RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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Over several years now, a conflict-driven narrative has gradually developed across many aspects of our society. 2018 has seen this narrative come to a head. Around the world, international disagreements over trade deals have caused widespread confusion and uncertainty. We now witness a worrying desire for extreme financial ‘growth,’ the pursuit of which has spawned several high-profile corporate scandals and public mistrust. At what cost will this ‘growth’ be achieved? It is apparent that this pivotal question is seldom asked by some of our global leaders. It’s no surprise that, as always, it’s those at the bottom of the hierarchy – those who experience varying degrees of socio-economic disadvantage – who are most affected by these consequential decisions made within a globally capitalist environment.

At home in the UK, and particularly in urban areas, we’ve been feeling those consequences at close quarters – London’s young people have suffered a surge in gun and knife crime. For some, the best way forward is through idealist naivety: could the marriage between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry really signal the beginning of a utopian, post-racial society? Of course not. Phrases like ‘Well, I don’t see colour!’ simply contribute to an ever-growing (and specifically middle-class) colour-blindness. Regardless of whether good intentions lie behind these sentiments, the refusal to acknowledge an individual’s truth is detrimental to societal progression and unification within the UK. Ignoring individuals whose stories do not fit the desired narrative - especially labelling and pigeonholing young people with reductive tropes – too often pushes those individuals to disassociate themselves from society at large. It takes a very particular, all-too-rare kind of person to rise to the occasion, take ownership of their invaluable individualism and push onward with strength, determination and hope. It is the kind of person we uncovered among the nominations for the Rare Rising Stars 2018.

For each of us, our social, economic and political interactions with the universe are complex enough to force us at some point in our lives to question our personal value and significance. I have often found myself contemplating who I, William Emmanuel Smith, really am. I am a black male whose first love was classical music, not hip-hop and rap. I’m an Oxford Music graduate who was part of a geeky university a cappella group. Often being labelled ‘the well-spoken BFG’, I did not (nor will I ever) meet the stereotypical alpha black male criteria that was encouraged, and on several occasions dictated, by many aspects of my environment. Growing up with these “unconventional” qualities and passions meant that I struggled to come to terms with my own specific blackness and maleness in a way that allowed me to celebrate both.

Rare Rising Stars celebrates two things. It celebrates blackness as a group of people sharing a black identity and it also celebrates us as black individuals. Blackness on an individual scale can manifest itself in endless forms; the individual’s specific performance of their black identity makes up this hugely diverse pool of people who identify as black. 2018’s stars teach us that we all have something to offer, and emphasise the philosophy at the heart of Rare: it doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, if you have the determination and resolve to succeed, nothing should stop you.

At this moment, when our world seems to be both stricken by many forms of conflict and plagued by apathetic and compassionless behaviour, Rare Rising Stars is a timely reminder of the immeasurable love and hope that still surrounds us. Now in its tenth year, Rare Rising Stars 2018 showcases the UK’s top 10 black students, individuals who each exude inspiration, perseverance and optimism. I have been truly humbled by the sheer excellence and passion exhibited by each star listed here; I hope you’ll join me in celebrating their phenomenal success.

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Will Smith
Rare Rising Stars 2018