Black History Month: celebrating Britain's BAME heroes and heroines

24 October 2018

Following on from my colleague’s blog, Black History Month: time to celebrate but also to remember; it is my turn to share the importance of this month with you.

October is #BlackHistoryMonth in the UK. It was first celebrated in the UK 1987. For me, Black History Month is a time to celebrate, reflect and learn. It is a time to celebrate those who have made contributions to British history in fields including art, sport, law, medicine and entertainment, to name but a few. To celebrate this Black History Month, I want to shine the light on some of Britain’s BAME heroes and heroines, some of whom you may be less aware of:

  • Arthur Wharton, born in Accra Ghana to a Grenadian father and Ghanaian mother moved to England in 1882 at the age of 19. He became a sportsman and was the first black professional to play in the Football League.
  • Lilian Bader was born in 1918 in Liverpool and went on to become one of the very first black women to join the British Armed Forces.
  • Wilfred Denniston Wood KA, born in June 1936 became the first black bishop in the Church of England.
  • Frank Bailey became the first full time black fire fighter in England joining the West Ham Fire Brigade in 1955.  
  • Tuni Sowande born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1912 became the first Head of Chambers at a major set. In 1978 he became the first Black Deputy Circuit Judge.
  • Tessa Sanderson, born in 1956, became the first black British woman to win an Olympic gold medal for javelin in 1984.
  • In 1991, Patricia Scotland became the first black woman to be appointed to Queens’ Counsel in England. She was 35 years old at the time therefore also making her the youngest person at the time for over 35 years to take silk.
  • Nola Ishmael became the first black Director of Nursing in London. She was appointed OBE in 2000.
  • Linda Dobbs became the first black female High Court judge in 2004.
  • In 2007, Joan Armatrading became the first female British artist to debut at number 1 in the Billboard Blues chart and also the first ever female UK artist to be nominated for a Grammy in the blues category.
  • Paul Ince was named as the first black English manager of a Premier League football club - Blackburn Rovers in 2008.
  • In 2013, Chiwetel Ejiofor became the first black British actor to be nominated in the category of ‘Best Actor’ at the Oscars. His nomination was for his portrayal of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave.
  • Jourdann Dunn born in Brent, and raised in nearby Greenford became the first black British model to enter the Forbes models rich list in 2014.
  • Just this year, NneNne Iwuji-Eme became the first black female that the Foreign Office appointed as a high commissioner (specifically to Mozambique).

Whilst I ensure that I use this month as a positive celebration, it would be remiss of me not to highlight that we also need to focus on the progress we need to make towards racial equality in the UK, ensuring that we do not rest on our laurels. We cannot forget that there are still very real issues facing black and ethnic minorities in the UK, including the over-representation in the criminal justice system and the disparity in the workplace. I am very pleased to be in a firm where the Senior Partner’s mission is to focus on the promotion of diversity and inclusion, and I intend to do all I can to assist in this special month and beyond.

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