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Black History Month – Saluting our sisters.

We asked three of our fantastic Programme Managers, Perpetua Kamwendo, Tola Masha and Tukiya-Kaunda Mutupa what Black History month means to them and the work they do for the London NHS Violence Reduction Programme. They were asked:

  • Tell us about a bit about yourself? As a black woman how do you see your role in the LVRP and wider
  • Why is this year’s theme important to you – and why do you think it is important for young people?
  • What is your personal message for this year’s Black History month/ or what would you like your personal message be to young people/young girls – or what personal message would you give to your younger selves?

This is what they told us…

My name is Tola Masha and I have worked in the Violence Reduction Programme for over three years now. My current role is Programme Manager leading on the Violence Reduction Academy.

I am Nigerian by blood, was born in London, raised in the States and then moved back to London as an adult. I feel all of these cultures have shaped my identity as a black woman and who I am, personally and professionally. I have always been passionate about giving back to the communities that have helped shape me into who I am – being a part of this programme helps me channel my passion into tangible action with the aim of truly making a difference for those who face disparities in our communities.

Cultural competency and compassion are extremely relevant in our programmes of work and to our population groups. It’s important for diverse communities to see that there are people who look like them, have similar backgrounds and understand them through personal experience who are working at a strategic level to improve their lives.

The NHS being one of the most relied upon institutions in the country means that our roles are powerful and when done right, can be hugely impactful. This is what makes me feel empowered in my role each day. I am also grateful for the culture and trust within our team. We are supportive of personal development; we embrace individuality and prioritise health & wellbeing in all circumstances – this truly enables me to show up as I am and feel valued.

‘Saluting our sisters’ as this year’s BHM theme speaks for itself! Black women face adversity in so many aspects of life – whether it’s breaking the glass ceiling at work, having to fight for a seat at the table, having higher risk of death during childbirth – the one word that comes to mind is resilience. I have seen women in my own family epitomise that word in many different ways and it has been a true inspiration for me. I am always in awe of the way Black women rise to the occasion and challenge doubts by excelling, even pioneering, and leading the way, in many different aspects of life.

For our young people of all genders, it’s important to have examples of resilience and success despite being products of past generations of hardship. It’s important for them to be proud of who they are and where they come from, and it’s important for them to know that there are endless opportunities available to them of which they are entitled to just as much as the next person.

My personal message aligned to this year’s theme would be “Black sisters – I see you; I feel you and I stand with you. For young people, young girls in particular, I would say find out who you are – your strengths, your weaknesses, your personality traits – and embrace them. Don’t let anyone discourage you or dim your shine because you can excel in life and break the cycle. Always remember that you’re not alone.

My name is Perpetua Kamwendo and I am the Children and Young People Lead in the London Health and Justice Team and Violence Reduction Programme. I am also a mother to three ‘children and young people’, two young women and one boy.

I see my role as being that of supporting and influencing the system to view everything through a children and young people lens. The children and young people we support often experience many personal, social, and systemic challenges, some of which resonate with me as a black woman and mother. I feel that because of this I have an important role of making sure we listen to and understand the experience of the children, young people, families, and communities. It’s also important that we build trust and empower by being open and honest about the things that are not working so well and by working together to find practical solutions.

I love this year’s theme, ‘Saluting our Sisters’ because it recognises the important contribution that black women have made over the years. Black women have done so much to help bring about change and to nurture communities. When thinking of what this means for young people, I think it’s important for us to recognise the challenges that black women and girls can experience because of being overlooked, adultified or seen as not needing support because they are seen as ‘strong’ and not vulnerable. .

My personal message to young black women: Your voice and experience matters. Come as you are because it’s okay to just be you.

My name is Tukiya-Kaunda Mutupa, I am a Black programme manager in the NHS Violence Reduction Programme, an entrepreneur and charity trustee and one of my personal missions is to ensure that black women and girls are seen, heard, protected and experience Joy!

Black girls are often treated as adults, unlike their non-black peers. They’re unfairly perceived as threats to peace or objectified by adults who should safeguard their well-being. They’re told to tone down their personalities, alter their hairstyles, shop in stores that don’t cater to their needs, and watch global ad campaigns that rarely feature black women. All these factors are obstacles that black girls have to face as they grow up. Feelings of unworthiness, internalised self-hatred and shame can seep in without the reminder that although some people and structures try not to see/cater to you, you are worthy.

Across major sectors impacting health, economic progression, work, and education we see harrowing statistics in the UK. I have superficially chosen these statistics as they directly have affected my life, my family and the young people I have worked with in London.
In maternal health settings Black women are 4 times more likely to die than White women, and Asian women were 1.8 times more likely to die than White women in November 2022 (MBRACE-UK’s report).

Across Education, Black and minoritised girls are experiencing some of the highest rates of exclusion in schools across England and during the academic year 2019/2020 Black Caribbean girls were permanently excluded from school at a rate double that of White British girls (Agenda Alliance, 2021).

In entrepreneurship, over the past decade (2009-19), only 0.02% of venture capital when to Black female entrepreneurs (Sifted, 2020).

A report by Runnymede Trust found that 75% of women of colour in the UK have experienced racism at work. Across many sectors women of colour are under-represented at the highest levels missing altogether from senior roles such as Supreme Court Justices, Metro Mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners and FTSE 100 chief executives (Fawcett, 2022).

Between March 2020 and June 2021, Black women were 14% less likely to be referred to Refuge for support by police than White survivors of domestic abuse (Refuge, 2021). Also arrest rates are twice as high for Black and Mixed ethnic women, compared to White women (The Lammy Review, 2018).

It is clear across many institutions and systems Black women are hard-pressed and their ability to thrive is being attacked. As Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” I often wonder how far the world has come since Malcom X made this statement.

The hashtag #BlackJoy has been trending across social media for some time now, but for me it’s true power has only been revealed. It is usually associated with the stories of black women crafting their own narratives, redefining their stories, occupying spaces unapologetically, expressing their vulnerability, and embracing both their strength and moments of weakness. It is about the reclamation of spaces unjustly taken from us. It’s about reclaiming ownership of hair, bodies, dreams, and stories without needing validation.

Whilst reading the chapter titled ‘harnessing bliss’ in Viola Davis’s memoir “Finding Me,” the words Black Joy, Black Joy, Black Joy kept ringing in my ears. Viola Davis takes us through her story and shares the battles her, her mother and mothers mother faced, much of which was centred around racism. However, in this chapter she explores self-acceptance and realising her own worthiness of love and joy. She finally got to the place of harnessing bliss and letting in Joy. Despite the challenges that black women face across the UK and the world, we must continue to harness bliss and control our own narrative.

Saluting Our Sisters” is a proclamation that says sis, I see you. We see you, we hear you, and we will shine a light on you, so you can keep shining brighter. We will keep doing everything in our power to ensure this inequity is challenged and you thrive, your mental health thrives and that you harness bliss. Suffering is not your portion, Joy is.

If you wish to be an ally, you can support without judgment or fear, yield the platform, drive changes in your sphere of influence which lead to equity. Learn to listen to Black women and girls as they speak.

To every Black sis reading this, continue to shine and rise. You are doing well. Joy belongs to you.

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