Young Black member of the year – ‘I’m just trying to fight injustice’

Funmi Ayeni addresses conference after winning inaugural award

Funmi Ayeni (pictured above) was “overwhelmed” when she found out that she’d won the first Young Black Members’ Award last year. “I didn’t expect to win it, but it was an amazing feeling when I did”.

This prestigious award was introduced by the national Black members’ committee in 2019, UNISON’s year of young members, and was presented to Funmi last autumn.

Its aim is to recognise the achievements of young activists and to encourage others to get involved in the union.

Twenty-six-year old Funmi is a support worker for young people with mental health challenges and believes she won the award for going ‘above and beyond’ her work.

Speaking at the Black members’ conference in Bournemouth, she said: “I’m just trying to fight the injustice that we face.

“I love working with young people – they are my passion. But the thing is, they face discrimination. They’re scared to apply for jobs because they’re not sure they’ll be able to get them. And in most cases, they can’t afford to move out of their parents’ homes because of the pay gap.

“I first came to conference in 2017 and I’ve only got a year left as a young member. I want to get as many young people on board as possible before then.

“UNISON provides all these opportunities – like training, childcare, resources – and many people aren’t aware of them. I would love to be a mentor if I can.”

As well as being a UNISON activist, Funmi says that her passion comes from the Labour Party, for which she is a young person’s officer. She is also a trade union liaison officer there.

At the moment, she says that zero-hour contracts are the biggest issue for the young people she works with.

“We need to get out to the universities and to schools and teach young people about trade unions. They need to learn about tax, work contracts and housing costs.

“We need young people to be prepared for real life – instead of just throwing us in at the deep end.

“Young people are discriminated against because of their age. It’s just not on. The pressure is so high. Young people are out there, but because of what’s going on, they don’t feel cared about. 

“I am the only Black person in my job role, which is quite challenging. I’ve recently had to use UNISON myself because of a discrimination issue at work. I didn’t realise how hard it was as a young Black woman to be in a job like mine and I’m so grateful to UNISON for helping me.

“Without UNISON, I would have been depressed and probably given up my job. And then I would have been left homeless or on benefits, and I’ve got a young child – it’s not fair.

“You can only be positive. So fingers crossed: I’m not going to give up – particularly for the young ones. I’m fighting for injustice in the world. I’m inspired to keep going. At work, I’m always fighting for something. Hopefully we’ll get there.”