It’s easy to look at protesters marching, politicians declaiming or even to read the opinion pages of a newspaper and conclude that speaking up is for other people. That it’s for those who are sure of themselves. For those who can make people listen. That it’s not for you.
In reality, though, each one of us has a story to tell and something that we want to say. And that’s the inspiration behind Levi’s Your Voice. Your Way campaign.
The aim is to give people who are sometimes overlooked or underestimated a platform where they can tell the world how they feel. To this end, eight talented young creatives were selected to showcase their stories in a zine that will be published with the Guardian on Saturday, 27 June.
But how do others from communities that sometimes feel marginalised go about getting their voices heard? Here, two outstanding outsiders explain what inspired them, and why it’s so important to speak out.
1. Nobody does you as well as you do
“You don’t have to be somebody else,” says Joe Galliano, a former editor of Gay Times and now the co-founder and CEO of Queer Britain, an organisation dedicated to building the UK’s first LGBTQ+ museum. “Everyone has their own story.”
“And it’s no good just hearing from one kind of person,” says musician Hak Baker, who found his voice via the grime crew Bomb Squad and Southwark Cathedral choir.
An alumni of Levi’s Music Project 2016 – and mentored by the rapper and songwriter Skepta as part of this, he is a solo artist creating music he calls G-folk. “You take in all kinds of influences to find your path,” he says. “Nick a bit from here, nick a bit from there. That’s why we all need to hear from a radical range of people.”
2. Other people need to hear your voice
As Baker says, the more viewpoints there are for people to consider, the more chance there is of someone else finding something that resonates with them and starting their own journey. There’s also great value in speaking out on behalf of those who can’t. “So often, LGBTQ+ stories are hidden or lost, sometimes wilfully, sometimes not,” says Galliano, who works with Levi’s as part of a three-year partnership with the brand. “We started Queer Britain because there were so many people who were losing their history. I wanted to make sure those stories were out there, that people were educated about them, and that they could take an important place in the culture at large.”
3. Speaking out shapes your own identity
For Galliano, shaping the culture is also important on an individual level. “If you can’t see yourself reflected in some way, then it’s very hard to know where you’d like to be going and who you’d like to be.”
This resonates with Baker who knows that music “is something I needed to do”. Using his emotions to create works for others to hear has helped him to process those emotions. “I know I would be doing this, working in this way, even if I had no idea where my music would end up.”
4. Listening to yourself will help you find your truth
A lot of the discussion around finding your voice can make the process sound quasi-mystical and intimidating. But both Baker and Galliano have the same simple advice: listen to yourself. “It’s your inner voice you want to hear,” says Galliano. “Ask yourself: ‘Am I saying this for an effect, to give someone a particular idea of me, or is this what I believe?’ We all want approval, but we have to be honest with ourselves.” Baker agrees: “We all have shells and alter-egos we use for defence, or even offence, but you need to dig deep and get beyond that. Listen.”
5. Feedback can empower you
Some of us take to heart voices we shouldn’t listen to “from people who don’t have our best interests at heart”, says Galliano. “Are you listening to an internal voice with a negative agenda? Then it’s worth stopping and asking yourself if that voice is truly yours or if you’ve picked it up along the way.”
Baker, too, emphasises the importance of surrounding yourself with people who do have your back. “Check in with your friends, make sure you’ve got a good solid set of people. They won’t always say everything is brilliant, but that’s because they’re looking out for you. We all need positive criticism. If you’re super-cocksure about everything you do, and don’t listen to feedback, then you do become a bit of a loser.”
6. Your audience helps you learn
Even though your voice is important, it’s only as important as the people who hear it. “I don’t think anyone should behave as though they are some sort of celebrity god figure,” says Baker. “First off, think how lonely that would be. But remember you are not above your audience. You add to their lives and they add to yours. Everyone is the same, everyone is on the same level.”
“The most powerful thing is listening,” says Galliano. “Without listening we can never learn.”
7. Speaking up is a way to spread your ideas
“Not everyone is going to be interested in your message,” says Galliano. And that’s OK. It may not be a fit for everyone. But you have to find the people who do need to hear it.” Baker concurs: “I know my music will reach people who want or need something like that.”
You can, however, find ways to help your ideas spread. “For me,” says Galliano, “it’s been important to look at how other people communicate and to try and match that. Are they very direct or are they more discursive? How do they build relationships?”
8. Using your voice will give you confidence
“What do I wish I’d known when I was starting out?” asks Baker. “I wish someone had said: ‘This is going to be harder than you ever thought, but it really will be worth it.’”
Galliano says: “I wish someone had told me: ‘You are enough. You don’t have to be somebody else, you are enough.’”
Use Your Voice …
At the heart of the Your Voice. Your Way campaign is a zine, sponsored by Levi’s, being produced by eight talented young creatives, each with their own story to tell.
The zine will be published alongside the Guardian on Saturday, 27 June