Influential Black People – Then and Now

With Black History upon us, we feel like it is important for us as a business to showcase some of the UK’s most influential people.

Black History month is not only about acknowledging the atrocities which were inflicted upon those from African descent for centuries, but it is about showcasing the greats that have been propelled from oppression, the culture that is so rich it literally infiltrates the world, and the magic that black people have to offer.

Most people think of black history and immediately go to anything American, for instance Martin Luther King Jnr, Former President Barack Obama and first Lady Michelle Obama. But what about those that came out of the UK?

What is the first thing and or name that comes to mind...I’ll give you a minute! Anything?

I mean maybe you did come up with some names, maybe you didn’t, but this blog will give you some insights in what you may not have known (I hope).

Mary Seacole – The Greatest Black Briton

Born in 1805 in Jamaica during a time when black people were under slave ownership, Mary was born a free woman as her father was a Scottish army officer. Mary (Mother Seacole) was a trained nurse, who travelled to a variety of countries to nurse the sick and dying during epidemics and pandemics. She is best known for her commitment to nurse wounded British soldiers during the Crimea war, after her services were rejected by the British War Office.

Mary took it upon herself to travel to Crimea, where she opened a British hotel with her late husband’s brother, to provide respite for sick and recovering soldiers. The Hotel was situated so close to the frontline, that Mary often visited the battlefield to help the wounded that could not make it to her.

Mary Seacole died in 1881 but her lifetime’s work would not be remised, in 2016 a statue of Mary was placed on the grounds of the St Thomas’ Hospital in London after Lord Soley launched a successful campaign.

Sir Arthur Lewis – Nobel Peace Prize winner

Born in St Lucia in 1915, Nobel Peace Prize winner Sir William Arthur Lewis who was instrumental in many black achievements globally, became the first black professor in Britain at 33, teaching Political Economy at Manchester University (1948-1957). He was passionate that the Afro-Caribbean population in Manchester (who were largely living in Moss Side & Hulme) had access to social economic centres, the reason behind this was to help their socio-economic status. Today one of those centres ‘The West Indies Sports and Social Centre’ is still in business, providing an event space (for christenings, funerals, birthday parties, community fun days and more) for the local community. 

Sir Arthur Lewis died in 1991 in Barbados, leaving a legacy which has continued within the community of Moss Side and Hulme.

Louise Da-Cocodia – MBE

Louise was born in Jamaica in 1934 and came to the UK to study nursing as part of a government initiative to recruit staff for the NHS. Louise played a pivotal role in dismantling the racism that Afro-Caribbean’s faced, after she received discrimination and racism first-hand once she in arrived in what was described as the ‘the mother country’ for people of the West Indies (which were under rule by the British Monarchy).

In 1966 Louise became the first black senior nursing officer in Manchester, when she achieved the Assistant Superintendent of District Nurses role.  It was during the 60’s and 70’s that Louise served on the Regional Race Relations Bord committee, dedicated to tackling the complaints brought under discrimination laws which were newly implemented.

Committed to her cause Louise published a paper highlighting the effects of racism in nursing, she was acknowledged for her efforts in 2005 when she received an MBE for her services of community and race relations.

Michaela Cole – Emmy Winner

Born in 1987 Michaela started her career as a poet, then went into acting.

In 2017 she made headlines for turning down an £800,000 ($1 million) offer from Netflix to produce her limited series ‘I May Destroy You’, as they wanted to remove her from having full copyright ownership of her work. A move that has been widely criticised for Netflix among many other female Actors, who are often receiving offers far less than their male counterparts – especially when it comes to people of colour.

The decision would prove to be one that would serve Coel incredibly well, the series was an instant hit after the BBC picked it up allowing her to remain with creative control, and with the BBC having to adhere to the terms of trade, she retained the rights to the show also.  

Because of ‘I May Destroy you’, Michaela became the first black woman to ever win an Emmy for ‘Best Writing’ of a limited television series.

Swiss - Founder of Black Pound Day (UK)

A member of the music group So Solid Crew, Swiss created initiative ‘Black Pound Day’ which started in the height of the pandemic after the deaths of George Floyd, Shukri Abdi and Belly Mujinga. Swiss was sickened yet inspired to become a voice of change for the black community, but for him speaking was not enough.

BPD was successfully launched in June 2020 with an aim to become the biggest marketplace and directory of black business in the U.K & Europe. It is said that a £1 earned by a black person will only circulate through 1 other black owned business, before re-entering the Caucasian society unlike that of a Caucasian earned £1 within a Caucasian owned business, leaving black owned businesses open to a higher percentage of failings. Swiss is a strong believer that change can be facilitated within the black community, if we change the socio-economic inequalities affecting black communities starting from supporting each other (something which has echoed throughout the years, if you recall the details above by Sir Arthur Lewis).

Despite the naysayers who believed that this would create a bigger divide, BPD has consecutively taken place on the 1st Saturday of the month, becoming bigger and bigger. There is now a directory of black owned businesses with listings of over 1000 small businesses and continually growing. But the work does not stop there, as Swiss is currently lobbying for getting black entrepreneurs into mainstream outlets (for example supermarket chains etc). 


Black culture is more than athletes and musicians, we are Nurses, Doctors, Judges, Police Officers, Inventors, Engineers, Entrepreneurs and much more. We are people, we are humane, and we matter. It is important for us all to take time out to reflect on our own actions, to ensure we are treating everyone equally and there are no unknown biases or micro-aggressions in the way we treat people.

Equality and inclusion are everyone’s responsibility, and at Leap29 we strongly believe in the importance of diversity and equality in all professions. If you would like to find out how we can support you with your career or your business’s diversity and inclusion strategy, please contact us on