In 2013, Julie Adenuga — influential former Beats 1 DJ, global tastemaker, and sister of UK rappers Skepta and JME — started a petition to build a statue for Wiley, the Godfather of Grime, in his home borough of Tower Hamlets, London.
It was about recognising a man who “inspired a whole generation”, a gesture to bring a community together. But the monument never materialised, and Wiley transitioned from sacred godfather to disgruntled uncle, beefing with the kids he helped raise. Now, as effigies to slave owners tumble across the globe, new heroes have risen to break old chains.
All this begs the question: where the heck is Stormzy’s statue?
Stormzy — the first grime star to earn a #1 album and the first solo Black British artist to headline Glastonbury, among listless other cultural and political achievements — has once more made headlines for his impactful activism tackling systematic racial injustice in Britain.
On Thursday, the south London born Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. committed to donate £10 million to Black British causes over the next 10 years, a move he described as just the “beginning of a lifetime commitment.”
Specifically, Stormzy will use his #MERKY empire — a brand that encompasses his music, fashion, festivals, books, and more — to support organisations, charities, and movements committed to “fighting racial inequality, justice reform, and Black empowerment within the UK.”
Stormzy, 26, joined thousands of Black Lives Matter activists and celebrities including John Boyega and Madonna in London on Sunday to protest the killing of George Floyd at the feet of a police officer in Minnesota. The next decade’s worth of donations accounts for half of his total current wealth — according to the Sunday Times Rich List published on May 16, he’s worth £20 million.
“The uncomfortable truth that our country continuously fails to recognise and admit is that Black people in the UK have been at a constant disadvantage in every aspect of life – simply due to the colour of our skin,” Stormzy said in a statement. “I’m lucky enough to be in the position I’m in and I’ve heard people often dismiss the idea of racism existing in Britain by saying, ‘If the country’s so racist how have you become a success?!’”
“I reject that with this: I am not the UK’s shining example of what supposedly happens when a Black person works hard,” he added. “There are millions of us. We are not far and few. We have to fight against the odds of a racist system stacked against us and designed for us to fail from before we are even born. Black people have been playing on an uneven field for far too long and this pledge is a continuation in the fight to finally try and even it.”
In response to Stormzy’s commitment, the Leader of Croydon Council — the rapper was born in South Norwood, in Croydon — is set to submit a motion to grant him the honour of “freedom of the borough”. It’s in recognition of the artist’s lifelong work fighting racism throughout his career.
In 2018 and 2019, he paid for two Black students each year to attend Cambridge University — one of the most prestigious universities in the world — for the entirety of a 4-year undergraduate course as part of the “Stormzy Scholarship”. In 2017, he donated £9,000 to help a young Black woman from south London study at Harvard in the US.
He has also launched a partnership with Penguin Random House called #MERKY Books to help young writers from underrepresented communities get their first big publishing break; cancelled a headline festival appearance to protest an alleged racial profiling scandal; and ensured the 2018 BRIT Awards highlighted the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Then on Dec. 13 2019 — the day he released his last album Heavy Is the Head and the day after Britain’s general election — Stormzy performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall for the inaugural Global Citizen Prize award ceremony, celebrating the world’s leading activists fighting to end extreme poverty by 2030. Moreover, he featured on the first ever Global Citizen EP, overseen by Coldplay’s Chris Martin in honour of Nelson Mandela’s human rights legacy.
So again, as the far-right marches to protect monuments to controversial historical figures this weekend, that salient question lingers. Where is Stormzy’s statue?
£10 million. 10 million pounds to Black British causes for the next 10 years. Not only did Stormzy donate to the cause but he’s made sure there’s funding for the coming years. A real black king in the making.— K Boyega (@k41ro) June 11, 2020
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