Notes to my teenage self: Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Danielle Vitalis

This article was first published in November 2020.

What advice would you give to your younger self if you could meet them now you’re a bit older and wiser? We asked this question to 12 super-talented performers and broadcasters who have all experienced direct or indirect racism.

In this series, they share their stories and talk about how they were judged as teenagers. Here we have Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Danielle Vitalis telling us about what it was like growing up and how they deal with what they see in the news and on social media today.

We also spoke to psychotherapist, Kemi Omijeh, for some advice on what you can do to take care of yourself from a psychological perspective if you're affected by prejudice or racism. Look out for her tips further down the page.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster

Sharon is a film and television actress from London who has appeared in a wide range of British programmes including, Top Boy and EastEnders. She’s also a successful voice-over artist – playing Scratchy in the CBBC show, Rastamouse and Catherine Hunter in the Fifa video games.

Sharon is passionate about using her creativity to help others and wants young people to protect themselves from what they might see online.

Present Sharon on teenage Sharon:

I would say to her, your right is to be here and be proud of who you are.

Danielle Vitalis

Danielle is an actress performing on TV, film and stage who lived in St Lucia until she was nine-years-old. You might recognise her for roles in Famalam, Youngers and she played a young Arabella in I May Destroy You.

Danielle thinks it’s important for young people to be selective about where they go for their news and information.

Present Danielle on teenage Danielle:

I would tell her that she should keep striving for excellence, regardless of how other people see her.

What can you do to take care of yourself if you're affected by racism?

We asked psychotherapist, Kemi Omijeh, to take a look at Sharon and Danielle's film and share her thoughts from a mental health perspective.

Kemi: Danielle’s account of the media coverage of the death of her friend stood out for me. Imagine grieving the loss of a friend and then having to deal with false narratives or stereotypes that impact on your grief. It can be so easy to run with a stereotype, to act on assumptions. These false narratives and accounts get projected onto you without you realising it. Sharon’s account of the small things that contribute to her becoming aware of her skin colour is an important point to consider. This slow realisation can be hurtful and demoralising. Allow yourself to feel those emotions but don’t stay in those emotions.

Here are some things you can do to support your mental health against racism.

  • Practice daily affirmations – affirmations are positive statements that you say about yourself, for example, “I am born to shine” or “my skin is golden.” Affirmations can do wonders for your mental health. You might need some practice initially, but do make an effort to give it a good try. It can instil in you a sense of pride in who you are and what you are capable of, particularly when practised daily

  • Deep breaths – don’t underestimate the power of taking a deep breath. It’s a tool at your disposal – to use at any point you feel overwhelmed, judged or attacked. Taking a breath is a way of tapping into thoughts that bring you peace and calm. Try visualising something positive. Remember, taking a breath gives you the opportunity to reconnect with yourself and what matters

  • Understand what is working for you and what isn’t – you’re a young person figuring out who you are and your place in the world. It’s important you’re aware of the helpful and unhelpful things that are contributing to your sense of self and identity. Don’t let bumps in the road stop your entire journey, take a moment to address the bump and keep going

  • Have someone older or more experienced to turn to – it’s important to have support and guidance along your journey of self-discovery. This could mean having a good group of friends who you can be yourself around or, having someone older, wiser and more knowledgeable that you’re comfortable talking to.

If you need support

You should always tell someone about the things you’re worried about. You can tell a friend, parent, guardian, teacher, or another trusted adult. If you're struggling with your mental health, going to your GP can be a good place to start to find help. Your GP can let you know what support is available to you, suggest different types of treatment and offer regular check-ups to see how you’re doing.

If you’re in need of in-the-moment support you can contact Childline, where you can speak to a counsellor. Their lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are more links to helpful organisations on BBC Action Line.

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