As our summer ends and we head into autumn our diversity and inclusion work is focused on history months. These are important events in the inclusion calendar and are worthy of the time and resources we commit to recognising them.
These months really do matter. We should be celebrating our rich and diverse cultural history every day, every month. We must acknowledge the skills of people with disabilities and embrace the super powers of being neuro divergent for Disability history month and Purple Light Up day and absolutely understand the origins of Stonewall during LGBT history month. The success of these months is raising awareness, sharing stories and facts we may not have heard before, activating our allyship and widening our understanding of the lived experiences that differ from our own. It is a chance to act and cite these events as the moment you were awakened to the injustices and disparities that are both historical and current for marginalised groups.
Black history month in October coincides with Speak Up month and world mental health awareness day. Bit crowded you think, one will outshine the other?. Not really, we can share these spaces and no one fits into one box, intersectionality is real. Speaking up has brought black history month to the fore, allowing voices to be heard, names spoken of those overlooked in our story telling of our past. The impact on mental health and wellbeing is well documented and a big contributor to health inequalities across the world.
Black history month was first celebrated in the UK in 1987 and has grown each year. It is a catalyst for us all to reflect on our understanding of history and delve deeper into our nation's true story. An opportunity to acknowledge that whilst we believe we are a nation of fairness and equality there is so much work to do to bring this ambition to life.
I had a conversation a few years ago with an amazing nurse who was deeply offended that their organisation was running events that reminded them they were different. It was, at times, a challenging discussion and hard to hear – someone who came to work and felt they belonged and suddenly their “difference” was being laid bare and people were asking them about their heritage and history. The curiosity was making them feel uncomfortable. I came away with a sense of not knowing how to resolve this, then realising I couldn’t resolve it. Everyone holds their own view of themselves, how they assimilate into their workplace, feel at peace in their community and personal space. It's not for corporate organisations to run these events, it has to be more than jerk chicken and jollof rice in the staff canteen – as lovely as that is its not enough. It's for people to come together in networks and allyship groups and lead this work. Putting a black history month banner on websites and social media feeds is an act of allyship. Its also a public statement and that needs to be followed up by actions, living the values of inclusion and valuing diversity for every day of the year.
I recently visited a local hospital for an appointment. The sign above the entrance proudly displayed “Mary Seacole Wing”.
I had some time to spare so I thought I would ask a few people milling about what they knew about Mary and why her name was above the door – general responses were “probably a local MP”, “did they make a big donation?” “not sure, member of the royal family?”. One person did say they thought they were a famous nurse. The closest guess but still not the recognition for their work in the Crimean War, where Florence Nightingale is our recognised heroine. The intention with the naming is good, more information to help people understand the historical relevance is just as important (it was probably there somewhere, I just didn’t have time to find it before my appointment!).
This year Black History Month is “Saluting our Sisters”. Celebrating the brave and courageous Black women through history who have changed our world for the better and whose names have been forgotten. Let’s speak their names and keep their achievements alive in our education and learning of the past we have rewritten.
I will be listening to Brit(ish) on audible by Afua Hirsch, exploring race, identity and belonging. A topic that is the key thread of my work every day as a Diversity and Inclusion lead, but the knowledge bank is never full.
So, jump right in this October, join events, acknowledge you have so much to learn and unlearn about our history. If you have staff networks or employee resource groups actively join their discussions and meetings this month, leave what you think you know at the door and open your mind to the real stories of our past, present, and future.
About the Author
Debbie Robinson is an experienced Diversity and Inclusion practioner