It’s important that we commemorate and celebrate Black History because it highlights the importance of Black people's contributions to society.
This year, we asked our Black teammates to share how they commemorate and celebrate BHM. Here’s Elizabeth Ajala, who heads up our Quality Assurance team, telling us what this month means to her.
BHM is a time for reflection
During this time I reflect on the shoulders that I stand on to be where I am today.
Firstly, my great, great grandfather who was captured and enslaved in the UK. He was able to make his way back to Africa.
Secondly, my father, who came to this country in the 70s from Nigeria to educate himself and lead a better life. He experienced racism and discrimination but despite it all he worked hard to be successful.
He taught me about white privilege from a young age and that I would need to work 10 times harder than my white counterparts to achieve the same as them and be considered just as good. He taught me to be proud of the country I originally come from and made sure I spent time in Nigeria every year.
He believed (and still does believe) that my fairer skin complexion and English accent would mean that life is easier for me than it was him. Sadly he was right. In some ways my black experience is easier than those that are darker than me or have an African accent.
Next, my mother, mixed raced and born to an Irish mother and a Nigerian father. Her mother’s family were extremely racist so when she started to show colour at about 18 months old she was sent to Nigeria. She returned to the UK at 16 years old and her mother was still unable to claim her publicly from fear of her family finding out.
And lastly, my own experience growing up in South Oxhey, Watford where our bins were set on fire, where racists wrote on the fence: “N****** go home!”, where they made monkey signs as my siblings and I made our way to school and where my brothers were attacked by locals and often targeted by police.
BHM is a time for learning
Sometimes the contributions that Black people have made and continue to make go unrecognised. There are so many who have contributed positively to our world so I’d like to shine a spotlight on a few.
Lewis Latimer, who invented the light bulb
Sarah Boone, who invented the ironing board
Mary Van Britten Brown, who co-invented the home security system
Garrett Morgan, who invented the three-light traffic light
Frederick McKinley, who invented refrigerated trucks
Alexander Miles, who invented automatic elevator doors
British history can’t be written without including Black history. Whether it be the hundreds of thousands that fought in World War 1, or those that helped to rebuild Britain after World War 2.
It’s also fascinating to me that too often the history taught is that of migration and settlement but there’s evidence that shows African people in Roman Britain and that Black communities have been present since at least 1500.
BHM is a time for celebration
It’s important to celebrate our rich contributions and uplift our collective triumphs. For me that’s things like…
Nigerian Independence Day on the 1st October which always starts the month off right for me personally.
Food - which is a way for us to retain our cultural identity. I love authentic Nigerian food, so Efo Riro with Fish or Seafood Okro with pounded yam are my go to. Of course there is the ongoing debate of which Jollof rice is better - Nigerian or Ghanaian? I also love Caribbean food and have spent many Sundays at my friend Kasmine’s house as her mum, Aunty Sharon would throw it down in the kitchen. Curry goat, home made coleslaw, dumplings, fried chicken, fish, jerk chicken made in the drum and more.
Music - a lot of what we listen to today originates from black culture. Hip Hop, Afrobeats, Reggae, Jazz, House, Garage, Rock ‘n’ Roll and even Country Music.
Media - the increased representation of black people in the media is something to celebrate, as for far too long we have not been able to see people that look like us. I love ‘I May Destroy You’, ‘Black Panther’, ‘Insecure’, and a guilty pleasure of mine ‘King of Boys’. A good example of positive representation in the media is Channel 4's first Black British reality series called High Life, which was recently aired. This show follows the lives of eight successful British West Africans in London as they navigate their love lives and careers. It’s not something you'd commonly see in the media, which is why it currently has a lot of buzz in the Black British community.
All of us - mums, sisters, brothers, dads, uncles, cousins - everyone. I celebrate my mother who has been a role model of strength to me. I admire her forgiving heart, her work ethic and ability to laugh through hard times. I am so grateful for the unconditional love and support she has consistently given me and continues to give me. I would not be who I am and where I am without her.
BHM is a time for bringing awareness
To things such as lack of opportunity, microaggressions, inequality, and discrimination. In the UK specifically Black people are:
9 times more likely to face stop and searches from police
5 times more likely to have police use force against them
Twice more likely to be detained by police under the mental health act
Twice more likely to die either during or immediately after having contact with police including apparent suicides following police custody, police shootings, and road traffic accidents involving police vehicles
Black women are 4 times more likely (than white women) to die in pregnancy or childbirth.
Those are facts. In light of that I want to acknowledge, a few names who have died at the hands of police in the UK:
Joy Gardner - aged 40
Roger Sylvester - aged 30
Sheku Bayoh - aged 32
Leon Briggs - aged 39
Sean Rigg - aged 40
Ricky Bishop - aged 25
Mark Duggan - aged 29
Finally for me it’s a time for a renewed commitment
I believe in humankind and I’m very hopeful that we will eventually unite as one, merge as one and identify as one human race. Till then we each can play a part in making the world a better place.