Celebrating Black History Month

It’s Black History Month, a time dedicated to commemorating the history and achievements of the black community.

President Gerald Ford officially recognised Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to:

“seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history.”

Some years later Black History Month was established in the UK in 1987 organised by a man named Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, Ghanaian born, felt there was an identity crisis among young black people in the UK. They appeared to be ashamed to be associated with African heritage.

Black History Month is now firmly established and celebrates its 33rd anniversary. Talking about its importance, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recently said:

“For countless generations people of African and Caribbean descent have been shaping our nation’s story, making a huge difference to our national and cultural life and helping to make Britain a better place to be.”

As part of Black History Month, we would like to take this opportunity to celebrate some of the amazing achievements of black women throughout history and today we want to celebrate Mary Seacole.

Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

Many of us have heard of Florence Nightingale who was a nurse during the Crimean War organising care for wounded soldiers. Many of you may not have heard of Mary Seacole who tended to British wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.

Mary Seacole was born in Jamaica and came over to England in 1854, Mary’s mother was a healer and taught Mary many of her skills using traditional Jamaican medicines.

Mary wanted to use her healing skills to support injured soldiers during the Crimean War but was told by the war office that she was not allowed. Mary, determined to help, decided to raise the money herself and travelled to Balaclava, Ukraine where she took care of British injured soldiers.

After the war, Mary returned to Britain with very little money. Soldiers wrote letters to newspapers, praising what she had done. The Times War Correspondent, Sir William H Russell, wrote of Mary in 1857:

“I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead”.

Unfortunately, after Mary died in 1881 she appeared to be lost to history for around 100 years. Nurses from the Caribbean visited her grave in London where the then local MP Lord Clive Soley promised to raise money for a statue for Mary. In 2004, Mary was voted the Greatest Black Briton and in 2016, a statue of Mary was unveiled in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital on London’s Southbank.

Unfortunately, many great black British men and women have not always been recognised and celebrated for their achievements and contributions to the British Empire. This is why so many value the opportunity to share black history during Black History Month. If you would like to learn more about Black History Month you can visit the official website.

Violence Against Women and Girls

We would also like to take the opportunity to celebrate organisations supporting women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. This includes those within the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector.

Imkaan

This is a UK-based, Black feminist organisation. They are the only national second-tier women’s organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black and minoritised women and girls.

The organisation has extensive experience of working with the complexities of domestic abuse, forced marriage and ‘honour-based’ violence.

They work at local, national, and international level, in partnership with a range of organisations, to improve policy and practice responses to Black and minoritized women and girls.

Visit the Imkaan website to learn more.

Mojatu Foundation

This organisation is based here in Nottingham. Their vision is “to transform communities by enabling them to share their authentic views and to amplify their voices.”

The foundation’s mission is to create an accessible community hub addressing social issues through campaigning and empowerment initiatives.

Campaigns have been focused around tackling Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Forced Marriage, Modern Slavery and Empowering Women and Girls. Mojatu Foundation championed for Nottingham City to declare Zero tolerance to FGM being the first within the UK to do so.

Visit the Mojatu Foundation website to learn more.

Homefinder UK

This organisation’s Revive project is a specialist relocation service for domestic abuse survivors. This found that around 60 per cent of the survivors relocated were from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

This report also found that there were numerous barriers in accessing specialist support services some of these due to racism and prejudice. They found some service uses had:

  • Limited access to translators
  • Cultural background was not considered or misunderstood
  • Religious practices and rituals not acknowledged by specialist services
  • Assumptions made based on the survivor’s age and ethnicity

Visit the Homefinder UK website to learn more.

Why are these organisations so vital?

The Independent claims campaigners warn public agencies are “culturally ignorant” and subject those escaping abuse to racism and discrimination, as well as jumping to “stereotypical judgements”.

Furthermore, The View Magazine’s ‘We are not Black we are Invisible’ report captured the voices of BAME women who have experienced domestic abuse within the criminal justice system. This report highlighted specific barriers these women face such as stigma and being ostracised within the community following a disclosure of abuse alongside a lack of accessibility to specialised services and a historical cultural lack of trust in the police.

The report further highlighted that BAME women are not fairly treated by the police due to historic and current over policing of BAME communities that is routed in institutionalised racism.

Deborah Coles from Inquest, a charity providing expertise on state related deaths, has been quoted saying: “BAME women suffer from a ‘double disadvantage.’ The distress of black women is too often disbelieved and viewed as a discipline and control problem, rather than requiring care and support. The role of race in the dehumanising treatment these women received cannot be ignored.”

This is why organisations such as Imkaan are so vital, as the organisation works to support the sustainability of the sector and to influence policy and practice to support BAME women on a grassroots level.

We have lots to learn too

Broxtowe Women’s Project (BWP) have recognised as an organisation that we also have a need to improve accessibility to services and domestic abuse support within the communities we serve.

We have recently set up an inclusive practice subcommittee, and BWP staff members and trustees are working together to improve the inclusivity of our practice. During this time, we have been looking at increasing our knowledge, whilst connecting with partner organisations to raise discussions around best practice.

One amazing project we have had the opportunity to connect with, has done a fantastic job at raising awareness of the impact of domestic abuse and sexual violence for BAME survivors, particularly during the Covid 19 pandemic.

H.O.P.E Training & Consultancy (supported by HARM Network, Dr Olumide Adisa & Sarah Wigley Associates) have been providing a platform for Black and Minority Ethnic Communities to have a discussion regarding the impact on these communities during Covid 19. BWP have had the pleasure of attending a few of these virtual discussions and they have been fantastic in terms of networking and gaining new knowledge regarding policy and practice.

We recognise as an organisation that partnership working/networking, alongside gaining further knowledge is vital to supporting us in our priorities of improving policy and action within our organisation.

Furthermore, In the spirit of celebrating and supporting women we also encourage you to check out the H.O.P.E Art Project. The project raises awareness of and celebrates black, Asian and minority ethnic women working/advocating/campaigning within the domestic abuse & sexual violence sector.

Meena Kumari the founder of H.O.P.E Training teamed up with artist and University of Central Lancashire Psychology graduate, Daisy Meredith, to create the #blackinDA #12Women #25Women digital art project. The H.O.P.E digital art project have turned the images from this project into a calendar, now available to purchase on their website.