Black History Month: Why is it important?
Hello my name is Julie
Mainstream history is often not comprehensive and that is why initiatives such as Black History Month are vital. It illuminates forgotten heroes or “whitewashed” events of our shared past. Raising awareness of these rich stories plants healthy seeds which can have a lasting impact both inside and outside of Black Culture. Black history is abundant and relevant all year!
The UK Black History Month was started in 1987 by Mr Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a Ghanaian political refugee. He was able, as part of his role as a special project coordinator for Greater London Council, to start this annual celebration of the achievements and contributions to World Civilisation of Africa, African people and the diaspora.
I am a first generation immigrant of Ghanaian parents and I grew up near Hull. My father was enticed to switch his studies from Medicine in Accra to Dentistry in Manchester in the 70s, to address a shortage of dentists at the time within the NHS. It is because of this decision my family are here. I proudly straddle two cultures- that of my heritage and my birth, and identify as a British Ghanaian.
Black British culture and business is something my sister and I promote daily on our Instagram page @afro_leads. It is through this endeavour that I have become aware of many of the following inspirational people:
- Mary Seacole (1805 -1881) – This magnificent woman of Jamaican and Scottish heritage self-funded her own passage in 1866 to be part of the war effort during the Crimean War and set up her “British Hotel” to care of wounded military personnel. Such was her care and compassion that she became known as “Mother Seacole”.
- Dr Harold Moody (1882 -1947) – A Jamaican physician whom immigrated to the UK to study medicine in 1904. Despite finishing top of his class in 1910, racial prejudices prevented his employment, so he set up his own practice in Peckham in London in 1913. He founded the “League of Coloured Peoples” in 1931 to fight racial injustice and obtain civil rights for all. This league was able to achieve amongst other things, the overturning of the discriminatory Special Restriction Order (or Coloured Seamen’s Act) of 1925. Many Black and Asian British Nationals whom had no proof of identity had been made redundant as a direct result of this act being in place (sounds familiar doesn’t it- history sadly does seem to repeat itself!).
- Daphne Steele – a nurse whom migrated from British Guyana in 1951. Despite racism both within the workplace from colleagues and from patients she worked her way up and became Britain’s first Black Matron in 1964 when she was appointed at St Winifred’s Hospital in Ilkley.
- Miss Samantha Tross – became Britain’s first Black female Orthopaedic Consultant Surgeon in 2005. She was born in Guyana. Oh to have been aware of her accomplishment as I was completing medical school- a powerful, shining example!
- Doctor Martin Griffiths – a Consultant Trauma Surgeon and the NHS’s first Clinical Director for Violence Reduction. He has been instrumental in setting up a scheme which provides support to patients injured via gang-related violence. This intervention has led to the number of people returning with further injuries to fall from 45% to less than 1% in six years- incredible!
- Dr Omon Imohi – multi-award winning GP, transformational speaker, life coach, founder of Black Women in Health, author and recently elected RCGP Council Member. An incredible force, truly elevating and is improving representation in Primary Care Leadership.
- Malone Mukwende – this now third year medical student at St George’s University, developed a guide I have been lamenting the lack of since I started my medical career in 2001. The difference between him and I? Malone has done something about it and produced a handbook which illustrates clinical signs of various conditions in black and brown skin! His efforts to “decolonise the curriculum” will benefit himself, other clinicians and most importantly patients.
- Dr Leanne Armitage – now a foundation doctor who started The Armitage Foundation as a medical student to practically and positively inspire young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnic groups to study medicine. She was awarded the Queen’s Young Leader award in 2018.
- Dr Ola Brown - a British Nigerian and the founder and CEO of Flying Doctors Nigeria, West Africa’s first indigenous air ambulance service, which was established in 2007.
- Dame Elizabeth Anionwu DBE – Professor of Nursing and founder of the first sickle cell and thalassemia counselling centre in the UK.
- Professor Jacqueline Dunckley-Bent OBE - Head of Maternity at NHS England, also part of the maternity team which delivered Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
- Mrs Lynette Richards-Lorde - the UK’s first Black Director of Nursing. Knowledge of these heroes within healthcare makes my presence in it relevant; I can relate to them and am uplifted. I know I am also a part of this history. My being in my role will further “normalise” having Black doctors for people inside and outside of the culture. The more inclusive our profession becomes at ALL levels, the better represented and served our practice populations will be.
Happy Black History Month.