Ohen Serlina Boyd first came up with the idea of publishing a magazine for black children in the UK, she sought the advice of an industry colleague who told her, “No one will be interested.
Boyd, an acclaimed art editor for over 18 years, doubled down. She launched not one but two magazines, cocoa girl and Cocoa Boy, the first of its kind in Britain. Within four weeks of its launch in June 2020, cocoa girl was read by more than 10,000 children.
Two years later, Pearson Education’s Bug Club library distributes the magazine to more than a million readers, and the 41-year-old Boyd is considering global expansion.
“You can’t allow someone to tell you ‘no’ when you want to achieve your dreams,” the bubbly mother of two says, when I catch up with her on a call earlier this month. “Go ahead, get out and pursue what you want to do.”
We speak ahead of his highly anticipated speech at the Labor Party’s ethnic minority leaders’ conference. Boyd and I have been in touch since the start of 2022, and with each new conversation, the businesswoman excitedly discussed the milestones the magazine had reached – from winning a BSME Awards to getting a interview with actor Idris Elbe.
Boyd is well-placed to lead a publication, having been instrumental in launching Vera – Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight magazine – in 2010, and working on publications such as Marie Claire and Women.
Now she and her eight-year-old daughter, Faith, have secured partnerships with major British brands such as BT and Puffin Books. And, as we speak, two global brands have just agreed to sponsor the new annual Cocoa Kids Festival.
The journey, however, has not always been easy. Along the way, people tried to “sabotage” his business, Boyd tells me.
With his publishing experience and his child care degree, launching the magazines through his own Cocoa Publishing brand gave Boyd the opportunity to combine his passion for children and media.
Yet it all started amid the Covid-19 lockdowns and after the death of George Floyd in the United States sparked global conversations about race and inequality.
Many decent Brits were horrified by a hateful minority of fanatics who rallied against the black-owned brand.
The Mail online published an article on Cocoa magazine in October 2020 which condemned the company as “divisive”. This spawned appalling abuse and led Boyd and his family to be relocated from the capital.
“We received death threats on the back of this article and had to close the ‘contact us’ form on the website,” says Boyd. “We moved to focus and really enjoy what we do.
“I didn’t expect criticism, but for me, everyone has the right to have an opinion. We had to do this magazine. It’s for everyone, but it’s going to talk about black kids who normally don’t have a voice.
“I feel like anytime you do something positive you’re always going to have people wanting to tear you down and what I’ve done is stay quiet. Whatever you do you’ll find people who will have a problem, but you just have to, as my grandfather used to say, hold on to the crooked path and drive straight, but don’t worry about what’s going on around you. moving.”
Far from sowing discord, Boyd says his business is about actively bringing communities together, with thousands of people indicating their support for the Cocoa magazines. She takes pride in tackling the deep-rooted issue of black underrepresentation in the media.
Her incredible journey began when the Covid pandemic gripped the nation in 2020. Boyd and Faith wanted to read magazines as part of her homeschooling during quarantine. However, neither saw people who looked like Faith on the covers or anywhere else.
While walking through supermarkets, the couple noticed that the publications they regularly picked up lacked diversity.
This inspired the entrepreneur to make it her mission to create a magazine with her daughter that would inspire Faith and other black girls.
With Faith as editor, Boyd created cocoa girlintended for black girls ages 7-14. This was quickly followed by Cocoa Boy in September 2020.
It started as a family project with Boyd’s photographer husband stepping in to capture footage.
The previous year, the duo had self-published a book titled cocoa girl featuring young, beautiful black models, including Faith, who had been bullied at school and had little confidence in her skin color and hair.
The magazine offers inspirational and empowering content for these children, with topics ranging from affirmations and natural hair care to facts and lessons about global black culture and history.
To date, the magazines are available in independent stores and supermarkets across Britain, such as some branches of Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and WHSmith. Boyd, Faith and a group of young writers decide what will be included in each issue; it is truly an operation made by children and for children, although there is something for everyone.
“We have so many stories that have never been told,” Boyd added.
“The problem of our black inventors was so powerful and moving at the same time – to think that there are things we take for granted that were made by black people that you’ve never heard of. We are more than just here – Black people have contributed to society in so many ways that are never discussed.
Among future plans, Boyd is set to launch the UK’s first journalism school for black children through his brand’s newly unveiled charity arm, Cocoa Dreams Society, which has just applied for its first cycle of funding.
Black journalists make up just 0.2% of UK newsrooms, according to research, and a lack of diversity continues to plague the industry. The initiative will take place after school and will begin virtually before moving to a currently secure physical building.
The grand opening of Cocoa Media and Journalism Academy is set to take place during the second edition of its free community event, Cocoa Kids Festival, on Sunday August 14 at the exclusive Epsom Downs Racecourse.
“I see the academy and the Cocoa Dreams Society more broadly as an opportunity for children to learn key skills that will expose them to different industries, be it journalism, publishing, animation, art,” Boyd explained.
“We would love to connect with brands and consider collaborating on this.”