Black History Month: getting youth well-versed with mental health

Veronica Gordon

Award Winner and founder of Our Version Media

18th October 2021



"When you look at Black social enterprises in general, the majority of people know what they're talking about because they come from these backgrounds and communities." - Bhishma Asare, founder, Rap Therapy

Stark research commissioned by UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs, found "a dominant narrative in social investment, much like commercial investment, of white men investing in other white men."

Where then does that leave the UK's Black social entrepreneurs, like Bhishma Asare, who are doing the work in those communities that those white men don't know or care about?

Bhishma Asare, from Croydon, is the founder Rap Therapy, a social enterprise that is using rap to strengthen young people's mental health and to steer them away from a life of violence and drugs. He explains: "When I was younger, I used rap as a mechanism to express myself. At the time, I didn't know that it would be strengthening my mental health. When I look back and see some of the things I was writing about, I see I was struggling, and the problems I was going through. I was able to express them in a way that helped me alleviate things that might have been on my mind."

Bhishma launched Rap Therapy in 2018. He and his team run workshops in schools across London, teaching schoolchildren how to use rap as a creative outlet and tool to support their wellbeing. It's easy for him to list examples of Rap Therapy's impact – from the student with high anxiety who began interacting more with schoolmates, to the student, at risk of exclusion, who transformed from picking fights to picking up their Rap Therapy book to write lyrics.

Rap Therapy is also creating jobs. Bhishma believes that much of Rap Therapy's success with young people is down to his Black and ethnically diverse team: "Representation is important. They need to see themselves in you and if they see themselves in you, it makes the job ten times easier. They want to listen to what you have to say. They understand that you come from the same kind of background as them."

Importantly, Bhishma and his team are connecting with those young people who schools are failing to engage: "Most schools are run by white male head teachers who are very disconnected to the struggles that young people are going through, especially when you look at areas like Brixton or Peckham where there's a high population of Black students or Latino students."

Of his team, he says: "They are relatable. They are able to give viable advice for the problems the students are going through."

"When you look at Black social enterprises in general, the majority of people know what they're talking about because they come from these backgrounds and communities."

Bhishma's path to becoming a social entrepreneur was pretty much the same as any other – he was troubled by an issue in his neighbourhood and decided to do something about it. However, it is there that, for some, the path becomes more difficult. More so for Black founders who, statistics show, are overlooked and underfunded in the sector, despite their crucial work.

Bhishma believes the government should be doing more to support Black social entrepreneurs. As well as financially, he would like to see better structures in place to make it easier for people to access advice and see localised support from local MPs and local leaders.

He says: "I know quite a few Black social entrepreneurs that are really struggling, especially when it comes to finances. Plus, in terms of funding and support, you have to find a lot of the information yourself as opposed to there being a clear guide on how to start a social enterprise or a clear guide on the legal route."

This imbalance of support for Black and ethnically diverse founders is something that UnLtd has vowed to take on. Its chief executive, Mark Norbury, has previously said: "As a major funder and supporter of social entrepreneurs, we at UnLtd acknowledge our own role in this, and we remain deeply committed to tackling it."

"Social entrepreneurs take seemingly intractable problems and use their lived experience to seek solutions. There is much we could learn from their approach in how we, as institutions, tackle inequality in our society."

The organisation has now pledged to allocate fifty per cent of its grants to Black, Asian and people from other ethnic backgrounds and disabled people.

Bhishma says support from UnLtd has been crucial to Rap Therapy's growth: "Unltd were the first people to support us financially. They believed in us and now we've really grown. They gave us a chance. We proved ourselves and they've been very committed to us as well."

"To change something from the inside it is really important for people that come from those backgrounds to have their say. Their say is through having these social enterprises. It's important that they are supported."

Visit Rap Therapy and Instagram @rap_therapy_100

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