…celebrating Black History Month

B.E. Education, BE Informed, BE Inspire, Past Events

Chidinma Okorie

Chidinma is a Doctoral Researcher in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Loughborough University.

It is that time of the year (October in the UK) when we commemorate Black History Month (BHM) with programmes and events that promote the histories, achievements and contributions of black people, African and Caribbean communities. I am writing this blog with two hats on – one as a Doctoral Researcher at Loughborough University and the other as a member of the Black Excellence UK team. It is no wonder that on this occasion, both organisations have teamed up to celebrate this year’s BHM.

On 9th October, the School of Science and Black Excellence UK co–hosted a talk, panel discussion and poster exhibition of Black Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The panel was made up of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) achievers who shared their educational and career histories with students (mainly years 9–11) in attendance. The event was aimed at breaking preconceptions and raising the profiles of black scientists in the UK. This aligns with one of our goals at Black Excellence UK which is to inspire and motivate black people all across the UK to break whatever barriers they encounter and reach their full potential.

Following the talks from the panel, there was an opportunity for the students to ask questions, which was the highlight of the day for me. The students raised brilliant questions that stimulated inspiring responses from the panel, drawing from their personal experiences. One of such questions was: what was the biggest barrier that you have had to overcome to get to where you are now? Interestingly, there was a consensus in our responses to this question: while we may have followed different paths to get to where we are now, we all agree that the biggest barrier is – NOT the society, family, employer, colleagues, system, racial/ethnic/religious background, etc. although they may be a contributing factor, but – the mind. Regardless of what life throws at you, what matters the most is – NOT necessarily the situation but – how you choose to respond to the situation and more often than not the state of our mind can impact the choices that we make.

We established from the discussions that racism is – NOT just about skin colour (i.e being black or white), but – simply put: regarding yourself as higher than someone else in a dehumanising manner. The panel shared their personal experiences of racism and how that affected their self-esteem growing up as a BAME. Perhaps, if we lived in a more fair world where everyone regarded one another as human beings equally deserving to be treated with kindness and respect we won’t be having this conversation. Sadly, that is not the case and our key message to these young ones was simple: yes, racism is real and does exist but do not let it put a limit to what you can be and achieve. And this starts with having the mindset of a ‘limitless achiever’!

On the issue of self-esteem, I shared my little secret of how I have become the confident lady that I am today: I have a daily ritual of constantly validating myself, reminding myself that I’m beautiful, smart, confident and can achieve anything I set my mind on – my Christian faith has had a huge influence on me in this regard. And because I don’t wait on someone else to validate me, even if people do or say anything to put me down, I’ll still wake up the next day, look myself in the mirror and remind myself that ‘I can’!

We wrapped up the discussion by reminding ourselves that regardless of our racial backgrounds, we are all humans and must learn to treat one another with kindness and respect. The Christian principles of loving your ‘neighbour’ as you’d love yourself and treating others as you’d like to be treated almost seem like a cliché but now more than ever before our actions need to be guided by these principles. And this is our COLLECTIVE responsibility!

The celebration of BHM continues with the School of Social Sciences and Humanities’ discussion series on slavery, migration and colonialism, scheduled for 15th, 22nd and 29th October respectively. I have been invited to lead the migration session which aims to be interactive and showcase research on migration in commemoration of BHM. All are invited to join us! 😊

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