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‘I feel like I can be the best I can be in Middlesbrough’

Sticks & Stones is a magazine for the North East’s black community that’s made in Middlesbrough.

In truth however, it’s much more than that.

The words and images that are printed four times a year are a snapshot of time, but the sense of togetherness and belonging between those involved endures.

Director Kudakwashe Gumboreshumba Derera was inspired to start the magazine while doing work with the community during Covid lockdowns.

Kuda and others worked hard to get the right information to the black community throughout the pandemic.

“We started groups on Zoom to keep the information right, and also to encourage people and bring them together,” Kuda says.

“That sense of community was important during a period of isolation.

“We then started to think, ‘how can we sustain this sense of community?’ and this is how the magazine came about.”

Kuda pictured with a local fashion designer

Kuda came to Middlesbrough to study after a stint in Northern Ireland.

Originally from Zimbabwe, he completed a diploma in film and media studies at Teesside University and was soon doing community work in Middlesbrough in the same way he did in Belfast.

Kuda started youth club sessions after seeing lots of young people hanging around at night, sometimes drinking and smoking.

“On the first session around 21 people appeared. We enjoyed music and dance and within a few weeks the place was full.

“I remember the police coming once with a list of names and saying we understand they’re here. They were concerned about problems but I invited them in and they could see they were having fun.

“We used their love of music and dance to provoke their thinking.”

Fast forward almost 15 years and Kuda is still involved in community work and campaigning, with Sticks & Stones a new platform to contribute to the effort.

“There are so many black people in the North East but their stories haven’t really been told,” he says.

“We have doctors, engineers and professionals of all kinds and their stories have never been told. It’s really important to tell your own story because if you don’t, someone else will tell it for you.

“We want to give people the platform to tell their own stories.

“There are a set of issues for the black community that needs to be told, for example black people don’t donate blood, never mind organs. These issues are driven by culture but it’s killing our community.

“There are people on dialysis that are looking for kidneys and waiting a really long time and sometimes dying because they can’t find a match.”

Kuda produced a musical film directed by Elvis Katoto which was commissioned by the local public health department to raise awareness of high suicide rates among young black people.

Sticks & Stones hopes to produce more themed films on important issues from around the region.

Alongside campaigns on blood and organ donation, Sticks & Stones is also addressing subjects including men’s mental health, domestic abuse and the way poverty can affect access to essential products such as sanitary pads.

Kuda also believes there is an issue of representation for the black community.

“We need equality and diversity to be more than buzzwords,” he says.

“Organisations need to reflect the communities they serve. We’re trying to push for representation in organisations and also politically, in terms of leadership positions such as councillors.”

Kuda doesn’t have political ambitions himself but is proud of Middlesbrough and wants to see it thrive.

Kuda with Ray Murefu, marketing manager at Sticks & Stones

He reflects on moving here and immersing himself in local history.

“I connected with the museums and the history of Captain Cook,” he says.

“I’d been reading about this guy for such a long time and to come to his place was special. Before you know it I’d met my missus and the rest is history.”

Kuda and his wife Catherine, who works in the NHS, live in Brambles Farm with their three daughters, Tamie, 15, Imani, 13 and Shiloh, nine.

He jokes about Tamie’s Middlesbrough accent and her love for the Boro.

Some time after settling here, Kuda learned that his hometown in Zimbabwe, Masvingo, previously had formal links with Middlesbrough.

That is special to him.

“Middlesbrough has almost become my spiritual home,” he says.

“Coming from Masvingo to Middlesbrough… it’s more than just home. I feel like I belong. Right now I feel like I can be the best that I can be while I’m in Middlesbrough.

“What drives me is that other people can feel the same.”

Find out more about Sticks & Stones online.