Black History Month

Blog by Sandra Kerr OBE, Director Race for Opportunity  


Black History Month – opening debate about ethnicity and identity.  
Black History Month (BHM) is held every October in Britain and every February in USA and Canada.

The aims are to:

  • Promote knowledge of Black History, Cultural and Heritage
  • Disseminate information on positive Black contributions to British Society
  • Heighten the confidence and awareness of Black people to their cultural heritage

BHM is an opportunity to reinforce ethnicity and identity as part of the business imperative. Often, it gives all employees the ability to learn and understand different cultures and ethnicity in an open and engaging manner, as enables employees to bring their whole selves to work, and not feel held back by ethnicity or cultural differences.

Many of our members  hosted activities  throughout October to celebrate BHM:

The British Library brought together an exciting and varied events programme dedicated to BHM, from spoken word artists, to celebrations of 50 years of Jamaican Independence. The Library also announced the acquisition of the archive of the Caribbean British poet and writer, James Berry OBE. James Berry, one of the first black writers in Britain to be widely recognised for his work, came to Britain as part of the first major wave of immigrants from the Caribbean in 1948

Deloitte’s Multicultural Network (MCN) celebrated BHM by acknowledging the value of the organisations’ diverse workforce and growing international portfolio. On 22 October, the MCN hosted their flagship event – Different Shades of Success – which  explored the different dimensions of success with inspiring guest speakers from a range of sectors, including Rolake Akinkugbe (Head of Oil and Gas Research at Ecobank), Viola Ncube (Founder of iRock! UK and VP of Global Hospitality Services), Lucy Onyeforo (sprinter and paralegal at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer), Yinka Shonibare MBE (Turner Prize nominee 2004) and Tim Wilkins (corporate partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer). This was followed by drinks and Afro-Caribbean canapés, and entertainment from the Imperial College Gospel Choir and Femi Martin (spoken word).
Enterprise Rent-A-Car (ERAC) held a Leadership Forum for its top 50 Women and BAME branch managers to complement company-wide initiatives that take place throughout February to commemorate Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month in the US. ERAC aims to educate everyone in the business to be equally skilled at identifying their career goals realistically and actively pursuing them. In its commitment to diversity, the company believes in giving special focus on those employees whose backgrounds, culture or characteristics may create a context that fosters caution or doesn’t encourage self-belief. The Leadership Forum – as part of BHM – fits into this overall commitment. A two day residential conference for 50 high-flying female and BAME middle managers, it was a forum for them to focus exclusively on the leadership behaviours and personal skills they would need to take control of their career progression. In a “top to future top” format, ERAC’s senior managers were encouraged to share their own lessons about leadership that they had learnt along their own journeys. You can read some of the key themes of the day here. 
Read some of the themes at Where Women Want to Work
Hogan Lovells’ Multicultural Network celebrated BHM with a "Black Inspiration" lunchtime seminar on 22 October. The seminar included a talk from Rare Recruitment, a partner of the international law firm, who explored the barriers to professional progression faced by those from ethnic minority backgrounds. The speaker discussed her experiences of coming from a disadvantaged background and how she managed to forge a successful career.
After the talk, essay writing competition winners from the Elizabeth Garret Anderson School were invited to read out their winning essays on "Inspirational black leaders", which were judged by a panel from Hogan Lovells. The Elizabeth Garret Anderson School is a local London secondary school with whom the firm has a long established relationship through its community investment programme. The school serves an area of significant social disadvantage with over half of the children attending entitled to free school meals (the national average is 15%). The six finalists were from years 7-11.
KPMG’s African and Caribbean Network installed an art exhibition in the firm’s Salisbury Square office. throughout October, which featured a diverse range of African and Caribbean art exhibits. 
On 18 October, the Network invited colleagues and clients to celebrate BHM at a panel event held at the Canada Square office, with panellists Sonia Brown MBE, Caroline Marsh, Winston Phillips and Elizabeth Uwaifo. The panel, chaired by Marianne Fallon, KPMG’s UK Head of Corporate Affairs, discussed their achievements and what leadership identity means to them. The evening was a huge success, with more than 120 people turning up to hear the inspirational panel openly share their experiences and provide insight that resonated around the room. The evening was wrapped up with the opportunity to savour African and Caribbean cuisine.
Northern Trust held a series of BHM events throughout October, kicking off their celebration on 23 October with a historical walk across Canary Wharf led by historian Tony Warner. The tour explored the vital contributions made by black Britons in the Canary Wharf area, whilst bringing to light the influence people of African descent have had on the City of London over the centuries. More than 20 partners put on their walking shoes and trainers to attend the walk.  Jane Porter a Senior Vice President at Northern Trust, commented how much she enjoyed the walk and was very impressed with the level of historic information shared on the tour.
Wilson Leech .On  30 October, Wilson Leech, Chief Executive Officer, EMEA, introduced the grand finale of Northern Trust's BHM events, with a musical extravaganza of the history of Jamaica: ‘The JA Story' in the bank’s Ground Floor Lobby. This critically acclaimed stage musical charts the key elements in the history of Jamaica and through a combination of music, dance and story-telling; partners were taken on a journey to explore key historical elements; beginning when Christopher Columbus first set foot on the island, up until Independence Day 50 years ago, on 6 August 1962. The musical depicts how Jamaica has influenced the world with arts, culture, entertainment, sports, and much more.  A great success, more than 70 partners from a range of diverse backgrounds themselves attended the event.
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Focused Women's Network hosted a ‘Celebration of Black History Month’ on 24 October in collaboration with the National Black Women’s Network. The two networks brought together an evening of inspirational speakers including Rt Hon David Lammy and Dawn Butler, a roof raising youth performance from the Anna Fiorentini Theatre & Film School, charity fundraising – with gifts generously donated by clients – and networking. The evening, attended by 150 RBS employees, clients and external guests of BAME and white backgrounds, raised almost £1,300 for the Sickle Cell Society. The success of the evening, coupled with RBS’ recent ranking of UK Top 10 performing organisation in both Race for Opportunity and Opportunity Now benchmarks, demonstrates just how important diversity is to the core of RBS’ strategy. Chris Sullivan, Chief Executive of RBS Corporate Banking, commented: "I am delighted that the Focused Women's Network has recognized the significance of Black History Month to both our clients and employees".