are under attack more than ever before in modern history, the support from our communities and our celebrities is indispensable. When we say Black Lives Matter, we have to talk about this statement beyond the clutches of police brutality: behind every one of our bylines is a Black life. Black jobs matter. Black families matter. Black POVs matters. Black ownership matters. #BlackPressMatters.

And when you have a company, like iOne Digital, which is one of the few remaining Black-owned media companies in the country, snubbed or not acknowledged for our coverage and support of Black interests, it eats away at the foundation of success that keeps our communities alive.

So Black celebs, my brothers and sisters, I urge you to pay attention to the Black journalist at the end of the carpet nervously holding her recorder waiting to snag a quote from you. Tell your publicist that you want to give equal time to People Mag and MadameNoire. Google your name and make a note to retweet or share the latest article from the small Black women’s website that can’t get enough of your style choices. When breaking news happens, make it a point to share coverage from the black perspective as well as the big headline from CNN. After you complete an interview, post that photo inside our small studios and don’t forget to tag our brands.

We’re all in this together. And nobody wins when the family forgets.

Keyaria Kelly, staff writer and producer for HelloBeautiful

International News News

How tragedy inspired Medsaf co-founder to tackle Nigeria’s counterfeit drug crisis

Counterfeit drugs are a grave problem in Nigeria. Vivian Nwakah, a co-founder of healthtech startup Medsaf, knows this too well. Four years ago a friend of hers died after taking fake malaria medication.

The counterfeit drug crisis in the West African country came to a head this week with police carrying out raids on several street markets.

On Monday, Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control called on Nigerians to assist the agency in its fight against counterfeit drugs by coming forward and reporting any forms of illegal drug production.

“I felt that that could have been anybody, it could have been me,” said Nwakah (pictured above), who lost her friend to counterfeit drugs.

She said that during the time, those who could were bringing “suitcases of medications” for their families and friends from outside the country.

After the loss of her friend she set about talking to drug manufacturers from around the world on their thoughts on the counterfeit drug crisis in Nigeria. She was particularly interested to know why these pharmaceutical companies weren’t providing drugs directly to the country.

“I talked to hospitals and pharmacies across the Lagos area to understand what their challenges were, if any, around purchasing or procuring medication,” she added.

Solving a disjointed supply chain

She discovered that underlying problem was one of a “disjointed chaotic supply chain issue”.

“Manufacturers have trouble getting their medication across the country, they have trouble with the lack of transparency and distribution, they have trouble with being able to control their brand and just being confident that their medication will not be adulterated with,” said Nwakah.

Hospitals and pharmacies also battle to secure medications. “They are working with 10, 20 sometimes over 70 or 100 various wholesale distributors to get all of the medication that they need,” she said. This ends up making the procurement process more expensive than it ought to be.

“You see leakage everywhere, so there really isn’t a really standardised way to control for quality. You don’t know where that medication you purchased actually came from,” she said.

In 2014 she founded Medsaf — a curated medication platform that connects pharmacies and hospitals with safe, cost effective medications — with Temitope Awosika, who has a background in industrial and clinical pharmacy.

Medsaf customers receive about $400 worth of medication per average purchase. The startup is currently generating between $15 000 and $20 000 per month.

“That’s just with about 50 or 60 hospitals that are purchasing from us. We have over 300 pharmacies and hospitals that have signed up to use our platform,” she said.

The startup’s biggest challenge has been raising money. Initially the founders ploughed in their own money. “A lot of the problems we do face, you can trace them to the lack of capital,” she said.

To date the startup has raised about $100 000 in funding and Nwakah and Awosika are looking to raise a further $150 000 to $200 000 to fund the platform.

Nwakah said the additional funding will be used towards improving the platform’s tech, systems and for on-boarding of more clients.

She said the success of the startup hinges on relationships and collaboration with drug manufacturers, hospitals and pharmacies, this she said has entails understanding how their stakeholders operate.

She believes the platform makes it easier for hospitals to provide better care to their patients and assists pharmacies to generate more sales.

“We are basically saying here’s an absolutely new way to distribute your medication in a way that nobody is really doing in Nigeria.

“We will actually help improve some of the things you struggle with, like making sure that your medication (is) the right price, making sure that they (medication) are reaching the end consumer in the correct manner,” she said.

Not just a Nigerian problem

She said the aim now is to expand the platform to other countries. While she mentioned Kenya as an attractive market, she is keen to focus on expanding to the rest of West Africa.

“The open drug markets of Nigeria they actually supply up to 60% of West Africa. So, we know that this problem is not just a Nigerian problem,” she said.

Ventureburn was a guest of Seedstars at last week’s Seedstars Africa regional summit which took place in Maputo, Mozambique.

Featured image: Medsaf co-founder Vivian Nwakah.

International News News

BBC World Service appoints new leaders for East and West African Languages

The BBC World Service has appointed Rachael Akidi Okwir (right) and Toyosi Ogunseye (left) as heads of language services for East and West Africa respectively. The appointments are part of the BBC World Service’s continuing expansion in Africa.

Rachael Akidi Okwir, Head of East Africa Languages, is based in Nairobi, Kenya and oversees services in Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Somali, Swahili and Tigrinya.

Head of West Africa Languages, Toyosi Ogunseye, is based in Lagos, Nigeria will be starting in January 2018 where she will be managing Afrique, Hausa, Igbo, Pidgin & Yoruba.

Rachael was the Editor of the flagship radio programme Focus on Africa. She joined the BBC World Service as a producer in 2002 and has worked across various platforms and programmes including Network Africa, The World Today, Focus On Africa TV and the website

In recognition of her leadership qualities and potential, Rachael was selected for the inaugural BBC News Leadership Programme. Born in Uganda her career in journalism started as a freelance contributor to Ugandan newspapers and radio stations whilst a student at Makerere University.

Rachael says: “I am deeply honoured to be leading the BBC’s expansion and digital transformation in the East and Horn of Africa. The media landscape in the region is rapidly evolving. It is a vibrant, challenging and competitive market, but with massive potential and opportunities. I am excited to be part of the team that will be at the forefront of this transformation.”

Toyosi Ogunseye was the Editor of the Sunday Punch, one of Nigeria’s most widely read newspapers. She was the first female editor in the 45 year history of the company. An award winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting, she has won over 30 awards and was the first Nigerian to win the prestigious Knight International Journalism award.

Toyosi is a fellow of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative and currently sits on the board of the World Editors Forum. She holds an MSc in Media and Communication and is currently studying for a PhD in Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester.

Toyosi says: “It is a huge honour to be appointed Head of West of Africa for the BBC. I’m excited about this new role and I look forward to working with BBC’s amazing journalists in the region. I have no doubt that we will continue to produce the quality journalism that our audiences love us for.”

Solomon Mugera Regional Editor for BBC Africa says:  “Rachael and Toyosi are talented journalists, each with an impressive track record of strong editorial focus and inspiring leadership. They are passionate about original journalism and finding creative ways of engaging with the audience.”

News UK

Social Media Has Done For Black British Women In One Decade What TV Couldn’t In Thirty Years

Growing up in the 90s, one might assert that TV was reasonably good for black people living in the UK. Although black and brown faces were few and far between, we were at least treated to strong matriarchs imported from the USA such as Aunt Viv and Claire Huxtable. They were educated, homely women holding their families together with grace, love and discipline. We also had our sense of humour tickled with our own comedies such as Desmond’s and The Real McCoy.

If TV could pass for reasonable back then, it really is a lot to be desired now. Today when I switch on the box, I see almost no black women on our everyday popular TV shows.

It seems that with the turn of the century when one should expect more diversity on the TV, the British black woman is left wanting. I have asked myself many times why the BBC only see fit to roll out the carpet for black women on TV during popular sporting events such as the Olympics. Frankly we need more.

But where mainstream media has failed, social media has stepped in and filled the racial equality gap. I am sure that when YouTube launched back in 2005, little did its founders know that it was doing something unique for the lives and public image of black women. It has given us a much-needed gift, which is a voice. A voice that can reach anyone with an internet connection – uncensored and uninterrupted. In 2015 TV accounted for 76% of all video viewing in the UK, down from 81% the previous year, whilst YouTube viewing had grown to 4% over the decade*. Whilst the difference looks vast now, I truly believe that TV as we know it is becoming an endangered species. And as more people wake up to the fact that YouTube is offering more realistic images of themselves, the decline of television viewing will happen faster than we think.

What social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat have offered are images of black women living content lives, having healthy relationships, chasing degrees, writing books, buying houses and starting businesses. These new images are challenging the status quo.

 Pictures of the frustrated black woman, mouthy and angry, lonely and single-handedly bringing up her children have had their day, and this is all thanks to what we are seeing online.

I first started watching YouTube seriously back in 2014. I was searching for old music videos when a thumbnail of Chanel Boateng (now Chanel Ambrose) appeared on the right hand of my screen. I clicked on it out of curiosity, and immediately fell in love with the bubbly, funny persona I was watching. What’s more, she was a black Londoner like myself, beautiful, and living an ordinary life. I remember binge watching about ten of her videos that night which covered everything from beauty and fashion to lifestyle and motivation. My foray into the online world introduced me to other very popular, and much-loved YouTube personalities such as Patricia Bright and Breeny Lee.

For me, seeing these wonderful women is doing wonders to lift the esteem of back girls because for once, we have the choice of skipping what BBC One and Two have largely offered us for years: white, male and middle class. We are seeing women such as Nissy Tee and Courtney Daniella (who both attended Cambridge!) present us with a life of achievement and optimism. What makes it even more beautiful is that they are relatable. Their videos and pictures have removed the glitz and glam from success. Although it’s always nice to see a made-up face and a laid wig, the truth is that these ladies are not afraid to share themselves bare faced, wigless, on their bad days, on sick days and at moments of absolute frustration! They are teaching us that you don’t need to be Oprah Winfrey, or The Real Housewives of Atlanta to be deemed successful; that doing everyday things such as getting into the university of your dreams or finding a good job can be quantified as success.

What I am most impressed by is the way these women have leveraged their status to make bigger moves. Whilst Patricia Bright is a brand ambassador for L’Oreal, Chanel Ambrose is the CEO of her makeup line, Amby Rose. Courtney Daniella has recently started her line of custom made wigs – CDB Wigs, whilst Nissy Tee has launched BEBB (Be Educated Be Bold), an online media platform.

In ten years, this is what social media has achieved for the average black woman living in the UK. We are being represented. We are being inspired. A simple thing that mainstream media has failed to do.

A version of this post is also available to read on


News Publications

Founder of SheaMoisture, Richelieu Dennis, Acquires Essence From Time Inc.

Essence Communications Inc., the 48-year-old mutliplatform brand that owns Essence magazine and the annual Essence Festival, has gone back to black (ownership), having been acquired by Essence Ventures LLC, an independent African-American-owned company, Essence Ventures announced in a press release.

As reported earlier by Journal-isms for The Root, the Essence brand was not part of the historic, nearly $3 billion sale of Time Inc. to the Meredith Corp. in November 2017.

The brand was looking for another buyer and has apparently found one with Essence Ventures, which was founded and is chaired by Liberian-American Richelieu Dennis, who also is founder of SheaMoisture (in November, Unilever acquired the parent company for SheaMoisture, Sundial Brands).

“[W]e are excited to be able to return this culturally relevant and historically significant platform to ownership by the people and the consumers whom it serves, and offer new opportunities for the women leading the business to also be partners in the business,” said Dennis of the Essence brand acquisition.

Essence President Michelle Ebanks will continue at the helm of the company and will join its board of directors; she will also have an equity stake in the business.

“This acquisition of Essence represents the beginning of an exciting transformation of our iconic brand as it evolves to serve the needs and interests of multigenerational black women around the world in an even more elevated and comprehensive way across print, digital, e-commerce and experiential platforms,” said Ebanks. “In addition, it represents a critical recognition, centering and elevation of the black women running the business from solely a leadership position to a co-ownership position.”

Ebanks is referring to the fact that Essence’s executive team consists entirely of black women.

The release states further that Essence will focus on expanding its digital businesses and continue to “plant its rich content” in more global markets (the Essence Festival launched a Durban, South Africa, festival in 2016).

Essence currently reaches an audience of more than 16 million across its various platforms, including its print magazine; digital, video and social platforms; television specials; books; and live events, such as the annual Essence Festival, a 22-year-old cultural celebration that attracted more than 450,000 attendees to New Orleans last summer.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

International News News

We’re not a gang’: the unfair stereotyping of African-Australians

It’s just after 6.30pm at the Ross Reserve in Noble Park in Melbourne’s outer south-eastern suburbs, and players from the Sandown Lions Football Club are arriving for training.

They train three times a week, even during the off season. Each arrival is greeted with a round of handshakes and a wary glance at our camera.

During a week in which prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was “very concerned at the growing gang violence and lawlessness in Victoria”; federal health minister Greg Hunt said “African gang crime in some areas … is clearly out of control”; and home affairs minister Peter Dutton said people in Melbourne were “scared to go out to restaurants” because of “African gang violence”, the team is understandably cautious about media attention.

It won the state league division five south premiership in 2017 and boasts some of the most talented players in the league, but that’s not the reason journalists like us come to visit. We’re here because the club – from its 40 members to its executive board – is of South Sudanese heritage.

And, according to Victoria police deputy commissioner Shane Patton, so are the “young thugs” who make up the “street gangs” that have dominated media coverage in Melbourne over the traditionally quiet Christmas and New Year period.

It has been a frustrating week, says club secretary Maji Maji.

“We don’t have to prove that we are good people,” he says. “We are just a soccer club.”

Media reports about crimes committed by “African gangs” have led to increased scrutiny of the community. Ever since the brawl at the Moomba festival in March 2016, the club leadership says, they have been stopped more frequently by police and accused by people of being gang members.

Even the team has been profiled, facing racial taunts on and off the field. One player received a five-year ban and a $5,000 fine during a previous season for kicking a bin as he walked off the field during half-time after players from the opposing team made racist remarks. There have also been times when they have received up to $10,000 in fines for similar low-level infractions. With no government funding or corporate sponsorship, the club is one big penalty away from folding.

Yet it is providing exactly the kind of activity that police and the Victorian government say is needed to keep young men of Sudanese background off the streets and engaged in the community.

“They’re here three or four times a week, they go home, they’re too tired to act out,” Latjor Reath, one of the club’s managers, says. “They [the government] should be supporting us, not trying to start new programs from scratch.”

Criminals by association

People born in Sudan and South Sudan account for just 0.14% of Victoria’s population. Many of the teenagers linked to the now defunct Apex gang, which was blamed for the Moomba brawl, and its successor Menace to Society (MTS), were born in Melbourne and are Australian citizens.

National media coverage of crime in Melbourne, elevated over three high-profile events in December, created the perception that gang violence was rampant and growing. Neither of those assertions are true, Victoria police say. While there is a real problem with young people of African appearance committing crimes in the city, there has been no discernible increase in the level of criminal activity and people of the African diaspora are responsible only for a fraction of the crime in the state.


But by identifying groups such as MTS as a gang, a category Patton reluctantly agreed to on Tuesday when he said a small group of “young thugs” were on certain occasions “behaving like street gangs”, the problem seems bigger and all-inclusive.

Richard Deng, a spokesman from the Sudanese community in Melbourne’s western suburbs, says there’s a tendency to assume that any group of people of Sudanese appearance is a gang.


“These are teenagers, they’re 14, 13, who are just going about in a number,” he told Guardian Australia. “Sitting in a park, completely with nothing, we call them a gang. That is not right.”

He gestures to our group of three, sitting on a couch in the foyer of the office block where he works as a federal government bureaucrat.

“Are we a gang?” he says. “We’re not a gang. But if we were seeing three young Africans walking together, automatically we would say they are a gang … we should not be defining a group of young people going together on a school holiday as gangs, that is too much.”


Buomkuoth Bol, an emerging hip-hop artist under the name BK Lawd, who has converted one room of the Noble Park home he shares with his brothers into a recording studio, says media reports of violence involving people of African descent often assume a relationship between people who just happen to be in the same place.

“I go to St Kilda beach and when I go there, I don’t know every African person that I see,” he says. “So we’re not a gang. We just say ‘hi’ to them and shake their hand because that’s our culture … if I see a group of white people sitting together, I don’t assume they all know each other. I don’t assume that’s a gang.”

He and Jeremiah Chuol, a volunteer youth mentor who coached for the Black Rhinos basketball program in Dandenong, say they are frequently targeted by police.

It was worse about 10 years ago, they said, before the police lost a racial profiling case against two African-Australian men and developed cultural awareness policies and training to interact with the Sudanese people.

They recall a party in Springvale in 2010 when “hundreds” of police, including riot police and the dog squad, arrived after a few revellers got into a fight.

“All you could see is dogs coming through the smoke [from police flares],” Chuol said. “I was thinking: these dogs are not on leashes, who are they here for, who are they here to arrest? Everyone was just running, girls were pepper sprayed, it was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”

Compare that, he said, with the response to an out-of-control house party thrown in 2008 by then 16-year-old Australian teenager Corey Worthington, who went on to become a media sensation, appeared in season eight of Big Brother, and is said to be returning to reality TV in the coming season of Australian Ninja Warrior.

The party that made Worthington famous happened just down the street from Chuol in Narre Warren. He says the idea that a similar out-of-control party at his house would be embraced as an example of Australian larrikinism is laughable.

Police have since made a concerted effort to work with the South Sudanese, and Chuol says he now knows several “good cops” who are keen to help out.

Victoria police commander Russell Barrett said the police were working hard to build relationships with the South Sudanese and cultural awareness among officers, and were holding regular forums to meet with community leaders.

In a statement to Guardian Australia, Barrett said the police understood that some groups had been affected by the recent media coverage about youth crime, and acknowledged the work done by African community leaders to “tackle the drivers of offending.”

“The vast majority of the African community, irrespective of their ages, are respectable and law-abiding people,” he said. “A small number are operating as street gangs. We acknowledge that the African-Australian community is just as shocked as the broader community in relation to the incidents we’ve seen recently.”

Victoria Police has 10 multicultural and emerging community liaison officers who work with the Sudanese people and others, and had a “zero tolerance policy towards racial profiling”.

Some South Sudanese, such as Nelly Yoa, say the “politically correct” approach taken by the police is not working.

Yoa says police and the Andrews government have “hidden” from the issue of gang violence, and “the issue would have been solved” if a more hardline approach had been taken earlier.

Yoa wrote an opinion piece for Fairfax Media on Tuesday, criticising the police for their reluctance to call groups such as MTS a “gang” (it has subsequently been claimed that parts of the piece were plagiarised, which Yoa denies).

“We have a problem,” he told Guardian Australia. “We have to solve it, and we have to solve it without falling into political correctness. At the end of a day, a spade is a spade and we need to call it as it is. We need to be honest for the good of the South Sudanese community.”

But despite assurances from the police, Yoa says being racially profiled by them has become “the norm” even for law-abiding people of South Sudanese descent.

Officials and players at Sandown Lions say they have learned not to react when they feel they are being unfairly targeted by police, or when white workmates comment on their new car by saying, “did you steal it?”.

“You are black, you are violent, you are a thief,” one player says.

“When we are doing something good, we are Australian,” Reath adds. “When we are doing something bad, we are Sudanese.”

‘Send them home’

Reath has been in Australia for 10 years. Many of the young men at the soccer club, who range from 16 to 30 years of age, were born in Australia. He considers himself Australian – or would, if people didn’t keep telling him he was Sudanese.

“How long do we have to be here to be considered Australian?” he says. “30 years? 40? If our kids are born here, are they still Sudanese?”

Nyadol Nyuon arrived in Australia as an 18-year-old in 2005 and works as a commercial litigation lawyer at Melbourne law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler.

Her children and her sister’s children consider themselves Australian, she says, because they are. They have not known anywhere else.

“They see themselves only as Australians; they happen to be black,” she says.

She says the conflation of people of South Sudanese descent with gang crime is hurtful because it not only associates people who look like her and her children with criminality, but also draws a line between them and the rest of Australian society.

“It isolates community members and makes them think they are not part of the society, and actually that they can never become part of the society, because somehow their citizenship or their stay in Australia is constantly up for negotiation,” she says. “You are an Australian until a South Sudanese person commits an offence and then you are a South Sudanese-Australian, who is likely to be a potential criminal.”

Deng says labelling children born in Australia as Sudanese or South Sudanese is “not helpful”.

“They are Australian,” he says. “Their mothers are here, their families are here. They don’t know much about Africa, but we call them African.”

Nyuon and Deng have received racial abuse after speaking up in support of their people. Deng has had calls to his office, telling him that as a public servant he should not criticise comments made by senior federal ministers.

After appearing on ABC panel show The Drum on Tuesday, Nyuon stayed up until 2am “just blocking people who were saying really very racist comments”.

“The online racism – it’s so bad it’s overwhelming,” she says.

Each new report of apparent African gang crime brings forth a wave of social media commentary calling for suspected gang members and their families to be deported, dealt with by vigilante groups, or even lynched.

“Anytime that I choose to speak, every time that I want to say something publicly, I have to decide whether I am ready to deal with the bigoted and the racist backlash,” Nyuon says. “It is stifling.”

Back at Ross Reserve, the players are packing up. They made it through the 2017 season without a red card and are aiming to hit the same target in 2018.

“We have said to them, if a rival player threatens you, we would rather you were replaced by another player than respond and do something,” club president Dech Top says. “It doesn’t matter who starts it, it will always be blamed on the Sudanese player. It’s not worth it.”

  • This story was amended on 8 January 2018 to remove material relating to Nelly Yoa that could not be independently verified, and to note the allegation that his opinion piece contained plagiarism.