Friday 5th June

| BY Paul Toner

Ten’s Teen Activists: We Bring You Sima Mangal, A London-Based Campaigner Against Racial Injustice

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 Disturb’ 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. Although most of the Black Lives Matter protests are taking place in America currently, that does not mean we cannot address the systematic racism that is rife here in the UK. Just last year former home secretary Sajid Javid implemented powers that made it easier for police to use stop and search tactics. Across England and Wales, black people are 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. It has also been revealed that the Metropolitan police are twice as likely to fine black people than white people over lockdown breaches. This is why the work of anti-racism campaigners here in the UK is still so crucial. One of whom is Sima Mangal, a 17-year-old from London. 

One of the many fantastic young people who are members of The Advocacy Academy, “a transformational social justice youth organising movement”, as they describe themselves, spearheaded by young activists from south London, Sima Mangal advocates “for the black and brown community, which has been criminalised by the policing system and educational institutions.”

Through the help of The Advocacy Academy, which also run campaigns surrounding everything from racial equality to intersectional feminism, Mangal has helped to launch the ICFree group, which recently launched a massive poster campaign at bus stops dotted all around the capital to highlight the institutional racism directed towards BAME youth here in the UK. In the sugary-pink room she shares with her younger sister, Mangal is surrounded by pictures that remind her of everything she has achieved with The Advocacy Academy so far – “They remind me every day why I love doing what I do and the family I’ve built.”

When did you first feel like you were an activist?

“I’ve always felt like an activist, but never knew how to prove to myself that I could actually be one, so the first time I ever realised that activism had always been a part of me would be when I was at Parliament last year and I had presented my speech and campaign to [the Labour MP] Helen Hayes.”

What pushes you to keep on campaigning for your cause?

“I guess it’s seeing the world as it currently is and knowing that’s there’s so much damage to repair and knowing the world won’t change itself. Therefore, knowing I can make a change pushes me to campaign and protest for my cause.”

What’s the best thing about being a young activist in your city?

“It’s not an opportunity that many have taken or know about. Being an activist in my city allows me to build a greater community.”

What’s your favourite thing in your bedroom?

“My memory wall, with all my pictures on, where I get to smile and remember every single moment I’ve lived through. Also, my unicorn teddies.”

Do you make your bed every morning?

“I have to – my mum wouldn’t have it any other way.”

What can young people do to make the world a better place?

“Learn more about the world they live in, open their eyes and mindset to the injustices and avoid treating things like they’re OK. Young people can start to make change when they see the world as it is and look at the repairs needed to be made.”

What do you want to see change about the world in 2020?

“I want to see that every black and brown kid is not treated according to their colour but by the love and hard work they put into creating beautiful things in our community.”

What’s the most comfortable pair of shoes to protest in?

“My furry boots.”

Portrait by Jermaine Francis. Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – available to view for free here.