Never Forget Her

By Marcella Pens

Missing Black Girls and Women in the United Kingdom.

Recently, I came across a tweet with a link to The UK Missing Persons Unit where statistical figures stated that 11,631 Black Girls and Women were reported mising in the year 2018/2019. This figure was of the 29,896 total Black African and Caribbean women and men reported missing in 2018/2019. After reading some of the data, including historical data as far back as 2009/10, I noted that in that year no data on ethnicity of missing persons formed part of the report. The year after that in 2010/11, missing African and Caribbean women and men were reported at 15% of the total 327,000. Percentages were a running theme for a few years after that. Essentially, leaving the reader to do the math. Well, I did the math. And it turns out that 15% is in effect 49,000+ Black people reported missing in 2010/11 and then in;

2011/12 – 15% of 313,000 = 46,950

2012/13 – 12% of 306,000 = 36,720

As the data became more detailed in representing ethnicity, in 2016/17 of the 32,279 African and Caribbean people that were reported missing, 42.7% (13,783) were Black Girls and Women with similar figures reported in 2017/18. I sat back in shock considering that Index Mundi reports that African and Caribbean British people make up 3% of the UK population. Again, doing the math on the estimated percentage of Black people in the UK it shows;

An estimate of 67 Million people in the UK as of 2021.

3% = 2,010,000* Black people in the UK.

Black people who are reported missing is incredibly disproportionate to the population statistics. This tragic trend of disproportionality affecting the lives of Black people in Britain can be seen systemically throughout the UK in various reports and not limited to policing, imprisonment, government, education, employment, housing and health and social care of adults, children, elderly, disabled and mental health. The effects, I’m sure, can be seen and felt by many Black people and families in communities across the UK. That feeling that lingers over your head like a bad smell, ‘Black citizens in the UK are not deserving of the same human equality as white UK citizens’. The systemic oppression experienced by Black people in the UK has in return caused extreme mistrust in all services. We have been constantly seeking change to be recognised equally as human. However, the level of resistance to being given that recognition can be seen in the reports linked in this blog. To be seen by the majority, there first has to be an empathetic recognition that we, as Black people are human and our rights and life matter as much as the next.

I know I should not be that shocked, especially after the report lead by David Lammy which raised concerns stating, “Black people make up around 3% of the general population but accounted for 12% of adult prisoners in 2015/16; and more than 20% of children in custody.” Then the recent review exposing the disparities of the deaths of Black Women in childbirth stating ‘Black women are still four times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or childbirth in the UK.’ Additionally, the 2016 ‘report on the youth justice system in England and Wales found over 40% of children are from BAME backgrounds, and more than one third have a diagnosed mental health problem.’ Again, the 2019 National Black Members’ Conference brought attention to the huge rates of Mental Health issues with Black Women in comparison to Asian or white Women. ‘According to Mental Health Bulletin, nearly 5,000 Black British people per 100,000 Black people accessed mental health services in 2014-2015; 12.7% of those in contact with mental health and learning disability services spent at least one night in hospital that year. That’s more than double the percentage in the UK white population.’ It has also been found that Black Women’s mental health issues are extremely higher due to experiences and not limited to Racism, Sexism, Cultural Alienation, Adultification Bias, Organisational Abuse, Questioning of Parent Capacity and Mysogyny. 2020 research on Domestic Abuse in BAME groups stated that ‘institutional racism extends beyond the criminal justice system to services such as domestic abuse agencies, health care professionals and social services.’ it does not end there. The 2018 Child Welfare Inequalities Project lead by Professor Paul Bywaters found that ‘Black Caribbean children at all levels of neighbourhood deprivation are more likely than ‘White British’ children to be in care. Amongst 16 and 17 year olds, 1 ‘Black Caribbean’ child in 30 was in care, compared to 1 in 100 ‘White British’ children. That, Black African’ children in higher deprivation neighbourhoods are much less likely than ‘White British’ children to be in care or on a protection plan. But in low deprivation areas where they are few in number they are more likely than ‘White’ children to be in care.

The lack of media and news coverage of tragic events demonstrated the lack of empathy and humanity towards Black people and the crisis’ that are harming our communities. Black people dying in police custody, in healthcare institutions and mental health care. Black elderly being neglected of the their basic and cultural needs in adult social care. Black children being excluded from schools, Black children losing parents to the prison system or being taken into care that is not considerate of their cultural needs. Black parents of children with Access Needs or Intellectual Needs (current preferred term for Physical and Learning disabilities) facing barriers and challenges in receiving adequate support. Black people being paid less in their employment, lack of promotion or being marked down in academic studies. It just kept going. The evident reminder that the Black Lives Matter movement is very much needed because I kept being reminded through researching for this post that Black Lives have never really mattered.

I dug a little deeper into missing Black Girls and Women. I hit the search engine with ‘missing Black Girls and Women in the UK’. Various articles came up but all were lacking in detailed narrative about missing Black Girls or Women and some where I could not locate any information, news article or missing person report. It was a lonely feeling searching for any existence of information about the lives of these missing girls and women. Sat at my desk, I paused to look out the window and noticed a Magpie bird, one for sorrow as they say, pecking at a rubbish bag discarded by a tree. The Magpie was tugging at something through the hole it created and every so often, it would stop, take a look around as if it were checking if a human was coming and then back to its tug-of-war with whatever it was trying to free from the bin bag. The irony! I felt like that Magpie digging around the internet for information, any information that would suggest ongoing highlighting of the disappearances of Black Girls and Women. It just felt very unfair. I felt that they were just simply forgotten. However, not forgotten by loved ones left behind hoping for months and then that increases to years of hoping for that one phonecall that would end the nightmare that family and friends were living in not knowing where their daughter, mother, grandmother, niece, sister or wife are. My heart goes out to all the families who have ever been affected by a loved one who are still missing.

Academics have theorised ‘Missing White Woman’ syndrome and within that it demonstrates that, gender, race and class heavily influenced whether a Black Girl or Woman were seen as worthy to have positive media recognition of their disappearance as much as white women. The disappearances of Joy Morgan and Blessing Olusegun were not given public recognition in news and media as much as missing white girls and women. I remember hearing about the beautiful young women after their traggic deaths and not while they were missing. That saddened me as I searched further and found the stories of so many Black Girls and Women with little or no media coverage.

I came across various newspaper articles that mentioned women who did not appear on the Missing People website or were mentioned in local news gazettes with merely one or two lines that simply state name, age at disappearance, date of disappearance and area reported missing from including a missing person reference for reporting sightings. I could not locate these women in news updates. Were they found and reunited with loved ones? What happened to these women?

Modlene Wobidike, aged 36 when reported missing from Camberwell in South London on September 14th 2017.

Ayisha Tanko, aged 21 when reported missing from Brixton in South London on November the 1st 2014.

Uget Yiadom was reported missing from Enfield and was 28 when she went missing just over five years ago.

Dezrene Simpson was reported missing from Lewisham on April 25th 2019 and is 79 years old.

There were many others with very few details and many without a photo. I felt the tears creep into my eyes as I tried to imagine what could have possibly happened to these young girls and women, where were they now, were they safe and well and the most eerie feeling of all…I dare not thought or utter the words out of my mouth. I am all about hope.

I have three daughters and I could not begin to imagine the emptiness and longing that is felt by families and loved ones when a family member is reported missing. Additionally, I cannot begin to imagine what these missing Black Girls and Women have experienced on their journey’s. Wishing them a safe return to their families or wishing that they are safe wherever they may be is my hope.

Here is some of what I read while researching to create this post. The writers of these links below show there empathy, compassion and concern for a crisis that needs the valid awareness they brought to the forefront however, that must have had the additional layer of dismay, fear and terror that these lives looking back at them in the photos could have been their sister, cousin, auntie, mother, grandmother or friend. Feeling that Black Girls and Womens lives did not matter. Feeling unprotected and unsafe. I know it triggered feelings in me where I thought about my loved ones who are Black Girls and Women.

It became clearer and clearer as I wrote this, the lack of empathy, compassion and concern for missing Black Girls and Women. For as long as the majority of these Black Girls and Women are listed as ‘run-aways’, a limited effort on investigating, appropriate media coverage and searching for them is becoming a sickening theme.

The crisis’ that are permeating Black communities in the UK are not themes for T-Shirts and cultural appropriation. It is not about creating a Diversity Department to challenge racism and having that ‘tick-box’ attitude to reforming approaches to systemic institutionalised racism. To begin to recognise the importance for change, we first must be recognised as Human with needs like everyone else in every aspect of life. Healthcare, Law Enforcement, Media and Government need to reflect on how they have treated Black People in the UK. They attempted to do this for the first time with the first ever commissioned study on race in the UK. In March 2021 The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was published stating that the UK, “Should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries” although it cannot be considered “a post racial society.” The statement alone is contradictory. A lot of the study took some time to digest because it felt like a huge disappointing read. This is the first study, therefore there is still a long way to go.

Bringing this post back to the topic at hand. Below I have included all of the missing Black Girls and Women who have been reported missing on the Missing Persons website. We can Never Forget these beautiful Black Girls and Women. Some have been missing for over ten years. I have hope in my heart for all of them. Keep them in your hearts and prayers.

There is a story behind everyone of these faces. As you read this, you may be a loved one or friend of one of the girls or women pictured below. To you I say, I’m sorry for all you are going through. You may have experienced the loss of a loved one who was reported missing and lack of media recognition and importance placed on searching for your loved one hampered the efforts in finding them safe, instead the outcome meant that you had to grieve instead of rejoice for the return of your loved one. To you also, I am sorry that you experienced this horrible pain.

I read this 2019 Dutch study, Cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness for relatives of missing persons: a pilot study and it stated that, ‘The disappearance of a significant other may be more challenging than separation caused by death, due to the uncertainty about the permanence of the separation. This uncertainty may give rise to ruminative thinking about the whereabouts of the missing person and the circumstances related to the disappearance.’ The fears and worries turn into exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, and sleep issues, which then may lead to health issues, increased anxiety and depression. I wondered how families coped in the aftermath. That led me on a search for counselling services aimed at families of missng people and that search came up with literally nothing other than the Missing People UK counselling service. If after reading this post, you know of any counselling services that specialise in counselling families with missing relatives please comment on this post with the details. More support is needed for the families who are affected by this crisis.

Every missing person deserves a press conference, appropriate media coverage and the same level of concern as what white girls and women receive when they are reported missing. Black Girls and Women are still being reported as missing and media coverage does not reflect this.

I want to leave this post as a reminder that these girls and women are still out there somewhere. That their lives do matter.

Never Forget Her

*All photos are the original Missing Person’s poster with details on how to report sightings of any women featured in this post which are downloadable from the Missing People website.

If you or anyone you know have experienced a loved one being reported missing, Look 4 Them organisation has all the required links for support in searching for a loved one.

Hi! I’m Marcella Pens

Four month old me.

Today is the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Full steam ahead. No slowing on the brakes. Five years older than five years ago.

Welcome to my blog.

If you have read the ‘about‘ page then you will have seen the fun and lovely ways my friends describe me. Notice that strong came first. It is usually how people refer to me after hearing my story.

I have had other labels that I have worked through over time caused by adverse life experiences. Victim and Survivor. Those labels were assigned through the trauma I have experienced in my life. At those times in my life I spent a lot of it as a victim. I survived the incident to be greeted again by the label victim. The first twenty-six years of my life was like a clock pendulum, swaying back and forth, a rhythm that is constant but painful on most strikes. The hands on the clock going in circles, every twenty-four hours. Those hours turned into days, weeks, months and then years. That pendulum was me. And sometimes that pendulum swung victim to victim. There were times that I thought that this was all my life was going to be. That this was all that someone like me deserved. There were times where I had felt that I had no more fight left in me and there were times I could have given up. But I did not and here I type. I was robbed of my purity when I was a child, robbed of my innocence to just be. To just be me and live. And live well.

“The hands on the clock going in circles, every twenty-four hours. Those hours turned into days, weeks, months and then years. That pendulum was me.”

As a Black Woman it has been difficult to navigate the foggy aftermath of my traumatic experiences. Especially when so many spaces around me were not very welcoming to me and my trauma. Nowhere felt like a safe space to express what I had experienced. These spaces were filled with, “Why didn’t you leave?”, “If that were me, I wouldn’t take that!”, “How can you allow that to happen to you!” and “If I was you, I would have…!”. Everywhere that I frequented in my new found freedom was filled with blame. Black Women and Men around me at the time somehow found my experiences to be my own fault. That I somehow chose the things inflicted upon me. The shutdown began from those interactions with my own community. That shutdown feeling where you close yourself off from society and speaking your whole truth. Then, I foolishly braved the eurocentric route. I attempted to seek safe spaces in the majority arena which was a miserable attempt because my trauma was not accepted in those environments either. I dared to sit in front of a white female therapist and spillied my guts. I was met with what I like to call ‘academic empathy’ from this therapist. She displayed all the signs of giving a fuck, to then respond with an opening line of, “We are all responsible for our actions?” Text book empathy can be toxic too. With that, I left and never looked back. I was not about to sit through another session of being blamed for what had happened to me.

So I began to try and do ‘the work’ myself. Which is probably the default characteristic that majority of Black Women have experienced at some point if not all of their lives. The ‘strong Black Woman‘ trope. A level of resilience that was forced upon us from centuries of subjugation. After failed attempts at trying to lean on my community and trying my hand at eurocentric therapy, I was resided to a type of isolation that only a Black Woman reading this would understand. I’m not going to digress into that because I feel many writers have expressed it in many ways. I will just say, that level of lonliness and trying to heal with no support was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to experience. Shutting myself away from everyone and everything felt like the only way. Thank Mother Universe for blessing me with four children to keep fighting for because although my journey has been turbulent, I am glad that I am sitting in front of my laptop doing something that I want to do. This blog is part of the many things I want to do in my life. I just want to live my best life now and do all the things that I dream of.

“The ‘strong Black Woman’ trope. A level of resilience that was forced upon us from years of subjugation”.

Five year old me.

Growing up I hardly ever saw any representation of Black Women and Men in leading professional roles, nor did I see proportionate representation in media or beauty as to the community I resided in. I had greats like Trevor Mcdonald, Desmonds, The Real McCoy, Rusty Lee, Diane Louise-Jordan, June Sarpong, Malorie Blackman and a few others. Accept for a short time in East London, I have lived in South London all of my life. Home of the infamous now ‘trendy and up and coming’ towns Brixton and Peckham. I take great comfort from living most of my life in South London. With what’s happening now in regards to racism, I feel blessed to live in a community where so many people look like me. Even though my community is still somewhat reluctant to discuss the hidden harms that are still affecting our communities, I still felt home none the less.

Eighteen year old me.

Now in my forties, I feel a sense of appreciation for myself. This appreciation began to grow after beginning therapy again but, this time with a Black therapist who was a Woman. This totally changed the game in my healing journey. To have a therapist who looks like me was a gift that kept on giving. Week after week in my sessions I was making huge progress. I began to journal with the intention of working on myself rather than to journal to vent which I had done for many years. Journaling used to be where I go to let go of steam and say all the things to the people that were hurting me. Now my journal is filled with work that I have done on myself. Intential deep work. Challenging myself to value myself more and to create healthy boundaries to continue to protect my peace. Learning to love myself more has been a rewarding experience. Building my confidence to get this far in writing this first blog is a milestone that I shall be celebrating.

I will be blogging about all the things that have affected me and my community in the hope a Black Girl or Woman finds it useful. Having hope for yourself is a form of loving yourself. I cannot stress that enough.

I am Marcella and I am choosing to believe in myself and my passions. I am no journalist nor am I a professional writer. I just love to write.

“Having hope for yourself is a form of loving yourself”

If you got to the end of this first post, then I thank you for taking time out of your day to read it. I look forward to using this space to continue penning my truths.

By Marcella Pens