A prominent figure in black British theatre was born to parents that are both white, a recently unearthed book has revealed.
In a copy of eBook ‘Photo ID’ dug up by The Sunday Times, Anthony Ekundayo Lennon writes about growing up with white parents in West London.
Such an admission would not be particularly noteworthy were it not for Mr Lennon’s role in the arts.
Last year he was chosen as one of four "theatre practitioners of colour" by Arts Council England and scooped part of a £406,500 grant in the form of a two-year residential traineeship.
His victory was not universally welcomed by black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people working in theatre.
One black actor said: “When I discovered his background I thought it was unfair that a white man had taken a black person’s place on a BAME scheme.”
Born to Irish parents but naturally darker-skinned, at school Mr Lennon was bullied by people who believed he was mixed race, including a caretaker who called him a ‘n****r’.
Following such experiences he began to wear a Rastafarian hat.
While Mr Lennon has written publicly that his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are white, he has also argued that "Everybody on the planet is African. It’s your choice as to whether you accept it."
Accepting such a fact led Mr Lennon to success with groups such as the Black Theatre Forum and to chose a new name from an Africa book – Taharka Ekundayo.
Taharka, after an Egyptian pharaoh, and Ekundayo, meaning "weeping becomes joy".
He wrote in Photo ID: “I was at a stage in my life where to address myself as Anthony Lennon did not fulfil me; it didn’t seem to allow me to express myself as I saw fit.
“Some people call themselves a born-again Christian. Some people call me a born-again African. I prefer to call myself an African born again.”
According to The Sunday Times he told an audience in 2012: “Although I’m white, with white parents, I have gone through the struggles of a black man, a black actor.”
Mr Lennon started work as a trainee artistic director at Talawa, a black-led theatre company in Shoreditch, east London, after receiving the Arts Council funding.
The scheme was advertised as “open to people of colour” and Lennon applied as a “mixed heritage individual”.
Arts Council England said: “Talawa raised their wish to support Anthony with us. In responding we took into account the law in relation to race and ethnicity.
"This is a very unusual case and we do not think it undermines the support we provide to black and minority ethnic people within the theatre sector.”
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