Celebrating wonderful black women

The rest of the world is only just catching up to the phenomenal females we’ve always known

GREATNESS: Sonita Alleyne made herself a media titan and more besides

THE PHENOMENAL black woman is as old as ancient times. Every man, woman and child alive today owes her. Because she is the mother of creation.

You don’t get more phenomenal than that.

We’ve always known it and now the scientists acknowledge it. Nuff said? Well, no.

What about the half that has never been told? The black woman’s phenomenality is even more impressive when you consider the fight that she had to endure to survive, to protect her man, and to nurture her children.

The black woman is, simply, a phenomenal phenomenon. And, it don’t stop there because there ain’t no stopping her.


Apart from my wife, the queen of lovers rock Carroll Thompson, the most phenomenal woman that I have personally known is Sonita Alleyne, OBE, the Master of Jesus College, Cambridge – the first woman to hold the post, let alone black woman.

I say without hesitation that she is ‘phenomenal’ because I have watched in awe as she progressed from founding a rookie broadcast company (Somethin’ Else) and driving it to become a media powerhouse, at which point she walked away to pursue “other interests”.

I thought she was mad at the time. I had known her since 1993 when my own publishing company The X Press moved into the now-trendy Hoxton Square in East London, thinking we were the greatest thing since sliced bread – the only black-owned company in the area.

Little did we know that on the far-off corner of the square was this fledgling media company run by a black woman. At the time, The X Press was ahead of Somethin’ Else. Me and my business partner, Steve Pope (former editor of The Voice newspaper), each drove a high-powered Jaguar (our standard company car), whereas Sonita toodled along in one of those snub-nosed Morris 1000s that your granny used to drive.

But what she possessed was the intellectual capacity to distil how the system actually works. I remember very vividly how she told me that she had decided she would earn £80,000 the next year, a ridiculously large sum in those days, but she set out her plans and how she was going to go about achieving that goal. And guess what…?

But what makes her a phenomenon is not just being able to achieve greatness in her chosen field, but being able to achieve it in two different disciplines.

That really is P-H-E-N-O-ME-N-A-L. It was almost as if the world of media was not taxing enough for her intellectual capacities when she turned her back on it.

And I did wonder whether she was making a huge mistake to walk away from the business that she had built up just when it was blowing up like nitro.

“She was flying off every weekend to gigs to bring home cash”

But she did and carved an impressive résumé in the non-commercial sector in which she became, amongst other things, one of the all-powerful BBC trustees.

But it wasn’t until she made history as the first woman master of Jesus College that the world took notice and acknowleged her phenomenal achievements.

POWERFUL: Jocelyn Brown used her incredible singing talents to support her family like nobody else could

From across the Atlantic, there’s the equally formidable American singer Jocelyn Brown, who is a force of nature. Anybody who has heard her desperate lament about being hooked on “somebody else’s guy” will know this. But I have seen first-hand just how phenomenal this woman is.

I became close to Jocelyn when she moved to this country 30 years ago and I saw at close quarters how she managed to hold her family together while working her recording career with an endless stream of live gigs all over the world.

She was flying off virtually every weekend to perform gigs in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, in order to bring home the financial resources to keep her extended family together in a big house up in Edgware, north London, with a massive garden so that her sister’s son could run around and enjoy himself in it.

Jocelyn, you see, was his carer and looked after him, her sister, her daughter and whoever else comprised her ever-extending family.

I was one of those people who were embraced like family and I spent many a time at her home, witnessing the phenomenon at close quarters.

You know how we are always saying we don’t know how our mothers managed to clothe, feed and shelter all of us on whatever she could earn at her daily grind where she was faced with all sorts of other prejudicial challenges?

Well, it was like that with Jocelyn. Multiplied ten-fold. I never saw her spend anything on herself, but on everybody else. The epitome of a phenomenon.


Of course I could mention so many other phenomenal women.

When I think back, I can only imagine how strong and resolute the late great Claudia Jones was in standing up for us all and speaking truth to power with her editorship of the first black British newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, from its launch in 1958.

And that phenomenal legacy is still here for us all to see, not least in the continuance of this great newspaper, The Voice, which stands on the shoulders of that phenomenal woman.

I also wonder about Fannie Lou Hamer, the civil rights activist who endured the most humiliating beating at the hands of racist policemen who made her strip to beat her in a jail cell all because she had the temerity to encourage black people to get up stand and vote for their rights back in the early sixties of apartheid America in the Deep South.

The beating didn’t deter her. Indeed, rather than being silenced by shame, she told the world about her mistreatment.

And, of course, there was Emmet Till’s mother, Mamie. That she survived the heartbreak of her 14-year-old son’s brutal murder was phenomenal.

But that she defied authority by insisting on an open casket at his funeral so that the world could see how he had been slaughtered beyond all recognition was unimaginable. Again: phenomenal.


And let’s not forget when we talk of phenomenal women, the story of Madam CJ Walker, who was virtually born into enslavement but became the first self-made millionairess in the world.

Some may not approve that it was by inventing the hot comb, a device that enabled black women to straighten their hair unnaturally so they could be more acceptable in a white woman’s world, but there is no dispute that to achieve what she achieved considering where she came from was phenomenal.

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