What Black History Month Means To Me …
It somehow seems fitting that my first foray into the ‘blogging’ arena is an area I feel so passionately about. This year’s Black History Month theme is ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words’ highlighting that whilst it is important to look back and take note of the achievements and contributions of black people to social, political, economic and cultural developments, it is equally important to look forward.
Lisa Davis is Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Epsom & Ewell.
A Time to Reflect…
Reflecting on the past does, however, allow us to make sense of the world and there is much that is often forgotten or absent from the history of black communities; one just needs to have a read of David Olusoga’s ‘Black and British’ and Miranda Kaufmann’s ‘Black Tudors: The Untold Story’. I often reflect on how the black history I learnt about growing up in the Bahamas impacted upon me. I never really understood its effect but in becoming an adult I know it gave me perspective and an appreciation of my own racial identity that I have often drawn on, sometimes without even knowing.
It shaped the meaning of black history month for me: embodying a sense of identity and purpose, holding the power to influence and inspire. I embrace that identity when I walk into a room of senior leaders and I’m either the only ethnic minority in the room. I think of that purpose when I see the surprise from recruiters when the name ‘Lisa Davis’ on the application form is married up with my entrance to the interview. I reflect on my ability to influence when other young black men and women share with me that they don’t think they can achieve more or that they won’t be given opportunities. I consider how inspired I am by others and how that gives me hope and drive to do more.
A Time To Celebrate …
In thinking about that inspiration, there are several people that come to mind. Firstly, Sir Sidney Poitier, born to Bahamian parents who rose to become the first black actor to win an Academy Award for best actor in 1963 for his remarkable performance in ‘Lillies in the Field’. Beyond his undoubtedly brilliant acting prowess, even more impressive was his humanitarian work and his service to the people of the Bahamas, acting as Ambassador to Japan and UNESCO prior to his death.
As a qualified barrister, the legal sphere has always been a kind of home for me. So to see I. Stephanie Boyce become the first black and person of colour President of the Law Society of England & Wales last year was definitely a time to celebrate. In her presidential year plan she set out her intention to leave the legal profession more diverse and inclusive than the one she entered.
I was 12 when I read Maya Angelou’s ‘I know why the Caged Bird Sings’ which not only made me love her work, but also exposed me to James Baldwin who challenged her to write the autobiography. Baldwin was an American essayist, novelist, playwright and social critic. He became an important voice through writing passionately about racial discrimination, spirituality and humanity. He coined one of my favourite quotes: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
A Time to Change …
And so we come full circle: reflecting and celebrating is an integral part of Black History Month, but much work still needs to be done to address the barriers black communities continue to face. The data bears out a lot of the concerns.
Across all sectors of employment, income, health, education, home ownership and living standards, racial inequalities permeate. Recent data further corroborates this – Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by advocacy group Liberty found that police forces were seven times more likely to fine ethnic minorities during lockdown.
Underrepresentation at senior levels remains a significant issue, with black and other ethnic minority absences being prevalent across various professions.
Negative experiences and inequalities persist: Research commissioned by the Legal Consumer Services Panel shows how differently ethnic minorities experience access to justice; they are less satisfied with legal services they receive and with the outcome of the matter compared to white consumers. Citizens Advice has also written an exploratory research piece on discriminatory pricing.
How do we even begin to address these issues? One thing is for sure: it requires effort on each person’s part to act whether it be making systems fairer, enabling services to be more accessible, ensuring equal opportunities, implementing unconscious bias training. Or as I. Stephanie Boyce says: “It’s absolutely clear to me that there must be a shared ambition with each and every one of us playing our part”.