Black rights hero may quit Britain

Paul George on the financial dilemma facing Simon de Banya
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The Independent Online
THE man behind one of the most successful campaigns in Britain's black community is set to leave the country because he is disillusioned with a lack of campaign funding for anti-racist issues.

Simon de Banya recently lined up what reads like an "A-list" of black British celebrities to support the fight to save the life of a 10-year- old boy with leukaemia. However, he does not earn a penny for his efforts and is now making plans to move to the USA.

Banya has pulled in such stars as singers Eternal and Scary Spice, footballer Ian Wright and newsreader Trevor McDonald to draw attention to the plight of Daniel de-Gale. Like most anti-racist activists, he works for the campaign on a voluntary basis and can only make ends meet by depending on friends and relatives.

Banya, who is 37 and lives in south London, says: "I am fully committed to campaigning work, but I cannot survive on thin air alone. In America there is a lot more money around for fighting anti-racist struggles and, as I see that sort of activity as my future, I am seriously contemplating moving out there."

De Banya has also helped to mastermind the media strategy of the Stephen Lawrence family and the search for the killers of Ronald Hinkson, a 32- year-old black man stabbed to death last year in a north London wine bar.

If he was a publicist in the private sector, De Banya could earn more than pounds 30,000 a year. Instead, he devotes his time to campaigns on behalf of black families who would otherwise struggle to get their voices heard.

De Banya is one of a handful of people to successfully push the causes of black families such as Daniel's in what many see as a traditionally unsympathetic mainstream media.

Most of these campaigners, says De Banya, have a lot to contend with. "Campaigners can sometimes lose their jobs if an employer is unsympathetic to what they're doing," he says. "Also, most people behind struggles become targets for intimidation by far-right groups, who start sending them hate mail and making nuisance calls."

However, he says, the majority of campaigners remain undeterred, because they realise that the role they play is so important for other black people.

"It's vital for black families to get the chance to have a dialogue with the population at large through the mass media," he says. "Until now we have often been ghetto-ised."

De Banya first met Daniel's mother, Beverley, at an awards ceremony in July last year, when she asked him to help her with the campaign to find black bone marrow donors.

At the time, just 1,500 black people were registered as donors with Ms De-Gale's organisation, the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust. Now there are 3,500, with another 6,000 recently applying for information packs. Ms De-Galesays the involvement of De Banya has given her hope. "For there to be a successful transplant, the bone marrow has to come from a black person. And before Simon got involved, we were finding it very difficult to get the message across to the black community."

n For more information on the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust, or about how to donate money to other campaigns, call 0181-769 1495.