Ten’s Teen Activists: On Zero Discrimination Day, We Present Samuel Remi-Akinwale
Samuel Remi-Akinwale, photographed by Jermaine Francis
You can tell a lot about a person by what’s plastered on their bedroom wall, what sits on their bedside table or even by what they leave lying around on their floor. For a teenager, their bedroom is an extension of who they are – or who they want to be. Often with a ‘Keep Out’ or ‘Do Not Distur’b sign scribbled on their door, teens can lock themselves away from the outside world within their own personal sanctuary, where their every need is catered for. For Issue 64, we commissioned the photographer Jermaine Francis to explore these mini universes. The inspiration was Adrienne Salinger’s ‘In My Room’, a seminal photo book from 1995 that journeyed though a selection of teen bedrooms in upstate New York. Salinger found her subjects in shopping malls and restaurants, as well as through friends, resulting in a perfectly imperfect chorus of adolescent youth to photograph in their as-yet-uncharted territories. The only rule in place before Salinger’s arrival was that the teens were not to tidy their rooms, no matter how messy they were.
Comparing then to now, the sentiment remains that no two of these personal palaces look-alike, although for today’s teens, bedrooms are no longer dedicated to their favourite boyband member or celebrity crush. All over the country, the function of a teenager’s bedroom has evolved. Within their four walls, the modern-day teen is able to plot how they will make tomorrow brighter, both for themselves and the marginalised groups that surround them. From the climate-change warriors and LGBTQI+ activists, through to young migrants battling for their right to belong, teenagers simply can no longer wait for the government to assuage their fears for the future. In celebration of such titans, we trekked up and down the country to the bedrooms of 10 teens who are taking matters into their own hands. On Zero Discrimination Day we present Samuel Remi-Akinwale from Manchester and London.
Coming away from a chat with the dynamic Samuel Remi-Akinwale will inspire you to craft a fairer, more accessible future for the generation to come. Remi-Akinwale spent his early teens as a member of Youth Parliament, representing 48,000 young people when he was just 16. It was during these formative years that he launched a range of projects to improve the lives of young people across Manchester. Campaigning alongside local youth leadership and social-change organisation Reclaim, as well as working closely with Manchester City Council, he has helped get young, working-class Mancunians into politics, as well as carry through significant education reform, and has also worked with the charity Young Manchester to push significant funding back into the city’s youth sector.
Remi-Akinwale was faced with his own turmoil when it came to applying for a university place. Although he migrated to the UK from Nigeria when he was 11, recent changes in the immigration system means he’s now considered an international student and required to pay increased tuition fees. “For the Home Office to put me in such a precarious situation, I felt wrongly done,” he says. Originally wanting to study medicine, he has just begun his second term of his politics scholarship at King’s College London, set up with the aid of We Belong, where he has also been working on an anthology to document fellow young people who have experienced similar educational discrimination. “I’m grateful to both King’s and to We Belong for helping me through the whole process,” he says. “Fortunately, I’m not paying £24,000 a year now and going bankrupt. I thought I was going to have to sell organs.”
Paul Toner: What activism work are you most proud of?
Samuel Remi-Akinwale: In the past, I led a campaign with the [British] Youth Council while I was a member of Youth Parliament. It was based around curriculum for life, which asked for holistic education catering to political education, basic life skills, financial education, education around your rights and responsibilities – the things we actually want to learn in school. On a national scale, it didn’t seem like the government was responding. But on the local scale, we managed to work with the city council to take it on as an actual thing, and we created some videos with ITV, which really helped us push the campaign. “This year, Manchester City Council hired a full-time member of staff just to focus on the campaign to make it a reality across Manchester. It’s called Skills for Life now and I’m proud because that’s going to change the way education is seen across Manchester. It’s giving young people critical skills for life, to make their own judgments and be ready for life. I heard this quote once by Nelson Mandela and it said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ and I’ve stuck with that. Now it’s about campaigning for the right and access to an education.
PT: What’s the best thing about being a young activist in your city?
SR-A: In Manchester I think everyone is empathetic and understands. The lack of change in the city is not down to not wanting to change, I think it’s more down to not having the power to change. A lot of power lies within central government. We did a campaign around ‘don’t hate, educate’, which was really supported by the schools. The city is just really willing to grow. I guess the only upsetting thing is the amount of time it takes for things to change.
PT: What’s your favourite thing in your bedroom?
SR-A: In my bedroom in Manchester I have this picture of when I used to be an athlete – it was when I had just come to the country and I had a peculiar ambition. For me it’s about changing the world, working towards a global revolution of sorts. What sort of revolution? The question is still there but I’ve asked philosophers and the answers I got was a revolution of love. With that picture of me as a little kid is a note of what I used to say all the time – ‘My number one goal in life is to be a revolutionary – someone who changes the world.’ I used to say that to whoever I encountered and for them to see in my eyes that I meant it. I just want to make that kid proud.
PT: What do you spend the most time in your bedroom doing?
SR-A: Ah, this sounds so bad, but probably watching TV shows. I’m an addict at this point. This is classic, stereotypical geek, but I’m into those superhero shows like The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow.
PT: What can young people do to make the world a better place?
SR-A: You don’t need to be necessarily front line. It works in many ways. It’s about the principles you live by, making sure that you are the change you want to see. You don’t need to be self-righteous all the time. You don’t need to ‘cancel’ people for certain things. Just embody the values of love, compassion and actually stand by the things you say. Like if you say you want to help tackle climate change, start by changing the way you live your life. Let’s just be very honest with ourselves and let’s not be ignorant to the fact that activism is a privileged thing. Some people can’t change their lifestyle because it’s financially difficult. Just be true to your values, represent it everywhere you go and stand for what you believe in – because if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – which is on newsstands now.