Our Mel is a grassroots collective putting black artists, storytellers, filmmakers and talent front and centre. It's driven by the belief that representation matters – that people from a diverse background should shape the stories we're told and the history we learn, if we want to more fully understand where we come from. Annalisa Toccara and Gabriela Thompson Menanteaux met after the Black Lives Matter solidarity event in Sheffield in 2016, which Annalisa helped organise, and have been planning events as Our Mel ever since. As well as holding pop-up workshops throughout the year, they run the major citywide programme of films and art Melanin Fest in October, coinciding with Black History Month. Read on to find out more from Annalisa and Gabriela.
What gave the two of you the idea for Melanin Fest?
Annalisa: Gabriela and I met after the Sheffield Black Lives Matter peace walk and rally last July, which was organised by a group of young people who later became known as Afro-Sheffield. Gabriela has a fab picture of her holding a placard of a wrist with the peace symbol on – coincidentally I have peace symbol tattoo on my wrist. We realised we had similar ideas and interests, and what became an idea for a weekend has now turned into a full grown month of events as well as the community Our Mel.
Gabriela: Living abroad and in London and then coming back home to Sheffield made me feel that there was something missing. I wanted to do something that brought people together celebrating today's black talent during black history month instead of focusing on the oppression in our history. So after being inspired by the young people that organised the BLM march and rally I reached out to Afro-Sheffield, which lead me to Annalisa. I went round with some biscuits, she made us a brew, and I just went with my gut and asked her. We were on the same page from then on.
What inspires you?
A: I’m incredibly inspired by black women of history, our freedom fighters. I went to a talk that Angela Davies was giving at the Southbank Centre in London – wow, is she incredible! It really stuck me though that we need more events like that up north, and that’s where my passion for Our Mel and Melanin Fest comes in.
G: Bringing that spark that other cities have to Sheffield inspires me – sharing culture, regaining a sense of community and providing realistic role models for the yoots to look up to.
What do you love about Sheffield?
A: The people. I’m a southerner and as soon as I moved here, it felt like home.
G: I love everything about Sheffield. It's my hometown, I'm a Yorkshire lass and it's where most of my family and friends are. And my brother cooks a decent roast – couldn't live too far.
What would you do to improve the city?
A: More events like Melanin Fest. More safe spaces for people of colour. More community gatherings.
G: I'd also make it easier to achieve with support in place to make things happen, especially for people who don't necessarily have all the experience.
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