What does Black History Month mean? Why devote a whole month to celebrate a race? What is the importance?

Well, everybody has a story, and yes, I mean everybody, that is all humans from all races and all backgrounds have their own stories.

Not history but stories, and I guess for a black person, the journey, no matter the background, be it African, Caribbean, mixed or however one chooses to identify, the journey from childhood to adulthood has had its moments and times of emotional roller-coaster and this brings its meaning to celebrating Black History Month.

Growing up and fitting in

As black people, at birth, our physical features are very different; the colour of our skin is quite fair, so one is never quite sure what shade of black one will be and that is the beginning of our beauty; our hair which is mostly tight soft curls is another beautiful feature. As growth comes with changes, so changes come with the tone of our skin and the structure of the hair. I learnt the tone of our skin can actually be identified by the tip of the ear from birth, and experience has proved it is true. Isn’t that beautiful?

As for those wonderful, tight, soft, easy to comb curls, they become full, coarse, frizzy and hard to manage. Combing your hair brings tears and for girls, having it in braids is the easiest way to manage it: that also brought moments of torture as a child so for most girls as soon as one can, we go on the journey of relaxing our hair to make it straight, soft, and manageable. Well, there is half the explanation! The other half is for us to fit into society because unspoken words, though sometimes spoken cruelly, bring the feeling of not belonging. Straight fine hair was more befitting it seems. There is, however, a shift now and most people are accepting of who they are and their physical self.

There is nothing wrong with how one chooses to fit into society, whatever makes you comfortable, do it but know conforming to society is not about looks, background or even culture. It is about respecting and loving yourself and in doing so, making it easy to do same to others irrespective of status and vice versa.

Growing up through teenage years through to adulthood, proving oneself becomes a priority. Through schooling years to working life, succeeding in academics, achieving professional success, it always seems like one has to work harder, as though one is never enough.

Black parents often tell their children to work harder because of their colour. Why? Being black is seen as inferior and one always has to prove oneself. I never understood that until discrimination and racism faced me at work.

As black people, at birth, our physical features are very different; the colour of our skin is quite fair, so one is never quite sure what shade of black one will be. I learnt the tone of our skin can actually be identified by the tip of the ear from birth, and experience has proved it is true. Isn't that beautiful?

Audrey Devere-Adamah

Overcoming Racism

I was apparently “achieving too much,” “I was liked too much by my staff and commissioners” and there was “no understanding why” – now that story is for another day but I will say this: the situation and behaviour of one person made me lose my self-confidence to the point of wanting to leave the profession I had loved for 30 years.

One person was about to change my life! Change what my ancestors and most in society (including myself) were striving to achieve. Discrimination and a racist attack by my white manager (I have been told to call it out) in another organisation brought me that low; but there is always a silver lining – many call it resilience but whatever it was, I persevered and applied for a Fellowship scheme. It was to be a way of leaving that toxic environment but also ending my 30-year nursing career on my terms.

That secondment was here in NHS England. My new (white) manager treated me with such respect, valued me as a team member, supported me and changed my perspective to the point where I believed in myself and the system again. All she did was treat me as a colleague. No prejudice – that’s all it took for me to believe again that I was enough. With confidence I stayed in nursing and I am still here – part of my story.

I am Enough

Guess what, I am enough and so are you. We are enough because this planet we live on called Earth is for all of us – I have the right to be here and so do you and I mean every one of you from every race and every colour, we are all enough.

As people of African, Afro-Caribbean or African-American descent, our ancestors laid the foundation earlier on for us – from Rosa Parkes, Martin Luther King, to Mary Seacole and other nursing pioneers.

Through their actions (silently or through speeches) they were heard. It was not through a battle but sheer bravery to bring understanding that equality and diversity is a dish that should be served to all because it is deserved by all – this year’s theme for Black History Month summarises it succinctly: ‘time for action…’

As black people, we have come a long way and awareness though growing slow, is travelling alongside, we all just need to be a part of it. The journey is sometimes not easy but we persevere, our perseverance should never be as ‘victims’ finding their way but as those who walk on equal terms as we find understanding and acceptance together as colleagues.

It is great to see networks in the workplace mirroring some of what is in the black communities to bring more awareness and celebrate allyship, networks with so many people who want to understand and those who do understand. Those who choose this path are rising to bring change and it is beautiful to see the journey of change.

The journey is still long but I have faith, I have hope and I believe that working together as a team, trusting each other to achieve and celebrating our successes together is what will give this journey pace and bring a meaningful end to our story.

Audrey Devere-Adamah

Assistant Director, Community Transformation (Workforce)
Primary, Community and Personalised Care
Chief Operating Officer Directorate
NHS England

Black History Month is celebrated in October in the UK, but there is news and events all year round.




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