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Black History Month - students, staff and alumni share stories of the influential Black people who have inspired them

Posted Friday 16 October 2020

Black History Month - students, staff and alumni share stories of the influential Black people who have inspired them

Throughout Black History Month, Kingston University is highlighting some of the inspirational Black figures and role models that have had an impact on members of our community.

Here, students, staff and alumni from across the University tell us about the people they have been inspired by, as well as sharing what Black History Month means to them. Find out more about how Kingston University is celebrating Black History Month, including upcoming events organised by the University and the Union of Kingston Students.

Social work graduate Rochelle Watson.Social work graduate Rochelle Watson.Rochelle Watson, Working with Children and Young People: Social Pedagogy BA(Hons) graduate 

I view Black history as a mark of excellence, resilience and creativity irrespective of experiencing racial inequality, oppression and misrepresenting narratives which may sometimes try to overshadow our history of greatness. I remember recently talking to a close friend this year about the things some young Black mothers experience and she brought me a book by Candice Brathwaite, a British Black female author, called I Am Not Your Baby Mother.

This book eloquently described the day-to-day microaggressions and intersection between race, gender and class Black British mothers experience. I felt so relieved Candice Brathwaite has been able to start a dialogue and raise awareness about the complexities of identity and motherhood. I have been inspired to use my platform, successes and disappointments to help others feel validated and motivated to achieve their full potential and participate fully in society. 

STEM outreach officer Chere Reade-Edwards.STEM outreach officer Chere Reade-Edwards.Chère Reade-Edwards, STEM outreach officer

Black History Month is an opportunity to raise awareness of the lives of many remarkable people who went uncelebrated and unappreciated due to the melanin content of their skin. Their contributions, sacrifices and discoveries helped build and defend this country and continue to do so during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite BAME groups having been identified as at higher risk. My wish is that one day there will be no need for a separate month to celebrate Black history as it will be a rightfully recognised part of history.

Due to recent efforts, the British-Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole has become a much better-known figure. I can relate to her story as I am also not British born and my grandmother and some of my great aunts were nurses during colonial times in the Caribbean. Seacole inspires me as she is an excellent example of the importance of doing the honourable thing, even when you are aware that you may never be recognised or receive credit for your work and endeavours.

Economics graduate Reggie Nelson.Economics graduate Reggie Nelson.Reggie Nelson, Economics BSc(Hons) graduate

Black History Month for me is a time to step back and remember the paragons and trailblazers that did all they did, so I can now do what I do. For me, it is a time for reflection, celebration and inspiration.

Lord Michael Hastings is someone who inspires me greatly. He is someone that embodies the gift of giving back, and creating tangible opportunities for under-represented communities.

He has managed to pave an illustrious career for himself, but what inspires me most about Lord Hastings is how he has dedicated his life to building a community for young Black men to thrive. He has done this by creating morning breakfast meetings where he hosts groups of more than 80 people in his home and by visiting those incarcerated, to help them establish a different and better life.

Senior lecturer Judith Francois.Senior lecturer Judith Francois.

Judith Francois, senior lecturer in clinical leadership and management

Dame Elizabeth Anionwu set up the first sickle cell and thalassaemia screening and counselling service in the UK, and was also the first sickle cell nurse specialist. I admire her drive to overcome the helplessness she felt in not being able to support families whose children were experiencing pain and to translate this by addressing this unequal treatment and raising the profile of these conditions in the NHS. It shows the power of what is possible through the actions of one person.

I worry that Black History Month is the only month of the year when the achievements of Black people are discussed. I would love to see Black achievements celebrated throughout the year, and entrepreneurs and pioneers being nourished to grow and flourish. 

Diran AdebayoLecturer Diran Adebayo.

Diran Adebayo, creative writing lecturer

I love the West Indies cricket team, I supported them growing up and I support them now. Not because they were the best. I was most conscious of an aesthetic feeling - the white clothes against the brown skin and maroon caps. Gordon Greenidge was my number one. He wasn't just a wonderful opening batsman, he was a great hatsmanGordon modelled a veritable parade of hats, beyond the standard sunhat or national cap. The hat frames the face, and his was sweetly cherubic.

In the summer of 1976 he scored three brilliant centuries. Gordon was always understated in his moments of happiness. If he scored a century or took a catch, he'd be more subdued than the high-fivers around him, and that sense of melancholy in him also endeared.

I'll never forget the summers of '75 and '76 as my political and racial consciousness coalesced around the West Indies and the then high-profile Non-Aligned Movement, a constellation of unheralded Black and brown nations who were leading the calls for sanctions against apartheid South Africa. The Windies felt like their correlation on the field. The best lockdown moment for me was the afternoon I turned on the TV to stumble across highlights of a famous double ton a limping Greenidge scored against England and I was reminded of his shots, his hats and Black-British interest in cricket.

Professor Audley Genus.Professor Audley Genus.Professor of Innovation and Sustainability Audley Genus, Kingston Business School

For me, Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the positive contributions that Black people have made - and are making - to society, and to tell stories of the experiences of black people that might otherwise remain concealed. Black History Month is also about the present and future -what positive actions society can and should take to bring justice and fairness to Black people.

One Black person who is a big influence on me is Alexandra Wilson, who recently was assumed to be a defendant, not the barrister, in court three times in one day. I take inspiration from the dignified and skillful way she is going about getting her story heard. However, more of a collective effort is required, as inspiring as this particular individual is. 

Marketing coordinator Roniqua Gerald.Marketing coordinator Roniqua Gerald. Roniqua Gerald, marketing coordinator, Student Recruitment and Admissions team

Black History Month is a celebration of my ancestors' wildest dreams. It's a time to celebrate the beautiful, rich vibrancy of the black diaspora. It's a moment to revisit history to show how far we have come and how much must work still needs to be done to overcome barriers in society.

The writer and presenter Afua Hirsch has been one of my inspirations. Afua has continually educated about and fought the injustices  experienced by those who are marginalised in society. She inspires me to dig deeper into my history and who I am as a black British woman and to be proud of my heritage. Her work has challenged others to unlearn racial discrimination and stereotypes and encourages all of us to engage in an uncomfortable conversation about race in Britain. 

Professor Leslie Thomas QC.Professor Leslie Thomas QC.Professor Leslie Thomas QC, Kingston University law graduate, human rights advocate and champion of equality and diversity

Black History Month is a time of celebration of who we are as Black people. A recognition that our contribution to British Society is immense and of value. We have a rich history which was seldom taught when I was at school. It is great that decades of denial of our cultural value is now being recognised. We just need to remember, that our remembering our history shouldn't be forgotten for the other eleven months of the year. But October is a time when it is showcased.

The Black British role model who inspires me is Benjamin Zephaniah - a talented poet, writer and activist. I was so impressed with him for rejecting an OBE. He wrote in The Guardian at the time: "I get angry when I hear that word 'empire'; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised. Benjamin Zephaniah OBE - no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire."

Get in touch with us to share your contributions or find out more about Black History Month at Kingston University.

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