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What Black History Month means to me – Dr Vivienne Connell-Hall

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Head and shoulders shot of Vivienne Connell-Hall
Vivienne Connell-Hall

What does Black History Month mean to me?  

It presents an opportunity to reach out and say to everyone willing to listen: look at what we’re doing.

We now have the highest ever percentage of civil servants from ethnic minorities, matching those economically active in the population. But, paradoxically, we still know little about less-heralded people from ethnic minorities, such as First and Second World War heroes and William Cuffay, the Black Chartist. And many are unaware of the history of the Windrush generation – of how and why we came to the UK.

Why is it important?  

Black history is the history of everyone, and if people’s understanding of history is limited, we’re all poorer in thought and knowledge. History has been presented as Swiss cheese for years, and Black History Month is an attempt to fill the holes.

What do I do?  

My day job for the past six years has been in diversity and inclusion. However, I’ve been involved in this area for most of my adult life: for example, through volunteering outside the Civil Service and for corporate activities within it, such as setting up and running ethnic minority staff networks.

I’m currently deputy co-chair of the Civil Service Race Forum (CSRF), which probably owes much to my cultural and familial inheritance. My maternal grandmother was a founding member of Marcus Garvey’s organisation, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and she served as secretary for a regional branch in her parish. The UNIA’s philosophy was that Africans had a history before slavery and that’s the message that has been passed on to my grandmother’s descendants.

What would I like to see in a year’s time?

Graphic with legend 'A great place to work'I’d like to see plans to mainstream black history in schools. It would be presented in historical and cultural contexts, with accurate representation of Caribbean families.

The Prime Minister’s announcement of a Race at Work Charter for increasing ethnic minority representation in the workplace, supports those aims, and staff networks such as the CSRF will continue to work with departments to realise those ambitions.

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  1. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Viv for a great blog. Diversity and Inclusion as a full time role.

    That is something that I would love to do. As I feel that it is a role where you can certainly make a significant difference for our future generation.

    I certainly like you idea of introducing Black History in schools. It would certainly ensure that they fully appreciate the importance of treating others with equality and respect.

  2. Comment by Rose Odudu posted on

    Great blog Viv. Inspiring to learn about the great work being carried out by people like you. Keep up the good work

  3. Comment by Carolyn Morris posted on

    Thank you for your blog. I like your idea of mainstreaming black history in schools. As someone who has recently left teaching to join the civil service, I'm very much aware that it comes down to individual schools on how much they do. In a primary school with a wide mix of ethnicities (as I worked in) we did a lot throughout the year, not just in Black History Month. Unfortunately there is still a perception that schools in areas with few BAME pupils don't need to include black history. I would argue that the opposite is true.

  4. Comment by Bernie posted on

    Great blog Viv, I cannot wait to see the impact of the Race Charter across our UK workplaces.