Earlier this week the new MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Abena Oppong-Asare opened up a debate in the House of Commons on the theme of Black History Month. Although Abena has only been an MP since the last General Election she has already had been appointed to 3 different roles within the Labour shadow Government. At the end of my reflection I have included some of the words from her speech on Tuesday which is part of the debate that she organised in conjunction with a number of her colleagues who included Dawn Butler who I met as part of the Christians on the Left. It seems important to acknowledge some of the people who we know who would fit into the Black History subject. Amongst the many people I have met who are part of the modern Black History are a number of people who have been actively involved in the local Brighton and Hove Black History Month campaign. The first person to mention is Bert Williams who I was privileged to gain his support for my attempt to get elected as the Police and Crime Commissioner. We both participated in the Voluntary sector of Brighton and Hove. Along with Bert I have met several other people in our City who have helped to promote Black History Month one of whom is someone who is a good friend called Anthony Kalume who is the deputy Chair of the Strategic Independent Advisory Group for Sussex Police that I am Chair of. Anthony is the Chair of the Diversity Lewes and is involved in the Brighton Museums, Brighton University and a number of Sussex Police advisory groups. A third person involved in the Black History Month here in Brighton is Doris Ndebele who along with Bert was involved in the Brighton and Hove Black & Minority Ethnic Community Partnership. Doris was the CEO several years ago. Another local person I have known for many years is Judy Richards who like me was involved in the University of Brighton.
At a national level most of the people I know are from Church structures which is where I have worked in the past. That said one of the highest profile people is John Sentamu who until recently was the Archbishop of York but one of my contacts with him came in Brighton when he appeared in St Peters Church to Preach to Tony Blair when I was able to read out a Prayer. John recently retired as Archbishop of York and since then there have been a number of questions regarding why he has not given a Peerage in the same way as previous Archbishops have been handed.
Along with John Sentamu I have met a number of national leaders within the Churches in the UK. One of the key people is Joel Edwards who used to lead the Evangelical Alliance and along with him were several people including Katei Kirby. In the Baptist Church one of the key leaders was Kate Coleman and in the Church of England, a key person was Arun Arora. I also had the pleasure of working with Joe Aldred who was and still is a senior leader in Churches Together in England.
Since 2010 I have been involved in a service for Brighton and Hove called the Street Pastors and my main contact was a couple called Eustace and Sharon Constance who helped us to set up the charity. Along with them I had the privilege to meet Les Issac who leads the Ascension Trust when he was involved in a meeting with Sussex Police about 7 years ago as I worked with a Senior Police Officer to help set up schemes in a number of parts of West Sussex.
So having explained about some of my Black History people, here is beginning of the speech from Abena Oppong-Asare
Black History Month is about celebrating and highlighting black heroes, such as Petronella Breinburg, one of the first black female authors in Britain to write a children’s book with a black protagonist; Dr Harold Moody, a Jamaican-born physician who emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he campaigned against racial prejudice and established the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931; Mary Prince, a British abolitionist, who was the first black woman to write an autobiography and present an anti-slavery petition; Asquith Camile Xavier, a West Indian-born Briton who ended the colour bar at British Rail in London by fighting to become the first non-white train guard at Euston station in 1966; David Pitt, the second peer of African descent to sit in the House of Lords; Dr Erinma Bell, a community peace activist, and Yomi Mambu, the first black person to hold the title of Lord Mayor in England.
But I must also mention the trailblazers who came before us in this place: Lord Boateng, Bernie Grant, Baroness Amos and, of course, my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott. Their legacy in the House can be seen throughout the Chamber today.
We celebrate all those trailblazers not just because they are black individuals, but because they are great Britons, and not just because they are great black Britons but because they are great Britons in Black History Month. We truly celebrate them, because everyone benefits from recognising the important contributions they make in laying pathways for others who look like them and follow in their footsteps. This is what this debate is about, and this is why I came into this place: to speak for those who barely get a voice in this society.
Along with these very substantial words the next paragraph was a comment that could easily be applied to a wide range of agencies that have not been able to bring people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds into leadership roles.
When we look at many aspects of society, including the jewel in our national crown, the NHS, we see that we are overly represented in the workforce, although, sadly, not at the top. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are far more likely to work in key worker roles, and those workers are more likely to be pressured to work in dangerous circumstances. In the NHS, 63% of BAME doctors reported that they had been pressured to work in wards with covid patients, compared with 32% of their white counterparts.