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Discover Who Was This Year’s Britain’s Brightest Black Students

Britain’s brightest black students

Oxford neuroscientist tops list of African and Caribbean rising stars at annual awards ceremony celebrating true talent

Melvin Mezue, 25, ranked top of a list of the 10 highest-achieving students from the UK’s African and African Caribbean community

An Oxford University student who organised an international African conference, runs a youth promotions company and has had his research exhibited at the National Science Museum, has been named the UK’s top black student.

Melvin Mezue, 25, ranked top of a list of the 10 highest-achieving students from the UK’s African and African Caribbean community at the latest Rare Rising Stars 2013, held at the Houses of Parliament, last Thursday.

Mezue is currently reading for a PhD in Neuroscience, investigating how to produce new treatments for chronic pain syndromes. His research has been showcased on BBC’s One Show.

The Londoner’s can-do attitude has done him no harm on the social scene either as he has risen to the presidential ranks of the university’s well-respected Africa Society.

Showcasing his entrepreneurial spirit, he is the co-founder of Streamline Empire, a firm which promotes creative and cultural events, from modelling to variety shows, and has raised more than £2,000 for charity.

“Creating opportunities for others is greater reward than any personal accomplishment,” Mezue told The Voice. “Everything I’ve ever counted a success started off as a risk.”


Mezue headed a list of students that included an Olympic bronze medallist, a global performing and visual artist, and a young man who survived prison and torture in his homeland before finding refuge in the UK.

Now in its fifth year, Rare Rising Stars celebrates the achievements of young black students in their respective fields.

Created by graduate diversity recruitment specialists Rare, successful candidates are selected by a panel of industry leaders, including the former human resources director of London 2012 and the first ever number one Rare Rising Star, Tom Chigbo. In 2010, Chigbo was elected Cambridge University’s first black president of the Student Union.

Rare received and processed over 100 nominations and carried out extensive one-to-one interviews with a long list of would-be stars, before producing a shortlist of 20 candidates.

Hopefuls are marked across four categories: determination, depth of achievement, initiative and leadership and breadth of talent.

Mezue faced stiff competition from London School of Economics (LSE) student Richard Serunjogi.

The runner-up boasts a stellar background of his own, becoming the first-ever first year student to be elected as one of the university’s Court of Governors. His victory was somewhat of a landslide: he defeated 16 candidates and gained more than 20 per cent of all votes.

Throughout the campaign, Serunjogi, 21, utilised his wealth of experience working in local communities as a Youth MP for Croydon, the London borough where he grew up. He has also been the co-chair of the National Participation Forum and the head of Third Sector and Faith Groups for Oona King’s 2010 Labour Party mayoral campaign.


Outside of his political achievements, the social policy student became the youngest ever recipient of Churchill Fellowship and wrote a report on the lives of disabled children in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Spirit of London Awards (SOLA) project manager’s talents have also been spotted by Google, who ranked him as one of the world’s 12 brightest young minds.

Serunjogi recalled: “During my gap years, I had time to pause and think, ‘what can I do to change things?’ I realised that we’re all powerful and can all influence things once we stand up and claim power. Once we realise the power we have, we have a responsibility to use it.”

In third place came Andile Justice Mkonto, 21, who was raised in an impoverished South African township where gun crime and robbery was commonplace.

The son of a single mother, Mkonto witnessed the death of his mother from HIV when he was just 13.

Forced to drop out of school and start working to look after his younger brother, Mkonto defeated the odds stacked against him to gain a place at the African Leadership Academy in 2009 – a top pan-African boarding school.

Ever since, he has put focus on developing social projects to help the South African community. As the co-founder of South African construction business called Get Active Construction and Projects, Mkonto employs and trains disadvantaged workers on how to build houses in the country.

Mkonto, who studies at Hult International Business School, said: “Never fear failure. More than that, never define failure as the absence of success, for even in the greatest of failures lies an even greater success. One just has to realise it.”

As well as celebrating Britain’s top black students, Rare also works with state-educated African and African Caribbean pupils to support them through the Oxbridge application process.

East Londoner Kalm Paul-Christian will begin a history degree at Oxford this year with the support of the organisation’s Target Oxbridge scheme.

The former head boy had won a place at a competitive grammar school but found the transition from ‘golden child’ to a small fish in a big pond’ difficult. After receiving disappointing A-level grades, he took a gap year to get himself back on track.

“That was when I heard about the Target Oxbridge scheme,” he said. “I was so happy to be accepted because I now had a support network outside friends and family to help me overcome the negativity I felt at school.”

Paul-Christian added: “For me, Target Oxbridge was that extra rung on the ladder to acceptance.”

Jermaine Haughton | July 20th, 2013 | Voiceonline.co.uk

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