June is international Pride month, which is dedicated to celebrating the LGBTQ+ communities around the world. While we can do this all year of course, recognizing Pride month ensures we come together in unity, solidarity and celebration, and continue to raise awareness of the challenges many still face across all areas of society.
UK Black Pride takes place 2-4 July 2021 and aims to celebrate diverse sexualities, gender identities, cultures, gender expressions as well as to promote spiritual, emotional and intellectual health amongst black LGBTQ+ communities. Here at Withers we are shining the spotlight on a key influential LGBTQ+ figure, British singer, songwriter, producer and activist Uzoechi Osisioma “Uzo” Emenike – more commonly known as “MNEK”.
MNEK rose to fame in the music world in 2013 following his collaboration with Duke Dumont and A*M*E in Need U (100%), following a Grammy nomination he went on to feature on Gorgon City’s single Ready for Your Love in January 2014. He was the writer behind Oliver Helden’s 2014 track Gecko (Overdrive), and in 2015 he released Never Forget You with Swedish singer with Zara Larson. In 2020, MNEK rose to the top of the charts again alongside Joel Corry with Head and Heart.
Born in the London Borough of Lewisham in 1994, MNEK began writing poetry at the age of 8. He began attracting attention as a songwriter as a teenager, using Myspace to make connections across the industry, and at the age of 16 started working for a production company where he met acts such as The Saturdays and The Wanted.
MNEK came out as gay at the age of 19, and has since spoken out about the difficulties of being a “double minority” – in particular, the challenges of “having to grapple with two identities” as someone who is homosexual and black. At times, he has described the shame of feeling like he was “demoralising the Black experience”, but has gone on to say that he wants “to show there is more than just the Black straight person, the Black queer person, the Black trans person – there is no one thing people have to accept.” In 2019, MNEK established a songwriting camp for LGBTQ+ singer-songwriters in association with Pride in Music, including other successful artists such as L Devine, Olly Alexander and Rina Sawayama.
As Audre Lord once wrote, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” The history of UK Black Pride – encompassing the stories of pioneering individuals such as Justin Fashanu, Linda Bellos, Munroe Bergdorf, and MNEK – reminds us of this.