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Olaoluwa “Laolu” Abdulrahman Alatise


Olaoluwa “Laolu” Abdulrahman Alatise died on 7 September 2023 at his home in Canton, Cardiff.

He was born in October 1995 in the town of Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria. He had a difficult childhood, experiencing harsh bullying at school because of his non-traditional masculinity. While this period left scars that took a long time to heal, friends believe that it was formative of Laolu’s immense capacity for empathy and was part of what made him such an insightful, caring person. He will be remembered as a supportive, loving friend, brother and son, a valued colleague, a fiercely intelligent and astute writer and radical historian, and a passionate political activist.

He moved to Wales in September 2012 to begin his undergraduate studies and graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Journalism, Media, and English Literature at Cardiff University with first-class honours at the top of his cohort in 2018. He was known to his lecturers as an astute, insightful, original thinker and a very hardworking student who (unusually) got first-class grades in almost all of his undergraduate classes. While a student, and for a while after, he worked at the Arts and Social Studies Library at Cardiff University. His love of reading, and wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, remained a large part of his life after graduating. He was always surrounded by books, was a passionate learner, and thrived on debating and discussing ideas. After graduating, he worked for the charity Diverse Cymru working to improve mental health among Cardiff’s racially minoritised groups. After this, he took a job as Equality and Diversity Officer for Clwstwr at Cardiff University’s creative economy unit Creative Cardiff, a role which further allowed him to act on his political commitment to anti-racism. Laolu worked closely with the team to extend their reach into different communities across the region, and supported many amazing people, always with his customary compassion, to do incredible and ground-breaking work. At the time of his death, he was employed as an assistant producer at Cardiff University’s Media Cymru, an organisation responsible for promoting growth in the Welsh media and creative industries. Laolu’s natural warmth and capacity to build strong relationships shone through in his role as an Assistant Research and Development Producer. He believed strongly that Media Cymru should offer a space for individuals who were new to the sector to learn and share big ideas and very much valued meeting people and hearing their stories. He was a treasured colleague who always took time to listen and give compassionate responses, championing the work of others. He was always the life and soul of any gathering.

One cannot write about Laolu without addressing his rare and glorious sense of style. His friends and colleagues commonly describe him as the best-dressed person they have known. But such descriptions alone do a mundane disservice to the role that clothing played in his unique, always-distinctive, glorious, and unashamedly bold self-fashioning. This, combined with his striking physical beauty and defiantly self-confident way of holding himself and moving through the world, meant that he regularly turned heads and attracted comments from strangers (in both approving and prejudiced ways). Among his friends and colleagues, he was appreciated widely as a positive role model who had fought hard and learned to live proudly, openly, and without shame. Laolu identified as a defender of outsiders and oppressed people, having himself experienced both the overt discrimination of others and the effects of internalised prejudice.

Laolu was Muslim and was very proud of his Yoruba identity, often sharing stories with friends about its distinctive culture. He had a complicated and sometimes uneasy relationship with his faith. He acknowledged, and was critical of, the intolerance so prevalent in his religion, but also found great comfort in it, especially in the sense of connection it gave him with his family. He once joked that when Muslim family members asked if he’d been regularly going to Mosque he’d reply, “no, but I’ve been reading an amazing textbook about Islam”. He was a vocal defender of Muslim people against worsening Islamophobia, racism, and discrimination in the UK and globally.

He participated in public life in Cardiff, Wales, and the UK as an activist, commentator, and writer, but his relationship with his adopted home was never uncritical or simplistic. He had a keen eye for identifying hypocrisy and an often scathing, sometimes hilarious, turn of phrase when critiquing it. In his politics, he was an eloquent, passionate, and intelligent leftist voice and campaigner for the causes of anti-racism, migrant solidarity, feminism, and queer liberation in Wales and beyond. He was a vocal supporter of trans people’s rights, a passionate ally of the trans community in Cardiff, volunteered for Stonewall Cymru, and was an invited speaker at numerous Pride and queer spoken word events in Wales. Laolu’s incisive critical understanding of UK, Welsh, and Cardiffian cultural politics, sharpened by his experiences of intersecting oppressions, made him a vehement critic of the UK’s Conservative politicians, especially in their treatment of the working class, black and brown people, migrants, and in their surveillance of Muslims and activists under the PREVENT programme. He was also unsparing in his distaste for those Welsh nationalists who strategically identify as a colonised people while ignoring Wales’ complicity in British colonialism, as well as the structural racism and exclusionary practices he identified as still prevalent in Welsh public life, institutions, and social movements.

Fond of black feminist writer and activist Angela Davis’ observation that “we live in a society of an imposed forgetfulness, a society that depends on public amnesia”, Laolu was also an accomplished radical cultural historian and a co-founder of a South Wales collective which researched and told the largely forgotten story of the 1919 race riots in Cardiff during the events’ centenary year. The project drew on primary historical records such as newspaper coverage and testimony from the descendants of those involved. It told the story of the riots in real time on Twitter from the perspective of an imaginary witness wandering the streets of Cardiff. Drawing acclaim from a wide local and national audience, academics, and institutions such as Literature Wales, National Theatre Wales, the National Archive of Wales, and the Welsh news media, it made startling and troubling connections between historic and contemporary racism in Welsh society. As part of the same collective, he also did important work excavating and telling the stories of under-represented queer people of colour in Wales, communicating about them in participatory workshops.

One of our brightest young stars has been extinguished too soon and our night sky glows more dimly for his loss. All of the communities he was a part of feel his absence painfully. His contribution to making our world a more equal and accepting place will never be reversed. Rest in power, Laolu Alatise.

Dr Andy Williams and Professor Justin Lewis

School of Journalism, Media and Culture