Category Archives: Education

Birmingham woman pours grief into fiction novel and speaks up about knife attacks after losing brother

After keeping it a secret from her family, the sister of a stabbed Birmingham man today launched debut novel, The Life He Chose, raising awareness of the reality of knife crime.


Candace Bertram, 27, lost her brother, father-to-be Leon Francis in 2007 when he was murdered by a friend, within a year of him being released from prison where he served over five years.

The mum-of-one with a daughter, began writing five years later to cope with her grief and dispel the myths around knife violence.

She said: “We’re fed that it’s just gangsters who get stabbed but anyone could be victim of senseless attacks, that aren’t just with knives. No matter how you’re raised or who you’re around, it’s about making the right decisions.

Source: The Birmingham Mail

Source: The Birmingham Mail

“Leon dying so unexpectedly and in a way that was happening to so many males at that time inspired me to spread a message, but this book isn’t inspired by his life or to glorify it because there’s so much that I didn’t know.

“He was a family man and someone that we looked up to.”

An ‘everyday story’ aimed at 16-30-year-olds, the crime drama novel centres on the relationship between Jay and girlfriend Lauryn, who is blissfully unaware of his dangerous street life.

The plot explores subjects like love, infidelity, crime and loyalty, but also tackles more sensitive and ‘complex’ issues such as sex, siblings with different fathers and biracial identity.

She said: “Jay lives his life how he wants to while Lauryn stays at home and reaps the benefits with expensive everything, but she’s happy to live that life because she has no self-worth.

“He doesn’t respect her and Lauryn has distanced herself from her family, she has just one friend, so she doesn’t know where to turn.

”When she does try to make a change in her life, it ends in tragedy.”

Candace shielded her parents from the book because they had been ‘dragged to Mars and back with grief and upset’ over their son’s death.

Now that they’ve read it, they’re said to be ‘really happy and proud’.

She said: “It’s nearly eight years now and it’s not getting any easier because it’s something we’ll never accept, but my anger towards his death got left at the door a long time ago.

“I think if Leon could come back and give me a message he’d be pleased that something positive came out of it and probably ask why I didn’t put him in it for his five minutes of fame.”

Candace wants the self-published book to feature as a set text on the English curriculum and aspires to deliver workshops in schools and colleges nationwide.

She said: “I’m hoping that in the future it will be adapted into a play or film because I’m a visual learner, so the next step would be turning it into something people can watch.

Already talking of a sequel, Candace is also planning a UK tour in the new year, with the next stop being London, where the novel is set.

The Life He Chose is available to buy here.

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Theatre Review: The Hallowed Turf (Gazebo Theatre)

Leading men Kaine Barr and Oraine Johnson

Leading men Kaine Barr and Oraine Johnson

“Impactful and thought-provoking, this production will make you laugh as well as cry.”

Between the haunting piano accompaniment played at the most poignant exchanges of dialogue and the chilling battle scenes, this provocative portrayal of Walter Tull – the first Black British combat officer to serve in the Army and former football legend – tells a heartfelt story of comradery and bravery. But, as a tribute to Tull, I’m left with unanswered questions that I’m unsure whether to direct at possible holes in the script or at times, the rigid exterior presented by leading man, Oraine Johnson (The Tin Violin, Sorry! No coloured, No Irish, No Dogs).

March 1918 is where the play begins, four years after Second Lieutenant Tull enlisted, or ‘Leftenant’ as he’s known by Private Joseph Harper, the young and fearful soldier through whom the story is engagingly narrated. Played by Kaine Barr (BBC Doctors, Waterloo Road) Harper’s boyish innocence gushes on stage so the audience warm to him quickly, and it’s through a series of letters sent home to his mother that we learn of his unspoken fears and idolation towards his superior, former Spurs and Northampton star, with whom he forms a heartfelt friendship with.

From the moment Johnson stepped out from the wings he established himself as Tull with a distinguished manner and each line projected with middle-class vigour, in comedic contrast to his co-star’s brash Midlands accent. Maintaining this level of reserve though somehow got in the way of communicating Tull’s bitterness towards the racism he’d experienced both on the pitch and in the army, moreover the pain at having had a fragmented childhood. When spoken between characters the emotive dialogue triggers a sadness in me but, those were only small glimpses, at which point I wish the script had opened up to explore those key events in Tull’s life for us to comprehend.

Detailed, yet minimal, the set evokes a depressing wartime trench with dusty sandbags lay like barricades at different corners of the stage. Handwritten letters are wedged between them near a makeshift bed and under the hazy spotlights, I have time to observe the other relics of world war one. Silent national archive footage complements the performances, also acting as an ominous reminder of an unhappy ending.

Impactful and thought-provoking, this production will make you laugh as well as cry, but what I’m not convinced about is whether Gazebo Theatre have done enough to show the gravity of triumph in Walter Tull’s story. In light of Black History Month, it didn’t convey a strong enough sense of race to me. Perhaps the irony is that it’s not supposed to, and in that case, I completely missed the point.


*The Hallowed Turf debuts at The Drum, Birmingham on October 16

Visit to book tickets.

A practical guide: How to stop curiosity getting the better of you

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein.


What did curiosity kill again? I love cats but found this so funny. Source:

Great, I’m incredibly curious so that means my brain must be an encyclopedia of relevant information, right? On the contrary, all that’s happening is that I’m training my brain to be a giant book of useless information – that’s actually a book that we have at home by the way, as my mum has a fetish for crosswords so these things come in handy. Now the problem with a curious mind is that it’s rarely still – the poor thing doesn’t even know the meaning of the word.

At 6.10am on New Years Day I was full of beans and had researched everything from: hair porosity; alkaline foods; the pH of hair products; the Paleo Diet aka eating Caveman style; adrenal fatigue; facial puffiness and how I can’t fix hereditary undereye bags; then was swayed by the Daily Mail’s celebrity sidebar so read about Beyonce and Jay Z’s vegan challenge, and Googled what Kelly Rowland’s boo, Tim Witherspoon looks like when I finally decided that enough was enough. Part of this blog got drafted because after a whole night of restlessness the words were being sounded out in my head so I grabbed my phone, headed for the notepad app and tapped like a fiend in the dark. At 2pm I opened my curtains to grey skies and raindrops wondering where the freaking day had gone and told myself that this can’t happen again tomorrow.

To stop our understanding of subjects and issues being purely superficial, then of course we have to enlighten ourselves. The problem lies in that the internet is laden with people who know absolutely nothing and shift information from one dodgy source to their own site of unfounded claims so by the end of it, you still don’t have a grasp on what it was you set out to look into. But it’s quite simple to make research/ surfing time more efficient and satisfying:

1. Be your own guinea pig
Discovering that the pH levels of beauty products can be a major reason as to why they do or don’t work for us, I now want to go further and buy test strips to use at home. There are some things that you just can’t rely on others to test for you. Again, with diet and nutrition, there are so many opinions out there that until you try it yourself, you have no real clue as with a lot, it’s trial and error.

2. Try to invalidate your own opinion
Not enough people go out of their way to disprove their own opinion but it only makes sense because we’re influenced by so many outlets. Whether you like to admit it or not, initially a lot of what we think and say isn’t our point of view alone, plus just because you’ve said it a thousand times doesn’t make it any truer unless you can definitely prove it.

3. Seek peer-reviewed journals
Chances are someone has already done research into the area that you’re curious about and journals aren’t just for traditional medicine or science – they hold a wealth of well-validated and interesting stuff. Blogs are amazing for community, perspectives and often a great starting point but it’s always wise to go off and dig a little deeper, depending on the topic.

4. Jump on forums
Discussion with others who have done it, doing it or that want to do it; been there, perhaps wore the t-shirt to prove it – in a lot of cases those who take the time to comment on forums do so to genuinely share something of benefit to others. You can easily spot the comments to ignore but forums are an open invitation to voice whatever it is you need to, and have a human talk back.

“No cures exist for curiosity so exercise it responsibly, and don’t listen to everybody.” Vicky Gayle

Happy New Year.


Words from a Leo, Dorothy Parker. American writer known for her witty sense of humour. (1893-1967)

A Celebration of Kinks: Natural Hair Week UK interview with Vinna Best

Rebellious, outspoken, magnificent – black hair speaks for itself and there are a barrage of compliments being catapulted our way in adoration for our kinks and curls. Given the surge of women endorsing au-natural, it was only a matter of time before attention spread further than hair salons and into the media. With high-profile entertainers embracing their tresses, and bloggers internationally championing the diversity of afro-hair, there’s no time like the present to launch the UK’s first ever, Natural Hair Week.

Duo Diane Hall, author of How I Grew It Long and Vinna Best, founder of Officially Natural have fused their creative energies together for a week-long event (15 – 20 July 2013) targeting Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham and London.

Natural Hair Week UK

Natural Hair Week UK will incorporate the who’s who of the hair care and beauty industry. From leading hair and nutrition experts, stylists, brands, salon owners and bloggers, now is your chance to mingle with professional, established and emerging names in the industry. In a series of exciting sessions, exhibitions, hair demonstrations and networking receptions, if you’re not there, then seriously, where else will you be?

Speaking ahead of the event in just over four weeks time, co-founder Vinna Best is happy that her idea has finally come to life. Telling all, over a very early Saturday morning phone call, we relate on everything from having confused yo-yo hair, failed DIY recipes and how being a voluntary naturalista goes far beyond just a change of hairstyle.

Vinna Best, co-founder of Natural Hair UK and lady behind Officially Natural

“It’s not just about natural hair – it’s about your natural being as a person as well.” Vinna Best

This is officially the first ever Natural Hair Week UK (NHWUK). Has it been a long time coming?

I’m excited, it has been a long time coming – it’s something I believe was missing from the UK. For example myself, I’ve been natural for over four years now and I do believe that what’s happening now, it’s more than a revolution – it’s a lifestyle and I’m really grateful that there’s so many women, not just in the UK but also around the world that are not just having natural hair but embracing it and knowing that it’s beautiful as well – something that I noticed from the age of 15.

Where does the Caribbean connect with the story of NHW?

Last year, I was actually supposed to go to the Caribbean to run a natural hair event, just for the sheer fact that I was going on holiday and I wanted to do something around that as well but that didn’t happen. It was only through a short discussion with Diane and myself, who is co-founder of NHWUK, we wanted to work together so we literally had a brief conversation and just said, “Let’s do it,” and then NHWUK was born.

You’ve got your own website, Officially Natural, did that come about around the same time as when you went natural?

When I went back natural in October 2007, I noticed there were many US bloggers telling others about their journey including hairstyles, hair length checks and hair care but there were limited UK blogs. Therefore I wanted to launch a site which was unique in style rather than just another natural hair site. It was launched officially earlier this year but was three years in the making. I’ll also be launching IYOKA Boutique in July 2013 – created with the vision of creating wearable art clothes relating to natural hair and beauty that tells a story and inspires naturals through design and creativity.


“Our aim is to promote and increase the awareness of the beauty of curly/afro textured hair in its natural state as well as educate and address other health issues that are linked to healthy hair growth.” Diane Hall

For several reasons including the misconception that afro hair is difficult to manage and doesn’t grow. But since US natural hair bloggers started to openly embrace their beautiful textures, women worldwide also started posting blogs and YouTube videos around natural hair care and styling. When I went back to natural my family thought that I was crazy but rewind over four years later, my mum has now gone natural and my two younger sisters too.

The event’s taking place across six cities so are there any that you’re particularly excited about or that you feel are leading the way in terms of natural hair and beauty?

I’m looking forward to every single city! The reason why is because we speak a lot about naturalists in London and in Birmingham but we would like to engage with and find out more about naturalistas in other cities.

The aim of the event is that you want to educate, appreciate natural hair, show it off, encourage other people – why is it so important to include all of that into an event like this?

In regards to education, it’s really important because natural hair is not just about having fun with your hair, therefore we’ve experts speaking about hair nutrition, hair care and hair loss. It’s really important to recognise that it’s not so much about what you put on top of your hair because the products that you use create certain hairstyles – it’s more about what you put inside of your body and hair maintenance.

Who can we expect in attendance across the week? Are there any more names that you can drop in?

Recently Natural Hair Week UK confirmed Valley Fontaine, a BBC reporter and natural hair blogger to host the London event. Shirley McDonald, a trichologist and she will be talking about hair loss throughout the week. NoScrunchie, Kickin’ It With The Kinks, Kulchicbeauty, Natural Hair Daily, Crystal Afro and Woman in the Jungle are some of the names who will also be attending the event.

Do you feel that the natural hair revolution is here to stay or a little bit of a passing trend?

I definitely think natural hair, if you want to call it a ‘revolution,’ is here to stay and I think one very important point is not just the fact that we have natural hair but the universal celebration and encouragement.


natural-hair-week-uk-2013_225x300Top three hair care brands? Coconut oil, Bee Mine Clarifying Shampoo Bar and I do like the QP Mango Butter Moisturiser.

Most outrageous DIY hair recipe you’ve heard? I can’t think of one that I’ve heard of but I can think of one that I’ve done. I didn’t properly rinse out the egg from my hair and when I blow-dried it, it scrambled!

Fail safe in-a-rush hairstyle? I like buns.

Natural hair crush? Kinky Curly Queen, she has a website called I’m Naturally Obsessed.

A style that you’d still like to try? Bantu Knot-Out.

Join the conversation on Twitter @NaturalHairWeek #NHWUK Facebook search ‘NaturalHairWeek’

Film Review: One Mile Away

Director: Penny Woolcock
Certificate: 15
Running time: 90 mins
Release date: 29th March 2013

Welcome to Birmingham – a city tarnished by the 20-year postcode war between rival gangs, the Burger Bar Boys (B21) and Johnson Crew (B6). If pavements could talk, they’d tell the harrowing stories of all those lives cut short by their so-called ‘enemies’, separated by just a stretch of main road; stories reiterated on camera as award-winning filmmaker, Penny Woolcock (One Day; The Principles of Lust; Mischief Night) documents the mission of two men from the opposing sides as they meet in secret to draw a metaphorical line across the blood stains with a truce.


The reason for the war? Matthias Thompson aka ‘Shabba’ openly admits he has no idea but when his disclosure precedes a man, affiliated to the Johnsons, showing the camera two bullet holes in the walls where he narrowly escaped with his life, the realisation is sudden and unrelenting but has you questioning: how did the tensions reach this level? And has it gone too far for peace? Side-by-side with ally, Dylan Duffus, lead actor in drama, One Day, the film tracks the pair’s two-year journey to recruit others for the cause and the hostility they face along the way.

Digesting the news and their nonchalant headlines of gang warfare, we disconnect; forgetting that in reality, those names mentioned belong to families. An intimate interview with the mother of Marcus Ellis, one-of-four convicted for the New Years Eve murders of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare in Aston, alongside his solicitor and barrister, explores a further narrative to the story – the criminal justice system – which is strengthened by gritty footage of the 2011 UK riots and obstruction from the police authorities, who in Dylan’s words, sought to have the project shut down.


Within the first few minutes of the film’s opening, the message of One Mile Away could easily have been lost through the inner-city slang, (which required subtitles) baseball caps and the pattern of black male faces. However, listening to the plight of men aged as young as 15, who have lost close friends and rarely feel safe outside, it’s clear the enormity of the task at hand and how monumental talks of peace from those who have lived it, really is.

Over 90 minutes, you’re taken on a very eye-opening journey that stirs all kinds of mixed feelings towards society, as we now know it – the family unit, government authorities and the media. Bringing about peace is just one edge of the coin but the other is so embroiled in anger and resentment, at so many moments in the film you’re compelled to just reach out and give all of those young men a hug. Without glamorising gang culture, One Mile Away manages to describe the predatory nature of the streets, along with the dangers and complexities of ‘road life’. Its heart beats in Brum town but its significance echoes across the entire UK for all to empathise with and relate to.


Support the One Mile Away #RoadToFreedomTour through their Kickstarter campaign:

For details of screenings near you:

Listen to an exclusive interview with co-founder of the One Mile Away Organisation and cast member, Simeon ‘Zimbo’ Moore at the Birmingham premiere of the film here.