Black History Month: a time to celebrate, as well as reflect
October sees series of events and initiatives championing Black history and culture throughout the UK
Several things might spring to mind when October comes: autumn leaves, Halloween outfits, and the end of British Summer Time. However, October is special in the UK for another reason entirely – it marks Black History Month. This is a time to promote Black culture, contemplate campaigns for racial equality, and celebrate the historical legacy of those who worked tirelessly for this cause.
Black History Month’s origins lie in the African American historian Carter G. Woodson’s launch of ‘Negro History Week’ in February 1926. Black students and staff at Ohio’s Kent State University were the first to stretch this recognition of Black culture to last the entire month of February 1970. President Gerald Ford marked Black History Month at national level six years later, establishing a trend that each subsequent US president has followed, and which has spread to other countries around the world.
In the UK, Black History Month is celebrated in October, rather than February. This first occurred in 1987, after the Ghanaian activist Akyaaba Addai-Sebo – who was working as Special Projects Coordinator at the Greater London Council – organised a plan to champion the achievements of Black people in Britain. Local authorities throughout the country began to recognise the project formally; now, a variety of events about Black history and culture take place in the UK each October.
Given the increasing importance of diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI) at corporate level, it comes as little surprise that many firms use Black History Month as an opportunity to underline the contribution of their Black employees. Some companies might support Black entrepreneurs and local business owners, provide educational programmes to their staff, and take stock of the businesses’ own pledges regarding diversity.
For example, Barclays highlighted the efforts of a number of Black employees to support their colleagues and the wider community. Separately, The Independent has launched several initiatives, including an opinion section featuring insights on Black experience from public figures such as the MP Diane Abbott and the footballer Danny Welbeck, as well as the UK Black Comms Network, ‘which exists to increase the number and seniority of Black PR and comms professionals in the UK’.
Campaigns aimed at increasing visibility and promotion for Black professionals are, sadly, all too necessary, given the obstacles Black people frequently face in the jobs market. As well as emphasising the positive contribution that Black employees make to professional life, Black History Month also serves as a reminder of the progress that still needs to be made towards a more equal future.
The theme of this year’s Black History Month in the UK is ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words’ – a challenge for companies to participate actively in the fight against institutional racism. ‘Black people are often given the double burden of experiencing racism and discrimination, and then being expected to fix it', the website statement reads. ‘Hopefully, by making the theme of this year’s Black History Month magazine and website Time for Change: Action Not Words, we can come together to make a change for the better.’
At Venari Partners, we understand that we have a unique opportunity to address all forms of inequality. Everyone deserves an equal chance to succeed in their chosen profession. This is a mission to which we subscribe passionately, and that we bring to all facets of our work, our company, and our culture; we can inspire our industry to be better.