In the second instalment of our BHM celebration, we had a chat with our Nevs Gent, the lovely Tyson Douglas
What does BHM mean to you?
For me, Black History Month is a moment in time where I am consciously reminded of past efforts and historical events that we may take for granted, or were neglected to be taught. It’s a chance for retrospect; a chance for thoughts to slow down and permeate our often busied and preoccupied minds - if only for a second
The annual celebration highlights progress, achievement and promise; stories full of perseverance, hope and dignity. Nevertheless, it also confirms just how far there still is to go before discrimination, inequality and the murky remnants of a tainted past are completely eradicated
Can you tell us a little about your family history?
I’m of mixed heritage. My Nan and Granddad on my father’s side emigrated from Jamaica by ship in 1960. My Grandfather (18 at the time), worked nights for London Underground, initially only intending to work in England for 5 years
Erma, my nan (who only responds to the latter), emigrated at the same time. Nan came to study as a nurse and enrolled at college, before finding work with London transport. She worked on the buses, a profession that she continued for over 30 years
My Father, born in London, became a professional boxer (hence my name), and represented England in the 1986 Olympics before winning gold at the Commonwealth Games 2 years later. To this day he still wears string vests, and only listens to reggae
On my Mothers side, my great Grandmother was evacuated to Cornwall during the second world war. It was here that she later gave birth to Gwen, who in humorous contrast doesn’t allow you to call her nan as it makes her feel old. Strong, smart, fair and honest, Gwen is someone I admire and aspire to be like
Tell us about your childhood - What was it like growing up for you?
Growing up was great, with 3 brothers 2 cousins all around the same age, we enjoyed the typical things that ‘boys’ did in the ‘90s. Climbing walls, scraping knees, thrashing buttons on Playstation’s track and field, and finding ways you can play Gameboy in the dark. It was conker battles in autumn, snowball fights in winter and dandelion wish making in spring
We couldn’t afford to holiday abroad so every summer we looked forward to two weeks at a caravan park in Sheerness. A few innumerate holiday makers referred to us as the Jackson 5 and it was here that I had my first experiences of racism. That aside it was a wonderful, enjoyable and typically British seaside holiday, with swing-balls and sandals.
Dad wasn’t around much as my parents had separated, and with my mother not being much of a cook I was raised more on potato waffles and baked beans than I was on jerk chicken, rice and peas, but it gave me something to look forward to on the occasions that I got to visit Nanny Erma and Granddad Lloyd!
Ultimately I grew up with an eclectic mix of cultures. Family heritage aside, I was born and raised in Bow, East London, with it’s strong cockney culture, where I went to a school that was majority Asian and black
What inspired you to pursue a career as a model?
There were no signs that I was going to end up modelling, I think I fell into it really. I was studying at university in Newcastle and was asked to be in a few shots for the university's prospectus, and off the back of that a local agency signed me up. About a year on, with a handful of images in my portfolio, I signed to a London agency and the rest, as they say, is history. It was only once I was in the industry that the desire to become a successful model came about. I never thought I’d end up being flown around the world, or working with brands like Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss, so it was definitely humble beginnings before the global campaigns
Who is your own personal inspiration?
In terms of my personal inspiration, I find it in a mixture of forms. I’m a creative so the Arts is always a huge source for me. I recently shot the new Christmas campaign for Uniqlo, and for that I derived much of my movement inspiration from dance. There was a particular image of young children dancing in the streets of Lagos, where a boy seemed to be doing what resembled an Entrechat. I spent a brief moment that night practicing it, and then tried to recreate it in a few of the shots on set the following day. There’s also a lot of inspiration attained from those around me - from people I meet in passing, work colleagues, and from the talents and qualities of my closest friends
Who would you consider to be the most iconic, pivotal or inspirational figure in black history & why?
That’s a trickier choice, because many of the achievements are so wide-ranging, with a few figures being less iconic, or less than perfect, but still worthy of equal praise. I admire those that endangered their lives, and despite opposition and hostility, achieved victories of some sort. At the moment I resonate with Sammy Davis Jr. for his charming career successes during that difficult time, and for defiantly ignoring the taboo against miscegenation in favour of passion and/or love. Angela Davis for her efforts within feminism and academia, Mohammed Ali for his controversial decision not to fight in Vietnam. Martin Luther King for his commitment to a non-violent civil rights movement (though I also understand movements like the Black Panther party too), and Elijah McCoy for his ingenuity, patience, and for leaving us with the popular expression ‘The Real McCoy’. I could go on and on and would love to speak of more women and more Brits, as I feel both are not mentioned enough in this topic
How important is your heritage to you, and in what way do you intend to preserve that heritage for future generations?
I’m not sure how I feel about heritage and preserving it for future generations as I feel myself evolving from day to day; forever changing and adjusting - as is the world. Tradition isn’t always right, nor is the norm; It’s all just perception. I try to keep myself in check as to what I’m basing my identity on, and whether it’s important, healthy, or long lasting. And I feel that each new generation will have a unique experience of their own that’s situational. So with all of that in mind I’m not sure what I’ll ‘preserve’ or ‘pass down’, but I’ll definitely be willing to share any knowledge pertaining to humanity and life as I know it - fond memories and stories with the hope that it brings joy or inspires others to create their own. I’ll encourage people to explore and be at one with nature, warn against ego, the infatuation of material things, the dangers of being born into a capitalist society, and I’ll encourage life long creativity. That’s what I’ve inherited so far
Yesterday, tomorrow, today; you don’t need to preserve something that will never truly disappear
Follow Tyson on Instagram: @tysondouglas