Superheroes by Sophia Thakur: meet the 50 icons in #Merky’s first children’s book set to inspire a generation

Posted by Jennifer Adetoro in Influencer hotlists

4 weeks ago

Stormzy is just the gift that keeps on giving. Last year, the UK rapper blessed us with warming visuals for his standalone single Superheroes, a tribute to real-life superheroes including author Malorie Blackman and footballer Marcus Rashford as well as a dedication to the late Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman. Now, in 2021, Stormzy has unveiled a similar sentiment through his Penguin imprint #Merky Books with the upcoming release of its first ever children’s book, Superheroes: Inspiring Stories of Secret Strength.

Written by poet and author Sophia Thakur, the comic-inspired book, which is a celebration of 50 British figures from marginalised communities, hopes to challenge the wider mainstream representation of these faces in children’s literature. According to a study carried out by BookTrust, the number of children’s books published in the UK from 2017 to 2019 featuring characters from a Black, Asian, or minority ethnic background increased to ten percent in 2019 – rising from seven percent in 2018. 

As Thakur put quite beautifully in a statement: “If from a young age, we only really meet blackness from a position of weakness, of slavery and shootings…stereotypes and racist media…as children, we don’t get an opportunity to develop a healthy and confident outlook on what it means to be black.

“It was important to work on this book to plant a new seed of celebration. Of Black excellence into our young minds who will hopefully bloom into their very own superheroes. Confident and powerful.”

Superheroes: Inspiring Stories of Secret Strength is due to be published on September 16th with eight percent of proceeds going to Stormzy’s #Merky Foundation, a charity which aims to tackle racial inequality and injustice. Alongside Thakur, the book was illustrated by 21-year-old student Denzell Dankwah and also features an introduction written by Stormzy himself. In honour of the book’s release and its forthcoming impact, here is a list of the creatives, entrepreneurs and tastemakers featured in the project…

Anita Asante is an English football defender who currently plays for Aston Villa and previously played for both Arsenal and Chelsea. She has spoken out about LGBTQ+ issues in football, is an Amnesty International UK ambassador and was awarded an Outstanding Achievement Award by the Queen in 2006.

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE is a British mathematician, author and social entrepreneur. She was the youngest girl ever to pass A-level computing aged 11 and received her master’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Oxford at the age of 20. She is the founder of Stemettes, a social enterprise that encourages girls aged five to 22 to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Basma Khalifa is a filmmaker, director, stylist and writer. Her work focuses on social issues relating to race, religion, heritage and identity, and her goal is to tell stories about and for underrepresented youth.

Benjamina Ebuehi is a baker and food stylist who participated as a contestant in the 2016 series of Great British Bake Off. She is an ambassador for the social enterprise Luminary Bakery and co-founder of The Sister Table, which hosts pop-up brunches and supper clubs for women in London.

Bianca Saunders is a menswear designer who launched her eponymous label in 2017 and was selected as the “one to watch” by the British Fashion Council in 2018 for her gender-bending designs. She featured on the Dazed 100 list in 2019 and Forbes’ “30 under 30” list in 2020.

Bola Agbaje is a playwright and screenwriter, whose first play Gone Too Far! won her a Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. She was also nominated for the Evening Standard’s “Most Promising Playwright of the Year” award in 2008.

Candice Carty-Williams is an author, screenwriter and journalist. Her debut novel Queenie was a Sunday Times bestseller, selected as Blackwell’s Debut of the Year and shortlisted for the Waterstones, Foyles and Goodreads Book of 2019. She also created and launched The Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize in 2016.

Cece Philips is a visual artist known for her large-scale figurative oil paintings. She held her first solo exhibition in 2021 at HOME by Ronan Mckenzie, which explored and celebrated the histories of Black figúres in Britain.

Charlene White is a journalist and television presenter best known for ITV News programmes and Loose Women. At 22, she was the youngest senior journalist at the BBC and the first Black woman to present ITV’s News At Ten.

Charlie Casely-Hayford is a menswear designer and co-founder of fashion house Casely-Hayford. He was named one of the most influential people under 40 by GQ magazine in 2015 and has featured on best dressed lists by several publications.

Chineke! Orchestra is the first professional orchestra in Europe to be made up of majority Black and ethnically diverse musicians. Founded by bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, the orchestra held their debut performance at Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2015 and were subsequently appointed as an Associate Orchestra of the Southbank Centre.

Clifford V. Johnson is an English theoretical physicist and professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Southern California. He won the Maxwell Medal and Prize from the Institute of Physics in 2005 and was awarded the Simons Foundation Fellowship in 2016.

Comuzi is a London-based design and technology studio founded by Alex Fefegha which helps organisations adapt to the future through “radical creativity”. The company has worked with the likes of Nike, Uber, Southwark Council, ASOS and Samsung.

Craig and Shaun McAnuff are founders of media company Original Flava which publishes recipes, food inspiration and tutorials inspired by their Jamaican heritage. The brothers are currently working on their second cookbook and also host the podcast series Season Di Ting

Danielle Carter is a professional footballer who currently plays as a forward for Reading and the English national team. She scored the 18th-minute goal that led Arsenal to win the Women’s FA Cup in 2016. 

Dina Asher-Smith is a sprinter who won a gold medal at the 2019 World Championships and bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She is the fastest woman in British history and was crowned the 2019 Sportswoman of the Year at the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year Awards.

Ellie and Becky Downie are Olympic gymnasts. Ellie was named BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2015 and became the first gymnast to win an all-round title for Great Britain in 2017 when she became the all-round European gymnastics champion. Older sister Becky is a double European champion, 2014 Commonwealth Games champion and 2019 World silver medallist.

Drew Spence is a professional footballer who plays as a midfielder for Chelsea. She has previously played for the English national team and won the FA Women’s Cup Final in 2015 with Chelsea.

Ebony Salmon is a professional footballer who plays as a forward for Racing Louisville and the English national team. She has previously played for Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Bristol City, and was captain of the English national team at under-17 level.

Emmanuelle Lhoni is a journalist and weather presenter for the BBC. Born in the Republic of the Congo, she first joined the BBC on a trainee scheme for bilingual reporters in 2017, and is currently the youngest Black female weather presenter at the BBC.

Frank Chinegwundoh MBE is a consultant urological surgeon and expert in the field of prostate cancer. He received a national Clinical Excellence Award in 2008 and was awarded an MBE in 2013 for his services to the NHS.

George The Poet is a spoken-word artist, poet and recording artist. He created and hosts the series Have You Heard George’s Podcast and uses his platform to discuss social issues and topics affecting the Black community.

Ian Wright MBE is a former footballer, author and sports commentator for BBC and ITV Sport. He played for Crystal Palace, Arsenal and internationally for England but retired in 2000. Alongside being a reality TV star, he fronted the BBC One documentary Home Truths in 2021.

Ikram Abdi Omar is a model who promotes hijab positivity. She made her debut walking for Molly Goddard’s Fall 2018 show at London Fashion Week and was named in Dazed 100 in 2018 – she was listed as number 20. Previously the face of Burberry, she was the first hijab-wearing model to be on the cover of Vogue.

Inua Ellams is a poet, playwright and performer who discusses being an African immigrant and covers black masculinity in his work. In 2005, he founded the social walking event The Midnight Run and also puts on poetry and rhythm events through The RAP Party. Most notably, his 2017 sell-out play titled Barber Shop Chronicles sparked a conversation about racism and masculinity. 

Jordan Jarrett-Bryan is a sports reporter, DJ and journalist who reports for Channel 4 news. He was also the captain of the GB Junior wheelchair basketball team in 2004 and is a two-time European champion. In 2018, he founded Blakademik, a platform dedicated to amplifying Black voices through discussions about Black Culture and current affairs.

Jourdan Dunn is a model and actress who made her runway debut at 16-years-old. In 2008, she became the first black model to walk in a Prada runway in over a decade and in 2021, she joined the board of trustees for The Essenelle Foundation, which supports those with sickle cell disease. She actively promotes diversity and inclusion within the fashion and modelling industry.

Joshua Buatsi is a professional boxer who held the British light-heavyweight title in 2019. As an amateur, he won the bronze medal for the light-heavyweight division at the 2016 Olympics and made his professional debut in 2017. 

Katarina Johnson-Thompson is an Olympic track and field athlete. She broke records when she won the gold medal at the 2019 World Athletics Championships and became an Olympian when she competed at the London 2012 games. She will be competing in the Heptathlon at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Kosar Ali is an actress best known for appearing in the 2019 film Rocks, for which she received a Supporting Actress nomination from the BAFTAs. She has since won two British Independent Film Awards for both Supporting Actress and Most Promising Newcomer and now stars in BBC’s comedy short PRU.

Lauren James is a footballer who plays forward for Manchester United. She made her under-17 debut in 2017 where her team defeated the USA and scored Manchester United’s first-ever WSL goal in 2019.

Liam Charles is a baker best known for being a contestant on the Great British Bake Off and is now a presenter for Bake Off: The Professionals and a judge on Junior Bake Off. He is also the author of two cookbooks: Cheeky Treats and Second Helpings

Leomie Anderson is a model and activist who founded LAPP, a brand that aims to empower women through fashion. A former Victoria’s Secret Angel, she is also the host of the Role Model podcast and in 2011, appeared in Channels 4’s docu-series The Model Agency

Luol Deng OBE is a former professional basketball player and a two-time NBA All-Star who has also played for the Great Britain national team. Since retiring from the Chicago Bulls in 2019, he has been focusing on The Luol Deng Foundation, a non-profit centered on basketball-focused initiatives to give children hope in the UK, USA and Africa. He is also the president of the South Sudan Basketball Federation.

Dr Mark Richards is a senior teaching fellow in the department of physics at Imperial College London. At Imperial, he co-founded Duvas Technologies, which specialises in wireless air-sensing networks that maps real-time pollution. He DJs under the alias DJ Kemist and founded an independent label called Xtremix Records, which is a remix service.

Maro Itoje is a professional rugby player who plays for the England national team and English Championship club Saracens. He typically plays as a lock or blindside flanker and has helped win three European Rugby Champions Cup titles and also secured three Six Nations Championship titles.

Michael Dapaah is a comedian and actor who gained recognition following his performance as Big Shaq on Charlie Sloth’s BBC Radio 1Xtra show Fire in the Booth. His single Man’s Not Hot off the back of this peaked at number three on the UK Singles Chart and went platinum. He is also a YouTuber who produces a mockumentary series titled SWIL (Somewhere in London).

Michael Ward is an actor best known for appearing in Netflix’s Top Boy. In 2020, he won the BAFTA Rising Star Award and was nominated for best Supporting Actor the following year for his work in Steve McQueen’s anthology series Small Axe.

Mo Gilligan is a stand-up comedian, actor, TV presenter and author. He is one of the two presenters for The Big Narstie Show, which won a BAFTA in 2021. He also hosted the Channel 4 series The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan and produced and presented the 2020 documentary Mo Gilligan: Black, British and Funny. 

Musa Okwonga is an author, podcaster and musician who is also the co-founder of Stadio, a football platform for Ringer, which he also writes for. 

Omari McQueen is the youngest award-winning vegan chef in the UK and is also the CEO of food service, Diaplicious. Only 12-years-old, he is also a YouTuber, has a CBBC show called What’s Cooking Omari? and is the author of the cookbook Omari McQueen’s Best Bites.

Princess K is a 10-year-old dancer who performed during Stormzy’s Glastonbury set in 2019. She was selected out of thousands of dancers to dance for his song Return of the Rucksack and has also performed with Lauryn Hill.

Rachael Corson and Joycelyn Mate are the founders of hair care brand Afrocenchix, which they make themselves using natural and organic ingredients.The brand was the first product for afro hair in Whole Foods UK and was voted Best Natural Hair Brand at the Black Beauty And Fashion Awards in 2018.

Rapman is a rapper, spoken word artist and music producer. He is best-known for writing the three-part YouTube musical drama series Shiro’s Story and Blue Story, the latter was developed into a feature film in 2019. 

Reggie Yates is an actor, author, presenter and DJ. His most notable films are the BBC Three Extreme series and in 2016, he was named Best Presenter for his series Extreme Russia at the Royal Television Society Awards and is the founder of the online initiative, Pass The Mic.

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a journalist and the author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Her blog post with the same name about structural and institutional racism went viral in 2014, which led to her Sunday Times bestseller. She has also been named as Forbes “30 under 30” and her book regained popularity in wake of 2020’s Black Lives Matter movement. 

Rinsola Babajide is a footballer who plays as a winger for Liverpool as part of the FA Women’s Championship. She uses her platform to raise awareness around racial abuse within the sports industry, particularly football. 

Riz Ahmed is an actor and rapper who challenges Muslim misrepresentation in film. In 2021, he was the first Muslim to be nominated for best actor at the Oscars for his role in Sound of Metal. As an activist, he has produced political rap music and has written an anti-racist short film.

Tanya Compas is a youth worker, LGBTQ+ rights activist and non-profit consultant. She is also the founder of Exist Loudly, a platform which mentors young LGBTQ+ minorities alongside being a youth engagement officer for UK Black Pride. Alongside this, she is on the advisory board for the Gucci-founded campaign for equality titled Chime For Change.

Tèmi Fágbénlé is an Olympic basketball player and WNBA champion. She is also a Harvard graduate and played for the 2021 Olympics at just 19-years-old.

Temi Mwale is a racial justice campaigner who founded the 4Front Project in 2012, which is a youth-led platform that empowers communities to fight for justice, peace and freedom.

The Triple Cripples is a platform, show and podcast by Kym Oliver and Jumoke created for disabled women, femmes and non-binary people of colour. Launched in 2018, they aim to increase visibility and highlight the narratives of these communities. 

Theresa Ikoko is a screenwriter and playwright who won the Alfred Fagpn Award and George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright for her play Girls, a story about three girls who were abducted by terrorists in Nigeria. In 2019, she wrote the story for the film Rocks.

The Kanneh-Masons are a group of seven siblings who produce classical music by either playing the violin, piano or cello. The most prolific is cellist Sheku, who was the first Black musician to win the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award. They won the Global Award for Best Classical Artist in May and have been featured in documentaries such as BBC Four’s Young, Gifted and Classical and opened BBC One’s Imagine series

William Adoasi is the founder, CEO and head designer of Vitae, a watch brand that supports education in Sub-Saharan Africa. Alongside this, he produces Afrohouse music under the alias ADO and has been featured in Forbes and as a TEDx speaker.

Yinka Ilori is a furniture designer and artist who produces large-scale installations, bespoke furniture and adverts using bright colours and his African heritage as inspiration. Most recently, he designed the 2021 BRIT Awards trophy and is the artist in residence at Tottenham Hale’s new creative neighbourhood, “Heart of Hale!” 

Edited and introduction by Jennifer Adetoro, culture editor of CORQ. Influencer research by Caroline Edwards and Dina Zubi, staff writers for CORQ.