Three brilliant young people of Ghanaian descent in the UK have been ranked among the UK’s top ten Black students for 2021.
At the Rare Rising Stars 2021 award ceremony, Khadija Owusu, James Appiah III and Eunice Amankwah were celebrated for their incredible achievements as Black students in the UK.
Now in its thirteenth year, Rare Rising Stars recognises the most talented, inspirational Black students in the UK.
Black students who have been celebrated in previous years have become bestselling authors, CEOs, Olympic medallists, award-winning podcasters, musicians, influencers, activists and more.
The students that were recognised this year were drawn from a diversity of fields, spanning youth activism, social entrepreneurship and public health to business and educational access.
Eunice Amankwah was ranked number 10, James Appiah III was ranked number 9 and Khadija Owusu was ranked number 5.
Here are their profiles, detailing their journey and accomplishments as students:
Political Economy | University of Birmingham | Youth Activism
Eunice grew up on a council estate in Tottenham, one of the most deprived areas in London, and has lived there her entire life. As her father relocated between Ghana and the UK growing up, Eunice lived predominantly with her mother and four siblings, attending three different primary schools as a young girl. She recalls growing up amid poverty and violence, in a small, overcrowded three-bedroom flat. Despite the odds, Eunice achieved 6A*s and 3As at GCSE. A combination of her parents’ support and these grades encouraged Eunice to move to a more academic sixth form, and aged sixteen, she started her A Level studies at a local grammar school in the neighbouring borough of Enfield.
During her time at secondary school, Eunice grew increasingly frustrated with the rise in knife crime and budget cuts to education and youth services which disproportionately affected state school pupils like herself. Coming from a challenging area of Tottenham, she explains that knife crime was the norm and Eunice recounts losing many friends to knife crime or prison. However, Eunice wanted to change the trajectory for people like herself and younger generations to come. A turning point came when her favourite youth club announced that it was closing down due to budget cuts, depriving Eunice and her friends of a treasured after-school space.
Eunice was devastated and sought to try and find an avenue to channel her frustration, where she could make a real difference. She ended up applying for Enfield Youth Parliament, where she would go on to hold various roles over the next three years. This involved writing a manifesto and campaigning around her school, encouraging her peers to vote for her. As Enfield Youth Councillor, she explored issues such as how the council should combat cuts to youth services and mapped out strategies to incorporate young people’s opinions into future projects such as Cycle Enfield. This role led to her being elected twice for the UK Youth Parliament, as Deputy and Head for the Enfield borough.
During her time as a UK Youth Parliament member, Eunice represented more than 8,000 young people from across her constituency on a national scale. Her role entailed advising young people on potential career paths, visiting schools and running a national youth campaign called ‘Make your Mark’, where Eunice single-handedly collected over 10,000 ballot sheets encouraging 11–18-year-olds across the UK to vote on prominent policy issues. The campaign led Eunice to debate in the House of Commons on issues such as implementing a curriculum to better prepare young people for life and tackling knife crime, in front of other youth parliament members, MPs and then-Speaker John Bercow at the age of sixteen. This was shown live on BBC news and viewed by over 30,000 people on national television.
Eunice’s enduring passion for politics and economics led her to study Political Economy at the University of Birmingham. She was also offered a place to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford, but unfortunately missed her offer by one grade. Now in her second year at Birmingham, Eunice has successfully secured 3 scholarships for academic achievement (The Miranda Brawn Scholarship, Black Heart Foundation, and the University of Birmingham Chamberlain Award). She has pursued her keen interest in finance, having interned at Aviva, Morgan Stanley, and the Civil service, alongside successfully completing the 2020 Aleto Foundation leadership course. She also sits on the team for The Bridge LLC, a student-run investment club. Currently, Eunice is looking forward to starting at J.P. Morgan as an incoming Summer Analyst in 2022.
When she is not studying, Eunice enjoys giving back to the community through mentoring younger students into the route of politics and banking, and by helping to support Noire Network, an organisation founded by Eunice’s mentor that aims to support African and Caribbean students to access corporate spaces.
Throughout the first Covid-19 lockdown, Eunice also volunteered full-time at her mother’s school, helping to cover SEN staff with underlying health conditions and working closely with autistic children. Though no longer working full-time, this is something she has continued throughout her university holidays.
James Appiah III
Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) | University of Cambridge | Youth Activism and Entrepreneurship
James grew up in Stratford, Newham, with his three siblings and parents, but the family later moved to Romford, Essex. Ironically, James reflects, Stratford had more issues, but it also had a stronger sense of community, and this would serve as the driving force for much of James’ later life.
In latter secondary school, James became involved with a charity called CAFOD, which is heavily involved in global development issues. This was one of his first interactions with international politics, and James would go on to lead a session on Palestine at his school.
Sixth form saw James develop his interest in politics further when he joined TELCO (now Citizens UK) and became the Co-Chair for his borough. This involved facilitating discussions on knife crime and feeding back youth opinion to Scotland Yard, local MPs and the Mayor, for which James was featured on LBC Radio and the BBC. He also hosted a march attended by over 70 people at Stratford Shopping Centre in a campaign for the venue to create safe havens for victims of knife crime.
Later, James became a Youth Parliament Select Committee Member and a Member of the British Youth Council. This involved meeting regularly with MPs and community leaders to discuss a range of issues, including preventative knife crime measures, social media, youth culture, parenting and schools. Shortly afterwards, James received the opportunity to sit on the UK Youth Advisory Forum, where he worked with various branches of government to tackle serious violence across the UK. Social media was a particular focus of these discussions, and James played a pivotal role in debating policy issues such as how to prevent knives being displayed casually on social media platforms, and how social media companies might be better regulated. In Year 12, he advised the Cabinet Office on their Serious Violence Strategy and was later nominated to join the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Here, he spoke to over 40 MPs on topics such as gender scrutiny, mental health, toxic masculinity, and his experiences as a young, Black male in the UK.
A range of internships followed, solidifying James’ desire to study Politics at university. This included a week at Rothschild in their healthcare sector, and two work experiences with his local MPs. These placements provided him with an insight into the workings of Westminster, however dealing with constituency letters (and the concerns of genuinely distressed citizens) also highlighted the bureaucracy of the system to him, further cementing his desire to go into policy.
Now in his first year at the University of Cambridge, James has continued to devote himself to empowering young people through economics, politics and education. One example of this is his founding of The Elevation Network, a think-tank-like platform that brings together influencers, entrepreneurs, youth activists, speakers and other prominent individuals to discuss careers advice and inspire and support young people. During the first lockdown, James hosted three series to over 100 students, including a panel discussion with five ACS Presidents and business professionals from McKinsey & Company. Building upon his leadership experience as Head Boy at school, James now heads up a team from Russell Group universities across the UK.
James is also the co-founder of Black Ivy Partners, a student-led investment fund and financial literacy initiative which aims to educate young people about cryptocurrency, asset classes and more. Established during the first lockdown, the team posts regular educational content on various social media platforms. Since launching, they have amassed almost 900 followers and their mailing list includes more than 350 people. They have also created nine internships to date, whereby students are encouraged to develop their commercial awareness, research and financial analysis skills. This interest in finance has led James to secure two summer internships at BlackRock.
In January 2021, James founded the Tomorrow’s Story podcast, where he hosts frequent discussions ranging from current affairs to philosophy to public policy. He has released 18 episodes to date, with close to 2000 listens. The aim of the podcast is to encourage students from social mobility backgrounds to debate prominent issues, and topics that have spanned knife crime and the pandemic, to the treatment of Meghan Markle and abolishing private schools.
James currently serves as Access Officer of the Cambridge Union. He hopes to embark upon a career in banking, before becoming an MP and/or policy advisor.
Medicine | St George’s, University of London | Charity, Health and Medical Access
Khadija started life in a council flat on Broadwater Farm Estate in north London’s Tottenham, before the family moved to Finsbury Park. She grew up in a single-parent household, with her mother and younger brothers, and attended a local comprehensive school until the age of 16. Her mother worked as a part-time cleaner, and Khadija recalls finances were hard – one of her main motivations for becoming a doctor. She also cites watching her brother grow up with sickle cell anaemia, taking the family in and out of hospital, and observing how hard the medical staff worked to deliver his care.
Khadija excelled throughout school, and in March 2012 was invited to the White House by Michelle Obama, for an inspirational essay she had written about her mother. There she met with The First Lady over five days to discuss effecting positive change as women, spoke with other Black and ethnic minority women in power, and volunteered with a charity. Returning to the UK, Khadija was determined to achieve her goal of becoming a doctor. That same year she received the Women in STEM Award, presented by HRH Princess Anne. Khadija also won a full scholarship to Ashbourne College sixth form, where she completed her A Levels with A*AA and secured a medical offer at St George’s, University of London.
In her third year of university, Khadija co-founded Melanin Medics, a registered charity that works to increase the representation of African and Caribbean-descent students within the medical profession. As Director of Programmes, Khadija coordinates all outreach work, which involves going into state schools or schools that have a predominantly Black and ethnic minority population to educate pupils as young as six on careers in Medicine. Over the years the organisation has reached over 4,000 young people and boasts a 91% success rate of supporting anyone who has interacted with them into medical school. They have a combined social reach of more than 10,000 followers and are the largest intergenerational association of Black medics in the UK. To date, Melanin Medics has received official sponsorship from various organisations, including £20,000 from the British Medical Association. In July 2020, Khadija oversaw the launch of their mentorship programme in partnership with Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. This programme has supported 25 students to make competitive Medicine applications with six monthly sessions, including subject lectures and soft skills advice from Cambridge academics.
Khadija is the President of the Medical Elective Equipment Fund, a project that helps students evaluate the use of medical resources in healthcare settings in low-income countries when on their electives. This is operated as an online course available on the FutureLearn platform. The fund also provides these students with the opportunity to donate equipment using grants that have been donated to the project (currently up to £3000).
In addition to these responsibilities, Khadija works as an ambassador at Medics2You and the Grow, Unite and Build Africa (GUBA) Enterprise. Medics2You is a healthcare technology start-up that aims to deliver quality patient-centred care to the continent of Africa via video consultations. GUBA Enterprise is a social enterprise dedicated to the advancement of native Africans and the African diaspora through initiatives such as skills workshops and business coaching. As of April 2020, Khadija serves as a Trustee for the charity Raising Futures Kenya. Their work includes practical trade and business skills training via community organisations, alongside tailored well-being support, which enables young Kenyans to overcome past traumas and realise their ambitions. She has spoken at various national and international conferences on racism in Medicine and common Black and ethnic minority healthcare issues and has been featured on BBC, ITV and Channel 5 News.
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