“Losing my brother-in-law during lockdown inspired me to create a fund for grieving Black and Minority Ethnic families”
Alex’s death inspired me to take action and launch the Majonzi Fund. As a family, we needed a way to say goodbye.
As a social commentator, campaigner and cultural historian, throughout my career I’ve documented the inequalities faced by people from ethnically diverse backgrounds. This inequity has only become more apparent during the pandemic. Coronavirus has affected Black and Minority Ethnic families around the country, including mine.
My brother-in-law, Alex, was in hospital in Derby. While he was there, they tested him for coronavirus and he was found to be positive. Soon after the test, his health deteriorated. As a family, we were very worried. He was unwell for days and sadly died at the start of April.
Struck by grief
Six months on and we’re all still struggling to come to terms with losing Alex. It’s something that’s affected the whole family, though thankfully those closest to him were able to say goodbye. We’re a close family, so we’re supporting each other as best we can.
Around the time of Alex’s death, we started to hear in the news that a disproportionate amount of Black and Minority Ethnic people were dying from coronavirus – front-line healthcare workers and those working in transport and retail. As an activist, I’d already got involved with a campaign calling for one of the Nightingale Hospitals to be renamed in recognition of Black nurse Mary Seacole. Losing Alex pushed me to want to do more.
Creating a fund
All the stories in the newspapers and on TV were about other families who’d lost loved ones or been unable see their family in their final moments. People weren’t able to grieve properly or follow the proper burial processes for their different faiths.
That’s when it hit me – wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could raise money to support those families? To enable them to organise events, commission poetry – whatever it is that they want to do to remember their loved ones. We could also support co-workers who’ve lost colleagues on the frontline to mark their grief in a way they feel is appropriate.
So the Majonzi Fund was born – ‘Majonzi’ is the Swahili word for grief or deep sorrow. I gained support for the fund from Yvonne Field, founder and director of Ubele – a Black-led organisation that has also been playing a key role in the response to the affects of coronavirus on Black and Minority Ethnic communities.
Yvonne and her team were supportive of my idea as they could see how it would benefit the communities Ubele supports. We came up with the ‘Majonzi’ name together – we wanted a word that captures the diversity of the Black and Minority Ethnic experience in Britain. Swahili is spoken by people in Africa from many different faiths and communities, as well as here in the UK. It just seemed to fit.
The Majonzi Fund launched at the end of April and, six months in, we’ve raised more than £80,000 to support Black and Minority Ethnic families. From the woman who runs a yoga class for Majonzi, through to the company making limited edition T-shirts for us, the London Gospel Community Choir donating royalties from their song The Sun in the Rain, and the author, Riaz Phillips, who put together an e-recipe book with recipes from different diaspora communities, the response has been really encouraging.
In September, graphic artist Henny Beaumont launched a Billboard poster featuring Black and Minority Ethnic NHS frontline staff who’d died from coronavirus
. The Guardian sold posters of images from the campaign, with the proceeds going to the Majonzi Fund.
As a Winston Churchill Fellow, I was awarded a grant so I could develop the Majonzi Fund website, which is going to be the main vehicle for letting Black and Minority Ethnic people know about when and how they can apply for grants. They can download application forms and, when they’re organising events around their loved ones, they can post information and share events.
A tsunami of need
There have been more than 50,000 deaths since March. Some Black and Minority Ethnic households may have lost more than one person. There’s a tsunami of need. How are those needs going to be met in the short, medium and long term? We’ve used some of the money raised through the Majonzi Fund to provide bereavement services to the communities we support – communities which often miss out on counselling.
On top of this, we want to do more lobbying, campaign work, advocacy and to reach out to other organisations, such as Marie Curie, to see how they’re meeting the needs of Black and Minority Ethnic communities. BAMEstream, a network of activists and therapists, found many organisations looking for additional support, resources, funding and training so they could be more responsive to the mental health needs of the diverse communities they support.
We want to open a dialogue to see how those who can help are going to rise to the challenge, because a lot of people need support.
One thing we should do, as a nation, is to come together in collective remembrance. It’s so important that events such as Marie Curie’s National Day of Reflection are inclusive – without inclusivity, they reinforce the out-of-date narrative that Black and Minority Ethnic communities don’t matter and are not worthy of respect, even in death. Grief affects us all, irrespective of race.
If you’ve been inspired by Patrick’s reflections, you can find out more about and donate to the Majonzi Fund and BAMEstream . Patrick’s latest book, 100 Great Black Britons, documents the remarkable achievements of Black British people over history. If you buy a copy via Amazon Smile , a percentage of what you pay will be donated to Marie Curie. Patrick will be speaking at the Good Grief virtual festival on Friday 30 October, with his talks available on catch-up afterwards.