Posted on: 29 September 2023
Sheila Nursimhulu- Co-chair BAME Staff Network at CNWL writes about Black History Month and why it's so important.
What a milestone to be celebrating Black History Month, a celebration that is only few years old, although the existence of black people has been here since the beginning of time!
The question we must ask ourselves is how did we get here? Why do people from African descent have a special month to celebrate their blackness and their African heritage?
African Civilisations/ Black history dates back thousands of years to the great African civilisations like Egypt, Mali, and Ghana, which made remarkable advancements in areas such as architecture, medicine, mathematics, and agriculture.
We cannot start to celebrate this group of human beings without reflecting back on the transatlantic slave economy which was at the core of an inhuman trade of human beings which was facilitated through the kidnap and exploitation of enslaved Africans to support forced labour across the colonies and America. The social construct that ensured from this is the victims, of what was an atrocious crime against humanity, became the lesser humans in society.
The Black History Month is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the resilience and strength of great black people, their achievements, and the cultural heritage of the Black community.
To start with, let’s honour and celebrate the rich and diverse contributions of Black individuals throughout history. Let us remember the trailblazers, activists, artists, and leaders who have shaped our world, and continue to work towards a more inclusive and equitable future for all.
In remembering and celebrating the strength, resilience, and cultural richness of the Black community, let’s honour the legacies of figures like:
- Ellen and William Craft were African American freedom fighters who made a daring escape from enslavement in Georgia and in 1851 fled to Britain, where they supported anti-slavery efforts
- JS Risien Russell was a pioneering figure in the emerging discipline of neurology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Composer The composer who achieved international fame for his trilogy of cantatas, ‘The Song of Hiawatha’
- Mary Seacole, The Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole set up a hotel in the war-torn Crimea to provide shelter, food and treatment for injured soldiers.
- Ottobah Cugoano, was an anti-slavery campaigner and one of the first formerly enslaved people to write and publish a text in the English language
- Singer Elisabeth Welch
- Sir Learie Constantine, the cricketer and statesman Sir Learie Constantine became Britain’s first black peer in 1969.
- Dr Harold Moody, the campaigner for racial equality Dr Harold Moody founded the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931.
- Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello on a West End stage,
- South African writer Solomon T Plaatje was a significant campaigner for African rights and played a pioneering role in the emergence of African literature,
- Marcus Garvey was a black nationalist who became an inspirational figure for later civil rights activists,
- Ottobah Cugoano was an anti-slavery campaigner and one of the first formerly enslaved people to write and publish a text in the English language
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Laurie Cunningham
- Rosa Parks
- Maya Angelou
- Nelson Mandela and, of course, countless others who have left an indelible mark on history
As you would have guessed, the list of great Black men and women is endless and it is not possible to include all the great people on this list.
But I hope what this list will do for you, it will inspire you to go and discover more about the great Black people who have made great contributions to your life and my life.
As we reflect on the past struggle for civil rights and social justice that Black people experienced and their ongoing fight for equal treatment, it is an important reminder that history is not only made by great leaders but also by ordinary people who stand up for justice and equality. it is also an important moment to reflect on how far they have come. It is, most importantly, a moment to think carefully about the journey ahead.
Let us learn, appreciate, and amplify Black voices and stories, not just in October but every day. Together, we can build a more inclusive and harmonious world.
With the growth of digital platforms, there is an abundance of online resources, webinars, and virtual events related to Black History Month, making information and cultural content accessible to a wider audience. So, let's use these resources to educate ourselves and our children about our history.
There is nothing better in life than to understand your history and take pride in it to guide your journey going forward.
Use every opportunity to engage in activities to express your history, including, artistic expression, education and curriculum development, sports, community engagement and initiatives and advocacy campaigns, amongst others, community outreach events, literary events, culinary celebrations, interfaith dialogues, scientific and academia, the environment and, very importantly, get involved in youth engagement activities. Be an agent for change by being part of the big civic society.
Let us use this month to foster greater understanding, empathy, and solidarity among all people, regardless of race or background. Together, we can build a brighter and more equitable future.
Every Day of the year is Black History Day!
We also have a Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) Staff Network at CNWL; join us as a member or ally and help shape experiences for black people working at CNWL and our service users. The network is also taking action by working with the Trust Leadership with the "Show Racism the RED card" campaign and make sure we follow the Equality and Diversity Policy.
Sheila Nursimhulu and Adam Sobrany, Co-Chairs of the CNWL BAME Staff Network wish all our colleagues from African descent the best during the Black History Month and every day of the year!