RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 8


Theophina Gabriel

BA Philosophy and Theology
University of Oxford
Community Service and Arts

Theophina Gabriel

Theophina’s gift for writing has told a beautiful story which has reached thousands of people across the UK. Her enthusiasm for the arts and its effects on the black UK community is one of a kind and can be seen in her work, such as Onyx Magazine. She reminds us that art – in all forms – has the ability to transcend difference and social conflict, and helps us to understand the world in which we live. Through her artistic creations, Theophina has created her own unique and powerful story which subverts the story that was being dictated to her by her own surroundings.

Theophina was born and raised in Slough. She currently lives with both of her parents who both came from Grenada; her mother came to England as part of the Windrush generation. During her childhood, education was considered a priority for Theophina because her family did not come from a well-off background. She was initially placed in a prep school, but was quickly taken out because the financial burden was too great.

The experience of ‘failure’ for Theophina came to the fore when she did not pass the 11+ examinations. As a result, she ended up attending a comprehensive state school with a not-so-great reputation. Some teachers failed to teach classes properly, and most of the students were not academically motivated. Despite this, she overcame the odds of underperforming at GCSE and managed to get the grades to attend a grammar school. The education system failed Theophina yet again when she was predicted 3 C grades and D at AS Level. To her teachers’ surprise, she gained 3 A grades and a B and decided to apply to Oxford the following year.

Despite receiving an interview, she did not receive an offer but decided to take a gap year to re-apply. During her gap year, Theophina tutored English and worked at retail stores Body Shop and New Look. The money that she earned here was to be used to fund her studies at university. She contacted her former Head of Year to help her reapply to Oxford, but Theophina was refused the help. Instead, she received help from another teacher who supported her through the process. She ended up with an unconditional offer from Oxford. Theophina’s educational career shows us that pure determination can take you to new heights, even when we experience resistance from other external factors.

Theophina’s artistic story started in 2015 when she won the Foyles Young Poet of the Year Award out of a total of 13,000 entrants. It was at this point she embraced her talent for writing. Since then, Theophina has been published in numerous publications and journals including; The Soapbox Journal, Linden Avenue Journal, OH Magazine and NOTES Magazine. She has written poetry for the BBC under commission with Resource Production to produce a spoken word video called ‘Black Don’t Crack’. ‘Black Don’t Crack’ aimed to raise awareness of skincare within the black community. So far, the video has reached over 30,000 people. Recently in light of the Windrush Scandal, Theophina wrote a poem encapsulating the injustice of the scandal against her community. Her Windrush poem was picked up and published by the BBC and has currently amassed over 40,000 views. Furthermore, Theophina is also a singer/songwriter and has recently released an EP project entitled ‘Nebula’.

“Black representation in the creative media needs serious improvement. I wanted to create a publication which showed off talented young black creatives.”

Theophina took her art to the next level with the creation of Onyx Magazine. As Editor-in-Chief, Theophina aims to tackle the underrepresentation of young black creatives within the creative industry as well as giving a platform to the voices of black Oxford students. Onyx receives submissions and content ranging from poetry to politics; it has reached writers overseas as far as Barbados. To date, Onyx has had over 100 submissions and since starting in January, Theophina and her team of eight have secured funding worth over £8,000 in support-in-kind, as well as being funded for printing by Oxford University’s Access department. The magazine is set to launch in October this year and the Onyx team are planning to distribute over 300 copies to universities across the UK, as well as all the colleges in Oxford.

Theophina’s belief in the power of art to uplift communities is a rare and important one. Although her surroundings tried to impose a devastating educational narrative upon her, Theophina utilised her perseverance and artistic talents to navigate her way into a path full of success, excellence and creativity which has
no limits.

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