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Building A Movement: Dami Makinde

By Dami Makinde, Let Us Learn Co-Lead

My name is Dami Makinde, I am a Let Us Learn Co-Lead and an Eisenhower Youth Fellow. Had life gone the way I originally planned for myself, I would have graduated from university and would now be working on the Youth Offenders Team in a London borough. Instead, life unexpectedly took me down a path I had never imagined for myself – but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Life as an Undocumented Migrant

At 8 years old, I left behind all I knew in Nigeria and came to the UK to be with my family. I led the life I was dealt and, for the most part, it was a simple and happy life. This was until I started my A-levels and came to the realisation that university may not be possible for someone like me. I was an undocumented migrant living in the UK without any legal status. The dream of attending a university of my choice was non-existent. I had been trying to sort out my immigration status a year or two prior to starting my A-levels, but unfortunately for me, the Home Office wouldn’t grant me my lawful status until I was 21 years old – six years after I had originally applied to become lawful in the UK.

The Home Office’s extreme delay meant that I was unable to go to university immediately after finishing sixth form. Instead I found myself volunteering countless hours and doing odd jobs in order to keep a sane mind. After receiving my status (Limited Leave to Remain), I applied for university only to be told I didn’t qualify for student finance. It turned out the law wasn’t as straightforward as I had assumed it would be for me.

In 2012, the law changed so that those without settled status (Indefinite Leave to Remain) or British Citizenship would be classified as international students. This meant that I would not only be barred from student finance, but I would have to pay my own way through higher education at an international rate. Many people would often ask me why I couldn’t wait until I was granted settled status before starting my journey as an undergrad. The problem with this plan was that Limited Leave to Remain is a 10-year route to settled status, meaning my chance of attending university would not come until I was 31.

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Dami is a Co-Lead for Let Us Learn

Finding Let Us Learn

This was something I couldn’t afford to do, so I looked online for any form of help. The only help came from Just for Kids Law (JfKL) on a Guardian News Article, which featured Chrisann Jarrett’s story and the help she received from JfKL to obtain a scholarship at LSE. I called JfKL’s office and asked for the same help Chrisann received, but quickly learned Chrisann was one of the lucky ones at the time. I was invited to a meeting at JfKL, where 20 other young people gathered to find solutions to the same situation I was in. For the first time, I accepted that my situation wasn’t unique; there were many more young people affected by the rules imposed on us and I wanted to help others avoid feeling how I felt during my isolated periods.

I joined the JfKL cause in February 2015 and, in July 2015, we were instrumental in changing the law that discriminated against young migrants who held lawful status and had spent their lives in the UK, but were prohibited from furthering their dreams and living a good life. Upon hearing the Supreme Court Judges’ verdict, there was nothing but tears and joy. The future finally seemed less bleak, and we thought that the new law would suddenly make everything better for young migrants. But it turned out that this was not the case, and there was still a lot of work to do.

I was given the opportunity to work full time on the project that arose from this case, Let Us Learn. I accepted the challenge, and over the next few years we turned it from a project into a fully-fledged movement. Today, Let Us Learn has gone from a loose group of individuals to a coherent team of campaigners; three employed staff members and over 1,000 members.

We continue to fight for all young people who are looking to get into higher education but are not able to do so. In addition, we also fight for a better future for all young migrants; tackling the “hostile environment” imposed on us by the government.

My 4 Key Learnings

Building a movement is not an easy task. Prepare yourself for sleepless nights, private tears, and not feeling good enough. However, it is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. With this line of work also comes joy, friendships and opportunities.

Here’s what I’ve learned since working on the project. I hope it helps.

Leadership is Hard: It’s important to know that true leadership will test your patience, your kindness, your trust, your self-control and your love for others. Don’t be surprised if you start to doubt yourself or even question your abilities. Leaders often go through these phases - but never be too hard on yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes and be patient with yourself through the difficult times. Be honest with yourself and others and face your responsibilities. Remember that no leadership is perfect; you can only learn and grow in your leadership style. Surround yourself with a selected few that you trust and can turn to. Their job is to help you navigate life and redirect you if you are treading off course.

Self-Care Matters: When building a movement, burning out too quickly can be a very common occurrence. The nature of the work requires significant energy, brain power and constant adaptation to change; hence why looking after yourself first is crucial. I used to space out at work because everything was overwhelming. For years, I put others’ needs before my own and found that I was always working over the weekend because ‘I didn’t want to let others down’. It eventually took its toll on me and I had to make the conscious decision that ‘I am just as important as others’. When I came to that realisation, I stopped working unnecessary hours, and started spending more time with family and friends. If you take nothing else away from this article, please take away this: look after your body, mind and soul, drink plenty of water, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and spend time with loved ones.

If you want to mobilize people, you have to put in the work: Working with people in general is never easy. People have their own personal problems outside of the injustice you are publicly fighting, and therefore you must build solid relationships so that the people you are fighting for trust you at all times. At Let Us Learn, I often have one-to-one meetings with young people on a regular basis. These meetings often allow me to identify other problems such as mental health concerns or financial worries. I then continue with regular check-ups to ensure they know we care about them. Even if we cannot provide immediate help, they know they have a support system around them for whenever they need it. In turn, this will encourage them to turn up to future events, gatherings or campaigns you may host.

Success doesn’t come overnight: Building a movement takes time, energy and commitment. Overnight successes are usually backed up with years of building, fighting and not giving up. As long as you are doing everything in your power to change the world for even just one person, rest assured that breakthrough will eventually come. It just may not come as quickly as you wish and hope for. So, when building, build for the long haul. Ensure you have good foundations, an online presence, allies, support systems, and funding. A quote by Martin Luther King states that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


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