Words by Abi Scaife
Marvina Eseoghene Newton is a mother and activist. The two are intrinsically connected - in becoming a mother, Marvina realised that she was bringing her child - Angel, now 12 - into a world filled with prejudice. This led her to stand up and make a difference. She decided she had to fight for a better world for her daughter to grow up in.
“I gave birth to a daughter - a beautiful dark-skinned daughter, who is Nigerian British,” says Marvina, when asked where her journey of activism began. “She was born in Yorkshire and I remember the days before her birth while I was overdue, walking around Leeds, trying to induce myself into labour and facing racism.”
“Someone said ‘Go back to where you came from’. I was 14 days overdue … I didn't understand why someone could see a pregnant woman and want to throw insults.”
After her daughter was born, Marvina approached her local councillor who asked her the all-important question - ‘What do you want to do about it?’" This was Marvina’s genesis as an activist - with £500 from a local councillor, that turned out to be Allison Lowe, the first black councillor for Leeds, she began in her local library.
For over a decade since, Marvina has tackled racism, founding several anti-racism organisations including Black Lives Matter Leeds and Angels of Youths, an organisation empowering young people through what they love.
“I created a model called ‘Love, Hate, Create’ for my social action and my campaigns. Identify what you love doing, identify what you hate in society … use what you love to fix what you hate.”
Marvina arranged for young people living in the local area to join her at the library, where she taught them the Love, Hate, Create model, and inspired them to take action on the issues they were passionate about.
“Most young people have 10,000 hours of expertise in doing what they love - they’re committed to doing what they love, even when nobody else knows what the love is,” says Marvina. “There's no need to micromanage them. I don't think it's cool to underestimate the power of young minds. If we chose to learn from them, we would learn so much more.”
“When you let them do what they love, and you give them that green light to say ‘I've got you, you've got this, baby, go and be the coolest person you can be in this world and shine’. And you tell them there's no dream too big or too small … you would be pleasantly surprised.”
From this, Marvina set up Angels of Youths - a community, based in Leeds that encourages young people to build a better future for themselves and the rest of the world.
By working with Marvina’s ‘Love, Hate, Create’ model, Angels of Youth is helping a whole generation of young people not only to find and invest in their passions but also to tackle some of our world’s most pressing injustices, while taking care of themselves.
“We don't talk about the dark side of activism," she says. "We don't talk about the burnout. We don't talk about missing your family or putting yourself in harm's way, the physical toll it takes, constantly trauma bonding with other people. When people say you're the first of something, they don't talk about how isolated and lonely it is. So I keep hearing how I've done a lot of first, and it makes me sad.”
While Marvina is passionate about her activism, more and more she is realising she needs to invest in herself as well.
“The best way I can fix the world is by showing up for me and my family,” she says. “I need to be an ally to myself first and that means I need to act on the inequalities affecting Malvina Eseoghene Newton. I need to listen to myself - actively listen, not just to respond and not to defend and not to self-sabotage.”
But that doesn’t mean that Marvina wouldn’t encourage people to get involved - on the contrary, it is important that everyone stands up for what they believe in. Perhaps, rather than shying away from the fight, it is important to go in with your eyes wide open - to acknowledge that, though it can be hard if you put safeguards in place it can be incredibly worthwhile.
“This fight is not for the faint-hearted, but is such a worthy cause. People are going to tell you that you're wrong all the way, but I need you to remember your ‘why’ - and make sure your ‘why’ is not rooted in ‘I’,” encourages Marvina. “In this journey … it's not a sprint. It's a marathon. So you need to take your time, and check your privilege every step of the way. And whenever you see ‘I’ coming up in the cause, you need to stop, pause, research - recharge, refocus, and restart.”
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
Windrush Foundation. This is a registered charity that designs and delivers heritage projects, programmes and initiatives which highlight African and Caribbean peoples’ contributions to the UK. Learn more here.
Race Equality Foundation. A national charity tackling racial equality in public services. Find out more here.
SARI. Stand Against Racism and Inequality is a charity that provides free and confidential support for anyone who is a victim of hate crime across Avon and Somerset. Support them here.