10 black career trailblazers |

Unfortunately, not all change makers get the attention and appreciation they deserve. 

This statement rings especially true for the BAME community. In fact, for every influential individual you may have heard of, there are thousands more who aren’t as well known – but who have had a huge impact on their industries.  

To celebrate Black History Month, we want to shine a spotlight on some of the lesser known men and women who have helped open doors for those in the black community.  

Here are just 10 black career trailblazers you should know about (both past, and present):


Cephas Williams 

The founder and photographer behind Drummer Boy Studios, the Black British Network, and the groundbreaking 56 Black Men movement.

Taking a series of photographs of 56 black men wearing hoodies, Cephas’ work featured men from all walks of life, including politicians, directors, teachers and more – showing positive images of what black men can achieve.

The campaign has helped to change the narrative regarding black men in the media, and has been featured in The Guardian and the Metro, on Sky News, BBC and Aljazeera amongst others, creating both a local and global impact.


Mariya Russell

A post shared by Mariya Russell (@mariyaleniserussell) on

Mariya was Chef de Cuisine at Chicago’s Kikkō restaurant – and in 2019 she became the first black woman ever to earn a Michelin star. 

In an industry traditionally dominated by men, and without much diversity in top positions, she had to overcome her share of adversity before making it up through the ranks. However, she’s helped set a precedent for many other young black chefs – both male, and female.

There are currently just two black head chefs with Michelin stars in the UK – and only 6% of Head Chefs in the country’s top restaurants are from black or south asian backgrounds. So there’s still a long way to go when it comes to equality in the culinary world. 


Ade Adepitan 

An incredibly successful television presenter and wheelchair basketball player, Ade was just 15 months old when he lost the use of his left leg, due to contracting polio.

However, despite his disability, he never lost sight of his dream of becoming an international athlete. One that he accomplished as a member of the Great Britain team that won the bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens, and the gold medal at the 2005 Paralympic World Cup in Manchester.

An ambassador and role model for both black youth, and those with physical difficulties, Adepitan was made an MBE for services to disability sport in 2005. 


Dr Alison Heydari

Alison Heydari spent the majority of her police career on the beat in Hampshire. 

Working her way up through the ranks over the years, she was appointed as Met Commander in June 2020. Something which makes her the highest ranking black female police officer in the country.

She’s an inspirational leader and change maker, helping to challenge prejudice in another traditionally male dominated industry, and was recently recognised for her contributions by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. 


Arthur Wharton 

Born in Ghana on the 28th of October 1865, Arthur Wharton moved to England aged 19, and excelled at basically every sport he tried.

Not content with being named the country’s fastest man in 1886, he became the first black professional footballer ever when he appeared for Rotherham Town in 1889.

Although predated by some of his amatuer contemporaries, Wharton helped pave the way for thousands of black professionals who came after him. Inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2003, there’s even a statue of him at FIFA’s headquarters.


Dame Sharon White

Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, and one of the country’s most successful businesswomen. 

Before her current position, the recently announced Dame worked in a variety of civil service roles, as well as being Chief Executive of media regulator Ofcom.

She was also the first black person, and the second woman, to become a Permanent Secretary at the Treasury.


Darcus Beese

The president and Chief Executive Officer of Island Records.

Beese has started the career of hundreds of artists, working with everyone from Amy Winehouse and Jessie J through to Taio Cruz and Dizzee Rascal.

Not only has he been described as ‘one of the great A&R people of his or any other generation’, he’s also helped give a platform to many other musicians, and made his way to the top of the music industry through his own hard work and determination.  


Mae Jemison 

Mae is an American engineer, physician and former NASA Astronaut.

In 1992, she became the first black woman to travel into space, aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Following her historic flight, Jemison hoped that society would begin to recognise how much value both women and members of other minority groups can provide if given the opportunity.

She holds several honorary doctorates and has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame.


Paul Boateng

Alongside the likes of Bernie Grant and Diane Abbott, Boateng was one of the country’s first black MPs when he was elected to serve Brent South in 1987. 

In 2002 he was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, making him Britain’s first black member of the Cabinet. Widely hailed as a political trailblazer, Boateng himself has said: ‘My colour is part of me, but I do not choose to be defined by my colour.’

Fighting for civil rights causes throughout his career, his appointment has helped empower young black youths and inspire them to take an active interest in politics, and in their communities.


Anne-Marie Imafidon

A former child prodigy, there was little Anne-Marie Imafidon couldn’t do. She spoke six languages by age 10, was one of the youngest ever to complete her A Level in Computing (aged just 11), and earned a degree from Oxford by the time she was 20.

Hoping to inspire young women to pursue a career in STEM, she went on to co-found Stemettes – providing free events to the next generation of girls in Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths

She was made an MBE in 2017, in recognition of her contributions. 


Think there’s anyone we’ve missed? Tweet us @reedcouk, or let us know in the comments below.



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