Is it possible to combine art, activism and youth politics? Kelvin Akpaloo is the living proof that this is possible, and above all that you can juggle so many different dimensions effortlessly and elegantly. His secret? Having a genuine passion for everything he does. We had a 30 minutes chat to get to know him better and unpack his superpowers.
Kelvin is an Afro-Irish youth leader and activist, a no hate speech ambassador, a spoken word artist and a choreographer. He uses art as a medium to tackle social issues, especially related to minority rights and racial justice, and bring them closer to young people.
From arts to artivism
Kelvin’s passion for art started back when he was living in Ghana. He loved music and participated in the church choir as a conductor. When he was 13 years old he moved to Ireland, where his parents were already living, and there people started noticing his talent and offered him some opportunities to attend after-school activities or participate in projects abroad. The moment when he realised that he could use arts to express the social issues he cared about was during an activity of the No Hate Speech Campaign in Serbia. There he saw other young people using different art forms to combat hate speech, and he realised that he could do the same. This was the start of his journey as a No Hate Speech Ambassador.
Being a No Hate Speech ambassador
The No Hate Speech Movement is a youth campaign launched by the Council of Europe. It was initiated in 2013 as a reaction to the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway, where the right-wing extremist Breivik killed 69 young people attending a summer camp in the island of Utøya. This tragic episode underlined how hate can turn into extreme violence, and highlighted the importance to combat hate speech and promote human rights. The campaign was rolled out in 45 countries in Europe and beyond, and is still active through the network of online activists and partners, and is completely youth-led. For Kelvin, coming from a family of immigrants, hate speech is a concrete everyday experience. At the same time, he is aware that hate speech concerns everybody and can come in every shape and form, and that education can be a powerful tool to change minds and behaviours.
Indeed, he directly witnessed how arts and education can have a positive impact on communities. For example, he organised a theatre piece on the topic of racism in Ireland. The young people involved in the performance were initially very worried of the response they could get from the predominantly elderly and white audience. In reality, the theatre piece gathered enthusiastic reactions and sparked a discussion between the young performers and the audience. This is the sort of exchanges and dialogues that Kelvin wants to foster through his art.
Through his activism, Kelvin wants to create more space for young people from the minority community, make sure their voices are heard and their stories represented. This was also his main motivation when he became a Youth Delegate for Ireland in the EU Youth Dialogue, a mechanism put in place by the EU institutions to consult young people about the priorities and directions of youth policy. He attended his first EU Youth Conference in Romania in 2019 and a second one (online) in 2020, organised under the German EU Presidency. Being a Youth Delegate was something new for him, and he took this task very seriously. He had to change his mindset and endeavour to be more strategic and political. Despite being new to this kind of processes and negotiations, he did not shy away from speaking out about the clear absence of representatives of the immigrant community at the Conference. He then realised the importance of bringing the voices of young migrants to the decision making table and making their reality visible for everyone.
The importance of human connections
Kelvin is the kind of person that never turns down an offer. His philosophy is to keep doing the things you love and always say yes to any opportunities that may arise: you never know where it can bring you. Even more importantly, he keeps the door open to new encounters. Indeed, he attributes the merit for many of his achievements to the fact that he had important mentors and “destiny linkers” who saw some potential in him and offered him new avenues to develop his passions. That’s why he believes in the importance of cultivating new connections.
Listening to Kelvin is a real delight. His positive attitude and his enthusiasm about everything he does is tangible and contagious. His commitment to inspire, motivate and make a change is genuine and selfless. Where does he get all this energy and excitement? We did not manage to unveil his secret, but we finished our conversation feeling much lighter and hopeful than before.