As a member of the African-Caribbean community here in Leicester I find it uplifting, encouraging and inspiring each October when in the UK we celebrate Black History Month.
Last year I have the pleasure of presenting a radio programme throughout the month of October, where I spoke to local artists, musicians, activists, presenters and many others from the cultural and community sectors about their work, history, and passion. This year I have been asked to speak at a number of events throughout the month. In addition, I now host my own regular radio programme with allows me a further opportunity to celebrate on air and via the miracle of the internet.
This is an important month for people of colour. We had a great opportunity to publicly and openly recognise the huge contribution our people have made to music, drama, art, business and the whole cultural makeup of Britain, especially at a time when race and equality issues are so high on the public arena.
In truth, I would say that there is nowhere in the UK today that has not been influenced by people from the Caribbean and other people of colour.
The Ready for Business: The Contribution of black businesses to London report published in February 2005 stated that ‘black businesses play an integral and growing role in London’s business community. They have a total turnover of almost £4.5 billion and provide around 70,000 jobs. This does not include black businesses across the rest of the UK.
Yes, I would accept that this was some years ago now, but I still think this is a valid point to consider in the face of the perception that some would have us believe that the black people, black business and the black community at large, have made little contribution or have only contributed to music and food.
Black History Month, was first celebrated in the UK 29 years ago in the UK in 1987 through the leadership of Ghanaian Analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. The precursor to which was the African-American History Month in the US which started in 1926.
The great thing about the internet is that information that has been airbrushed out of the public eye is more easily made available and shared. So for me, it has been a pleasure to read and learn about the many inventions that black people made, many of which are used today by everyone with unfortunately no reference to their black inventors.
Here are a few examples to wet your appetite:
- Lewis Latimer (1848 – 1928) – The Carbon Filament For the Light Bulb
- Henry Brown – Modern Fireproof Safe
- Gerald A. Lawson (1940 – 2011 – The Modern Home -Video Game Console
- Marc Hannah (1956 – Present) – 3-D Graphics Technology Used in Film
- Garratt Morgan (1877 – 1963) – The Modern Day Gas Mask
- George E. Alcorn (1949 – Present) – The Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer
- Frederick M. Jones (1892 – 1961) – Mobile Refrigeration
- Charles Richard Drew (19044 – 1950) – The Blood Bank
- Alexander Miles (1838 – 1918) – The Modern Day Elevator Design
- Ludwick Marishane (1991 – Present) – DryBath
And in case you think there are no black female inventors here is a small list:-
- Dr. Patricia Bath – Laserphaco Probe
- Betty Harris – spot test for identifying explosives in a field environment
- Mildred Kenner & Mary Davidson – the Sanitary Belt
- Sarah Breedlove, known commonly as Madam C. J. Walker – first self-made millionaire woman of any race in America. Walker made her fortune by developing and marketing a hugely successful line of beauty and hair products for black women under the company she founded, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Co.
- Sarah Goode – folding cabinet bed
- Sarah Boone – improvement to the ironing board
I’m sure there are more. My point is that there is so much to celebrate about the contributions of the black people not only here in the UK, but all across the world and it wonderful to have a month in which recognition and remembrance not only is encouraged but unashamedly promoted.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the long line of black high achievers here in the UK. In August this year, the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool opened it doors to the public with an exhibition naming history’s greatest black achievers. Another point which gave me pleasure was the list were many from right here in the UK such as Viv Anderson, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Conteh, Archbishop John Sentamu, Caryl Phillips, to name a few.
A few years back I was asked to speak at the Jubilee Awards event run by the LeicestHerDay trust in Leicester. The event celebrated the work of business women across Leicestershire. One of the points made in my speech was that ‘women are good for business’.
Any country, organisation or community that ignores the contribution made by any one of its members or people because they are of a particular gender, culture, colour, race or creed, is an organism fighting against itself and a divided house cannot stand. The loss of the gifts, talents and abilities of the one will inevitably be felt by all.
Managers and leaders running a business must be open to the believe and the truth the answer, innovation, ideas and solution needed to provide and design answer can be found in the minds and abilities of anyone, irrespective of colour or gender. If we are not in this mindset, we are really not fit to lead.
So here in closing, I would like to repeat that mantra or the point I made at the Jubilee Awards those many years ago now, adding to its projection
‘Black people are at business and good for business, black people have always and will continue to make a valid contribution across all sectors’.
Let us not only work with support and encourage black business but let us all recognise the vast and continuing contributions made black people to the economy of the UK in its many forms and not paintbrush this out of our joint history.