To celebrate Black History Month, we have been sharing stories and experiences, celebrating black history as we continue to strive for equality and inclusion in sport and within wider society. In our latest interview, we speak to the founder of Word on the Curb, Ndubuisi Uchea.
Word on the Curb is a creative content, insight and research agency centred around youth voice. Ndu and his business partner, Hayel, started off with just a Nixon D3100 and have turned Word on the Curb into a go-to platform for youth voices and opinion.
Ndu chats to us all about Word on the Curb and how they operate, how they have been supporting Black History Month, and why there is an under-representation of people of colour in many industries.
Ndu also gives his advice to organisations on how to become more inclusive and encourage diversity.
How did Word on the Curb come into existence?
“Word on the Curb started when I was in university, between myself and my business partner, Hayel. In our final year we lived together in the same house and we were applying for grad schemes, thinking what we are going to do after we graduate. We started to think about business. It was blue sky thinking at the time, if we were to start out own business then what would it be or look like?
We had a large group of friends who loved to have an
opinion, debate and have conversations about worldly topics,
and we questioned why we have never filmed those conversations to keep as an archive.
It was especially poignant at the time because young people were getting a bad
rep in the media and the rhetoric around young people was quite negative in
regard to only caring about social media, not caring about anything real and we
knew that wasn’t the case.
The day after that conversation we went to the Arndale Centre in Manchester and pi towards a camera. We started to go around campus and document people’s opinions about a whole heap of different issues. I think the first one we did was actually the same day that Roberto Di Matteo got sacked from Chelsea, so we were asking people, should he have been sacked? Did they make the wrong decision? All the way through to issues on race, gender, religion and university, student issues.
When we graduated and moved back down to London away from that campus environment, we needed to find a way of being able to create content that was more reachable to people who weren’t necessarily university students. We started to make entertainment content which had a bit of a meaning or purpose behind it. That’s how we built a YouTube channel, Instagram page and then we were reaching a large number of audiences, so businesses came to us for our consultancy and help. That’s how the agency model of what we do got started.”
What is the aim of Word on the Curb?
“Where we are now, I think the aim of what we’re trying to do is build the UK’s largest ethnic minority research and insight panel. Insight has underpinned what we do from the get-go, we’ve always been attuned to the fact that we’re going to grow old someday, so representing young people becomes a bit harder. We always need to keep relevant. Having conversations with young cousins of mine where we’d all be lumped into the same age demographic category of 18 to 24 at the time, they lived different lives to me.
We always found it important to unpick and unpack the nuance that exists within different audiences and demographics. With that insight we are able to then better guess how well a campaign is going to do, or how well a video is going to do. That insight has always been really important. With all that’s gone on in 2020 and there seems to be a bit of an awakening of issues that we haven’t necessarily addressed in the past. And in the present we haven’t landscaped where the research and insight industry is massively under-represented in regards to the people that they speak to and the communities that they speak to. We are trying to bridge that gap and utilise the community that we’ve built, largely of ethnic minority consumer here in the UK to be able to diversify the research and insight that is afforded to different brands and businesses that we work with.”
How do you engage with young people through Word on the Curb?
“The long journey mentioned kind of encapsulates how we do it [engage with young people]. Through our creative means of our own platforms, our YouTube channel or Instagram page, we create content which we think Millennials and Gen-Z audiences want to watch and are interested in watching. We think about the topics they are speaking about at that moment in time, faces they will vibe with and recognise. That’s kind of how we are able to communicate with them [young people]naturally through our own platforms.
We are always conscious of making sure that we are speaking to the right community groups who are also doing amazing work, who we can collaborate with, speak to and create content together with. Because I think that’s really important for us. There are loads of organisations out there who are doing great work within youth work or engagement in general, so wherever we have a gap we want to make sure we are filling [it] and working with the right people to do that.”
How has Word on the Curb been supporting Black History Month?
“For us this is quite a personal subject. Back in 2014, one of our first viral videos was a film called ‘What I Wasn’t Taught in School’ and it’s about the teaching of black history in schools. It came because it was October 2014, it was Black History Month and we started to have these personal conversations between myself and the rest of the team about how Black History Month was in school for them and asking whether they learnt anything. We started to realise that most of us didn’t have much learning of black history in school. It was all about Martin Luther King, Trevor McDonald or Rosa Parks, the obvious faces and names. Often, it was US focused. There’s this massive white washing of history where figures in the UK are completely forgotten about because they aren’t taught. Henry VIII’s trumpeter was a black man, there’s so many figures in history that aren’t spoken about.
Even the existence of black people in the UK, often people go back to Windrush and the end of the Second World War as that first point, but it’s been centuries of black people existing in the UK.
For me, Black History Month represents great appreciation of that history but in my opinion, it shouldn’t be a month, it should just be integrated into the history that we are taught throughout education and throughout our lives and understandings as British people.
"Black history is British history."
We are constantly trying to push conversations around that throughout the year. The month is great, because everyone comes together and thinks about these issues, but I really try and challenge people to think beyond the month and the misgivings of education.
This month, we’ve been speaking a lot to different businesses and brands about this history and education that is missed in our teaching as young people and adults in our formative years. That’s what we are doing at the moment.”
Why do you think there is an under-representation of people of colour in our industry and others?
Representation, inclusion and diversity are three very different things that often get lumped together. I always see these comments from people saying it can’t that hard for black people to get jobs because you turn on the TV and look how many black footballers there are. That’s not the point really, because when you look into managerial roles or club ownership roles, Director of Football roles or moving away from football, technical roles in other places. That same level of representation that you see on the football field just doesn’t exist in those roles. You’ve got to ask yourself, why?
In the UK a lot of people like to speak about how as of the last census, black people only made up 3% of the population and non-white British is 20% roughly. It will definitely change in the next census. You also have to go one step further and think about the actually industry because if your point is to say ‘there’s loads of black players’ then surely there should be loads of black managers, referees or coaches. That level of conversation is therefore how you graduate your own rebuttals.
In response to your question as to why, I think it’s for the same reasons and issues that we’ve already mentioned. I think there’s definitely a bias that exists inherently in all of us because of the way we are educated. Also, there’s a little bit of a risk factor. There’s a massive disproportion in the number of black people in their country in poverty so the need to go and get a job which is a bit more stable becomes a lot more paramount. Of course, football is high risk, high reward but the other jobs like journalist jobs or presenting jobs are equally as difficult with potentially not as much reward. That starts to open up the reasons as to why those issues exist and you can also look within class - how many working class people in general occupy big TV presenting roles? It’s definitely changing now but the age where you have to go to elocution lessons to have an interview role or go and be a presenter. Even people with regional accents get overlooked. There’s definitely a systemic, historical desire to have people who represent a certain race and class in this country which I think is the problem, and of course it will still be here and it will take a while to be able to change that.”
What advice would you give to organisations wanting to become more inclusive?
“Organisationally, I think inclusion and diversity needs to be massively ingrained into the culture and not just lip service. It’s not to say employing people of colour full stop, it’s about the diversity in your supply chain, the partners, the agency that you use - because they too will have their own diversity and inclusion problems.
It starts from within, beyond employment, it starts with education as we’ve said. If you’re given a poor education on these subject matters, you need to upskill yourself with the education of it. We do all of these days of professional employment development and how much of that is to do with unconscious bias or the history of discrimination and why don’t we upskill ourselves on that first, to truly understand the area that we are currently operating in.
That’s what I would say with organisations. Before you even dare to say we need to improve our diversity numbers, understand why and understand how you’re going to do that, not only inside your business, organisation or football club but outside of that with your partners and other supply chain people that you use.”
To find out more about Word on the Curb, click here.