'This was for the black boy in the community': Behind the '56 black men' project

The series aims to challenge negative portrayals of black men in the media.

M&C Saatchi and Clear Channel are hosting an exhibition of 56 portraits of black men from all walks of life to coincide with Black History Month. The project, created by Cephas Williams, aims to challenge negative stereotypes of black men in the media.

The number 56 came from a Sky News freedom of information request to every police force in the country. It found that 56 black people were murdered in London in 2018. Williams was frustrated by the lack of representation of black men who were neither perpetrators nor victims of violence.

He said: "How about we spotlight 56 people who are not a statistic, who are not victims of knife crime… When I initially set out to do this campaign, it was for the young black boy or the black man in the community to finally see an image of themselves that they could identify with, amplified in a positive light."

The M&C Saatchi and Clear Channel partnership aims to raise awareness of the role that media and ad agencies can play in creating campaigns for change and opening access to the industry. Williams added: "A lot of brands want to target ‘the urban’, as they call it. When the people behind these campaigns are better informed about that community, it makes for better ideas and creativity.

"It’s important that people who control our media have real conversations with communities that they might not have an authentic link to. These campaigns are a part of what we see and inform our lived experiences."

The ticketed exhibition is free and open Monday to Friday between 2pm and 5pm for the month of October. The show will be celebrated at an event on 30 October, when a panel will discuss what creative industries can do to trigger social change.