Forget the idea of parading around in a swimsuit in front of a desk full of judges, when it comes to being Miss – and Mr – England these days, it takes much more than a pretty face.
Contestants have to show public speaking skills, talents, sportsmanship and intelligence.
But for Liam Ulla and Rehema Muthamia, who were crowned Mr and Miss England this summer, there was an extra achievement on top of the tiara – they became the first winners of the competition who were both of black heritage.
Rehema, 25, said: “To have myself and Liam as the faces of that will change perceptions hopefully and influence the younger generations.”
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Born in North West London, Rehema comes from a traditional Kenyan family. Having spent time in both countries, Rehema embraces both cultures. She is also a linguist – speaking four languages.
Liam, 28, of Sandbanks, Dorset, is of mixed race heritage with a white mother and black Jamaican father.
He said: “It’s nice to see that we’re starting to get the recognition we should be getting already.
“Becoming a mixed race Mr England is nice. I feel proud.”
Rehema came out on top of 44 women competing for the Miss England crown. She said surviving an abusive relationship motivated her to enter in order to raise awareness about domestic abuse.
“I’m mostly working on my charity work with One Woman at a Time, Elle for Elle, Women’s Aid and teaching young girls and boys about healthy relationships and signs to look for in terms of domestic abuse.
“I am a black woman with a genetics master’s degree and there aren’t very many of us. That I was able to achieve that has to be the proudest thing I’ve ever done.”
Through his not-for-profit organisation Coacoara, keen kite surfer Liam, who cites his mother Sharon Green as his biggest inspiration, sells eco-friendly products and has organised beach and river clean-ups.
Unfortunately Rehema’s win led to horrific abuse on social media. “There was definitely some racism that I faced,” she said. “There are people in this country that aren’t happy that I’m a black woman representing England and it’s unfortunate that that’s the case.
What is Black History Month?
The UK began celebrating Black History Month, an idea first spawned in the United States and then also adopted by European countries including Ireland and the Netherlands, in October 1987.
Black History Month helps give context to modern life and the country’s history, while championing the experiences and celebrating the contributions of Black Britons here in the UK.
The observation was first organised through the leadership of Ghanaian-born analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. He served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council.
Consequently, Akyaaba created a plan aiming to recognise the contributions of African, Asian and Caribbean people to the economic, cultural and political life in the UK.
“Hopefully by me being here, I can change some viewpoints of those that don’t maybe understand or are ignorant towards it.”
Speaking about racism in society, Liam says: “It’s crazy, with the [Euros] football, all the way up to the finals, everyone’s so supportive, they love the [England] players but as soon as they lose, the amount of racism is disgusting.”
This content was originally published here.