‘If we see more diverse stories, old ways of viewing things will no longer cloud judgment’ — Aida Fofana on Beatfreeks’ Don’t Settle project

16th September 2020

Aida Fofana discusses her aspirations in journalism, decolonsing the heritage sector and the importance of listening to young voices.

By Andrew Hillman

Last September, thousands of students marched through the Birmingham city centre in protest at government inaction to fight the global climate emergency. In June, young demonstrators made their voices heard once again, this time calling for an end to systemic racism and standing in solidarity with protests against police brutality and racism across America.

But Aida Fofana, a journalism student at Birmingham City University, cautions that we must not rely on these protests (and the brief media attention they receive) as the only opportunity for the thoughts and experiences of young people to be listened to.

Aida is involved in Don’t Settle, a project run by Birmingham-based social enterprise agency Beatfreeks. For the project, Beatfreeks has partnered with Birmingham Museums, the Chance Heritage Trust and The Roundhouse to ensure that stories of the city’s heritage coming from minoritised communities are not overlooked.

But Aida says that it is not only uncovering diverse stories that is important: who tells those stories also matters. “[Don’t Settle seeks] to tell stories truthfully, but also include people from those backgrounds, and give them a rightful seat at the table to be able to contribute.”

“The aim of Don’t Settle in particular is to decolonise the heritage sector and encourage [heritage organisations] to reframe the narratives that are being told. My job is to see if the partners are living up to what they say they’re going to do.”

Aida taking part in the “My body is a protest for change” art activist installation in Leeds in July.

Ensuring that valuable perspectives are not ignored has been a focus of Beatfreeks’ work since its founding in 2013. It began as an open mic evening called Poetry Jam, where young speakers could share their stories, poems, raps and monologues.

The agency has since launched projects to connect the voices of 16- to 25-year olds, especially from minoritised communities, to the institutions that often struggle to hear them. They provided HS2 (the UK’s high-speed, cross-country railway project) with young peoples’ insights on plans for Curzon Street Station and have recently worked with Birmingham City Council to ensure that public health messaging to combat COVID-19 is tailored to reach young audiences.

“[Young people] can give a different perspective because the younger you are the closer you are to the ground,” Aida says.

Aida’s first contact with Beatfreeks came at a Poetry Jam in 2017. She went on to perform at these events, reading poetry about the effects of austerity and mental wellbeing.

When Aida heard about the Don’t Settle project, she saw similarities with her own career aspirations.

“My personal ethos for wanting to be a journalist is to be able to bridge disenfranchised communities but also provide a platform for underrepresented or marginalised stories, or narratives that have been misconstrued because of the current lens that we have in the media. So when [Don’t Settle] came up, I thought it is kind of the same work that I want to do in journalism.”

Seeing young journalists telling alternative stories, including Stacey Dooley’s and Reggie Yates’ BBC Three documentaries, inspired Aida to pursue a career in journalism. “They spoke about things that people were not speaking about,” Aida says. “I thought ‘Wow, I never knew this existed’ — and I wanted to contribute to that.”

Aida views the rise of new journalism outlets, such as Buzzfeed, gal-dem and Vice, as a response to younger audiences who want stories they can identify with and are increasingly keen to “take charge of telling their own narratives.”

“Now that we’re seeing technology evolving and having access to social media and seeing different ways of life, I feel like minds are changing and if [traditional journalism outlets] want to still be in business, they need to keep up with the times and start inviting young people to the table.”

Aida is hopeful that established news organisations will respond to this challenge with more youthful and varied content of their own, and that this will in-turn encourage their traditional readers to revisit long-held beliefs.

“If we see more diverse stories, we see more real-life people and those stories are told by those people, after a while old ways of viewing things will no longer cloud judgment.”

Learn more about…

…Don’t Settle:

…Poetry Jam:

More Birmingham news...

Birmingham’s city centre businesses worry for future as offices remain empty

ONS data shows huge fall in West Midlands’ foreign-born population during pandemic – but is it right?


Other side of the tracks: the racial divisions shaping the Bay Area’s housing crisis