UNISON celebrates the Amos Bursary

UNISON is a partner of the Amos Bursary, which supports talented year 12 students from challenging environments for a total of five years, through their university experience and into the world of work or further study

UNISON was the proud host of the Amos Bursary’s 10 year celebrations last Friday.

The Amos Bursary, a UNISON partner, supports young black men to reach their full potential through mentoring, sponsoring and advocacy.

Assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie said: “I’m happy that UNISON is able to support the Amos Bursary. I want young Black men and women to see the trade union movement as something for them. Not to just join, but to be leaders of.”

Founded by Colleen and Baroness Valerie Amos in 2009 after their parents died, the Amos Bursary supports talented students from challenging environments, in year 12 for a total of five years: through their university experience and into the world of work or further study.

Colleen Amos, who was awarded an OBE earlier this year, said: “We started with just seven young men. Ten years later, we’ve got 100 young men who are on the programme currently, around 60 of them have now graduated.

“And we’ve got 40 associates who are young men who didn’t make it onto the programme, but we give them access to any opportunities we’ve got that they can engage with. The selection process is painful. Last year, we had 195 young men apply for just 15 places.

“The reality for gifted and talented young Black men in the UK, is that it really doesn’t matter which social class is used to define them because they have the same challenges: they don’t have the networks and opportunities and they don’t have the ‘in’.”

The Amos Bursary has established a network that its members describe as a brotherhood. The bursary community not only opens up professional opportunities, but is a source of emotional resilience and mutual support too.

Gabriel Amida is a 20-year-old politics, philosophy and economics student in his third year of the bursary. He described its impact on him as: “A process of empowerment and learning to believe in my own self-worth a lot more, but also relying on the brothers around me.

“We all support each other and lift each other up and pull each other up when we need help and support, it’s so important to have that fallback.”

Another bursary student, Jesse Williams, attributed the completion of his degree on the Amos Bursary community: “I went to university in Lancaster, where there weren’t many people like me at all. I was racially abused and went through depression.

“The bursary is the reason I stayed on to finish university. I kept coming down to every event that was on, even though it was a two-and-a-half-hour journey each way, just to be around the brotherhood and be around people willing to support me, no matter what.

“I spoke through it all with them, and it was a safe space where I could explain what I was going through without being judged. Through the bursary I found my grounding and it was still tough, but I ended up finishing and graduating with a 2:1.”

By running regular skills and networking events, as well as providing financial support, the Amos Bursary is rapidly developing young Black mens’ confidence and opportunities.

Colleen Amos described the careful structure of the mentoring on offer: “Our students get two mentors. A peer mentor who’s a young person – or young at heart – who can really connect with them and who will understand the journey they’re about to go through.

“Then they’ll get a very senior person to help them with opening the doors with regard to the career. Role models are really important but the real role models for young men are those men in the bursary who are just qualified – the ones who they can see and almost touch, and they can speak to them and know their challenges and see where they were five years ago.”

George Imafidon, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student at UCL described the ‘Amos Bursary mindset’: “It’s about seeking opportunities. The phrase I use is ‘show up and follow up’. Every time there’s an event, I’ll be there.

“If I meet someone there that I think is super interesting or inspiring, I follow up within 24 hours to say thank you. I might not need anything, I might not have any angle, but I’m just intentional about showing that I care. Or if I do want an opportunity, I’m very intentional about that as well.”

As the Amos Bursary celebrates its tenth year, the community continues to proliferate. Kwabena Osei, one of the youngest members at 17, is in the 2019 cohort and after just a few months has already felt its impact: “The Amos Bursary has really opened me up to the professional world and that’s something that’s missing in education.

“A lot of people go into school thinking: ‘I have to do this to get a good grade’, but if you’re doing A’ levels, it’s not just for uni, it’s for your career.

“The Amos Bursary helps you understand what it’s like to be in the professional world as opposed to just being in school and moving to the next stage. It gives you a sense of purpose, especially when you’re meeting people who are at the top of their profession. It’s inspiring they see potential in you, to change the world, and they see you as bigger than your circumstances.”

Find out more about the Amos Bursary here.