Opinion

Celebrating Black History Month

16 October 2020

Specialist Vulnerability Practitioner Dawn Marie Blake, reveals how her NHS Foundation Trust is celebrating BAME staff this October and beyond.

The aim of Black History Month is to promote knowledge of Black history, culture and heritage. It’s a time where we can come together and share positive contributions from past and present. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contributions from people of African and Caribbean descent and what’s been achieved and still being achieved. Pinkey in the United States (2008) stresses Black History Month is a great opportunity to really ‘celebrate’ African American history in a fun, engaging and intriguing way.

Black History Month has been celebrated across the UK for nearly 40 years during the month of October.  Henry (2012) argues some of the most interesting people and events of the past often get bypassed. Black History Month is a tribute to these forgotten individuals. 

Wilson (2018) emphasises that ‘history uses the past to better understand the present to inform the future by recognising: the good; to do more of it, enhance it, expand on it; and the bad – to learn from it, how not to repeat it, and how to do more of what is good moving forward.’

In the context of Black Lives Matter, the death of George Floyd and Covid-19, which has highlighted historical and current discrimination and inequalities, communities have come together in an attempt to raise awareness and narrow the gap in equalities which has been evident for too long.

As reported in this issue of Community Practitioner (Wynton, 2020), the most recent Workforce Race Equality Standard 2020 (WRES) highlighted that only 6.5% of staff at very senior manager pay band are BAME despite BAME staff making up 19.7% of NHS England’s workforce (NHS England and NHS Improvement, 2020). This is also echoed in The Colour of Power Report (Green Park, 2020). Also as reported, 63% of NHS Staff who have died from Covid-19 in the UK were from BAME backgrounds (Rajagopal et al, 2020). 

Thankfully, networks around the UK are forging more links which is positive. For instance, a BAME and Allies network has been begun to grow at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust (SCNFT), which is my place of work. The network meets virtually on a regular basis.  The network has been formed for a few years but has been more established more recently, with more staff joining from many departments within the trust and at all levels. 

The purpose of the group is to provide a forum where ideas and discussions can be shared in order to improve the experience and development of BAME staff. The group is open to anyone who identifies themselves as non-white British, white other, or identifies as having an alliance with the group.  

This is the first time SCNFT has organised events and activities to celebrate Black History Month. Throughout October, BAME staff and Allies from SCNFT are devising personal profiles to highlight inspirational Black figures that have had a positive impact on their lives – this could range from staff members within the trust to famous celebrities. 

It also invites others to take a look into the lives of group members as well as wider staff members within the Trust. This offers an understanding and awareness of personal struggles and achievements that BAME staff may have faced, while giving an insight into their favourite inspirational films poems and books. The views of a current BAME student nurse who was a previous service user within the trust has also been captured. An extract from my staff profile is below. 

The Chief Executive at SCNFT, John Somers, made reference to the celebration of Black History Month within his regular staff message. He said: ‘October is a very special month as it is Black History month. It’s a time where we can come together… It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contributions from African and Caribbean descent both across the UK and right here.’

Additional contributions of the trust to celebrate Black History Month include bringing culture and rich spices to the hospital canteen where cultural dishes from the Caribbean, such as jerk chicken and sweet potatoes, and from Africa dishes of plantain with Jollof rice; and Halal dishes such as chicken and rice or Halal vegetarian dishes; plus many more can be sampled. 

Jamaican and Nigerian Independence day has also been highlighted this year within the hospital reflecting upon the historical background and its significance that this has today. Black figures who have made a significant contribution to healthcare – from Mary Seacole to current day – are also being celebrated. 

The BAME network and Allies group have also captured Sheffield Carnival in its virtual essence sharing vibrant photographs of this colourful momentous event!

Staff also have the opportunity to log onto webinars and engage with some renowned guest speakers. It is the aim of the children’s hospital to continue to celebrate Black History Month in years to come. In fact planning is already underway.

I personally feel privileged to have been part of the planning and celebrating of Black History Month at the trust. I have had the opportunity to work alongside some amazing people who share an understanding and commitment to help make a difference and it is my desire and hope that other hospitals will follow suit, as there is much to be celebrated.

Dawn Marie Blake is a Specialist Vulnerability Practitioner (0-19 Health Visitor and School Nursing Service) at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.


Black History Month Profile 
Dawn Blake 

My parents were born in Jamaica, my grandfather is Chinese.

I was born in Great Britain.

What made you want to join the healthcare industry?
Nursing was not initially my first choice as a career. I started my career path wanting to become a professional dancer. I joined the Northern School of Contemporary dance and quite soon after I started, I knew this was not what I wanted to do.

My parents were quite strict and although I expressed from a young age that I wanted to become a dancer, my mother, who was a ward sister, stressed I could not go until I finished my A-levels – which I did. 

What do you like about working in healthcare?
I really enjoyed my time working within the acute setting. I worked on the medical wards and really got to know the children with long-term conditions. You became part of their family. I gained many skills and felt confident to move into school nursing which I thoroughly enjoy. I enjoy meeting the healthcare needs and although the families are challenging and more complex today I find the work really rewarding. The team are also really supportive.

My specialist vulnerable practitioner role involves safeguarding supervision for health visitors and school nurses within the 0-19 service. I also have the practice teacher education qualification which has enhanced my practice

What struggles have you faced?
On a personal note I am a mother with two young adults one of which (my son) has a disability which is hidden. My daughter is a student mental health nurse. I knew it would be hard but I have faced challenges and prejudices which have brought tears to my eyes, more so with my son. However with the Black Lives Matter movement and recent events I have felt compelled to try and make a difference no matter how small. I strive to be a positive role model for others.

On a professional level it really hasn’t been an easy journey and like many others I have faced obstacles and challenges along the way. If I had to describe my journey it would be like an obstacle race: you have a flat run, you might jump over the obstacle or run into it and the cycle continues. However it is my ambition to pave the way for a smooth run! It is time for a culture shift and to break this cycle

What does Black History Month mean to you?
I am filled with excitement and I feel again privileged to be part of the development of our first event within the trust. It’s a time to reflect and celebrate historical and current achievements and bring them to the forefront of the agenda. It is an opportunity to share experiences and raise awareness. I look forward to the day when Black History is truly recognised and not just and event held in one month.

Was there a Black figure that inspired you to go into healthcare? 
On a personal level I would have to say my mother. Historically, I am inspired by Mary Seacole – a pioneering nurse and heroine of the Crimean War. A Black woman of duel heritage. A woman who will have face many prejudices. She is an excellent role model. For citizenship and entrepreneurship. Know her name.

Can you tell us of any Black figures that inspire you today? 
I have several really. Martin Luther King. When faced with adversity his quote always resonates within my mind: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.’ Also Ruby Bridges – she was only 6-years-old when she became the first African American child to integrate into a white Southern elementary school.  She was escorted to school by her mother and US marshals due to violence. Ruby’s act was a milestone in the civil rights movement.  Most recent would have to be Chadwick Boseman – a great inspiration to us all. A Black super hero. He challenged producers where he was landed roles where Black people were not seen in a positive light. I admire him for his bravery, encouragement and determination to pave the way for others. His death is a great loss to many.

What would you say are your greatest achievements in health care?
Achieving my Master degree which has allowed me to broaden my skills and knowledge, and publication of my research in Community Practitioner in 2019. Being successfully selected for the SCNFT Governor’s post is a great achievement too. I really didn’t think this would happen. I still have goals that I want to achieve.

Do you have a recommend film or book which may educate inspire others?
Hidden Figures. What these ladies achieved is truly remarkable! Great film to watch. And When they see us. What these males faced is … well I’m lost for words. They show bravery and courage when faced against adversity. However they still strive today to make a difference for others.


References

Henry M. (2012) Black History: more than just a month. Rowman and Littlefield: New York.

Green Park. (2020) Colour of Power 2020. See: thecolourofpower.com (accessed 14 October 2020).

NHS England and NHS Improvement. (2020) NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard: 2019 Data Analysis Report for NHS Trusts. See: england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/wres-2019-data-report.pdf (accessed 14 October 2020).

Pinkey AD. (2008) Celebration Time: Black History Month. See: https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=celebration-time-black-history-month (accessed 14 October 2020).

Rajagopal M et al. (2020) BAME healthcare workers and Covid-19. See: gmjournal.co.uk/bame-healthcare-workers-and-covid-19
(accessed 14 October 2020).

Wilson SA. (2018) Black History Month: progress, imperfection and opportunities. See: https://journals.stfm.org/media/1416/feb2018-presidentscolumn.pdf (accessed 14 October 2020).

Wynton L. (2020) Why is it taking so long to achieve racial equality in healthcare? See: https://www.communitypractitioner.co.uk/features/2020/09/why-it-taking-so-long-achieve-racial-equality-healthcare (accessed 14 October 2020).


 

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