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October marks the beginning of the 31st annual celebration of Black History Month (BHM) in the United Kingdom. A time dedicated to recognising and celebrating the importance of African, Asian and Caribbean heritage, and to promote a greater understanding of the UK’s diverse culture, participation and experience throughout history.
The month was created by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo in 1987, a civil servant just like you and me, who worked at the Greater London Council in special projects. Akyaaba was stirred up in the mid-1980s by the identity crisis that a large majority of Black children faced.
Ever since I can remember during Black History Month we usually discuss the lives of Dr Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and other famous Black icons. This October is set to remind both BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) and wider communities of the important roles Black people have taken in creating the social, legal, and political worlds we live in today.
The FAME Network encourages everyone to use this opportunity, through gathering colleagues at team meetings and over lunch, to explore and raise awareness of the contributions Black people have made and are making in their local communities, countries and the world at large.
When I was at school, Black History Month was the one and only time I got to learn about history that I felt was remotely relevant to me. While history lessons were Eurocentric, BHM was a time when I could explore my heritage in an open and welcoming space.
I was fascinated by some of the things I learned:
Olaudah Equiano (c.1745-1797) was a former slave who went on to become a radical reformer and best-selling author and became the first Black person to explore the Arctic when he sailed on the same ship as Horatio Nelson. In 1786 Equiano also became the first Black person ever to be employed by the British government, when he was made Commissary of Provisions and Stores for the 350 impoverished Black people who had decided to take up the government’s offer of an assisted passage to Sierra Leone.
The phenomenal action of Black pioneers today will become future history. Take Black Panther – this year’s biggest grossing movie and the first film to get a general release in Saudi Arabia in 35 years. The artist Akon lighting Africa via solar panels and now employing over 5,000 people in 14 African countries. Or Sharon White the Chief Executive of Ofcom, the first black person, and the second woman, to become the permanent secretary at the Treasury.
Why is it still important today?
What has been done to change the narrative?
How are we celebrating Black History Month?
On 2nd October at BEIS we are launching the Civil Service Black History Month celebrations. Our main event – a keynote speech from Trevor Phillips (former television broadcaster/ex Head of the Equal Opportunities Commission) on Race in Britain Today.
We will also include a panel discussion on the lack of success in the Civil Service Fast Steam recruitment of Windrush descendants, with an update from Vicky Elliot and Roxanne Ohene, Deputy Directors of the Ethnic Diversity Programme from the Cabinet Office.
Other key note speakers will include Alex Chisholm – BEIS Permanent secretary, Richard Heaton – MoJ Permanent secretary and Civil Service Race Champion and Jaee Samant – DG, Market Frameworks.
Lunch will be provided on the day with compliments of the Cabinet Office, the main sponsor of the event. The event is open to all staff.
As part of the FAME Network Book Club we will be reading ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ (The Sunday Times Bestseller) by Reni Eddo-Lodge so feel free to join from home!
Written by Godfrey Atuahene Junior, Policy Advisor
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy