What is the meaning of Black History Month (BHM)? Why all the events, and why is it important for me to write a blog about my migration journey?
I am a first generation migrant, who moved to the UK from Nigeria for my academic development in 2008, with a grand plan of completing an MBA and Accountancy (ACCA) certification before ‘moseying’ off to ‘live the life’ on one of the Caribbean Islands. Fast forward to 2019, I have accomplished all my academic development goals, but the Caribbean dream is still a dream.
Colleagues know me as Austin – rather than Augustine, which is actually my middle name. Without a doubt, most people will struggle with my first name which is Oyiyole - Okanugeche - Alo - Pelanu - Ole, shortened to Oyiyole. Let's leave the meaning – and the competition to pronounce my name correctly – to ‘get-to-know-you’ coffee/tea meetings or small talk when our paths cross as I promote my transformation agenda under the badges of Project Delivery and Policy, across Whitehall.
BHM for me personifies the vision of the great Akyaaba Addai Sebo (founder of BHM UK) of connecting with my roots, celebrating African and Caribbean culture, and sharing our knowledge, ways of life, entertainment and food across an ever-widening platform in a multicultural UK. During this month, it is normal to take stock. However, BHM should not be treated merely as the month where we roll out our stalls, pay tributes, and then get back to business as usual, without doing our best to address the issues of inequalities faced by colleagues from African, Caribbean and minority backgrounds in the workplace and everyday life.
"Time to act"
You may be conversant with the Race Disparity Audit report and some of its insights on inequality. And there are a multitude of reports on inequality. The McGregor-Smith Race in the Workplace Review concluded with the words, “The time for talking is over, now is the time to act.” According to the report, if the Black, and Ethnic Minority talent were fully utilised, the UK economy could receive a £24 billion boost.
At the Cabinet Office Race Equality (CORE) Group, we have a vision of helping the department use its diverse talent to the full and become a truly diverse place to work – as diverse as the population it represents, including across higher grades. To that end, we celebrate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) colleagues working with CORE to design and implement a policy of diverse by default interview panels for all SCS recruitment campaigns, which was mandated across the Civil Service in April this year.
However, there is a lot more to be done if we are to shift the dial and improve representation of ethnic minority colleagues across higher grades. For example, downstream, what more could be done to change the status quo? We all have a role to play, either as intrinsic owners of the problem/solution, allies and corporate owners.
Now let's go back to my migration journey.
I arrived in the UK in February 2008, on a first class flight, having been upgraded, and was given a pink slip which meant I did not have to go through a long queue and experience the 'ordeal by a thousand questions' immigrant students go through. I learned my first slang - 'are you having a laugh!' when the immigration officer tried to pronounce my first name. Now, 11 years later, I am married with two kids (Jasmine and Leo) – still no Caribbean destination!
However, I have benefited immensely from my adopted country and my migration journey. I have completed my planned academic studies and doing some more. I have broadened and enriched my career with over a decade of awesome experience. Four years at the Cabinet Office has afforded me a front-row seat for some of the most profound socio-economic-political developments in the UK’s recent history.
What next? Seriously, I still want to move to the Caribbean or East Africa, to pursue my passion for international development. The plan is for an Entonu Exit in 2023/24.
Although my wife is Polish/British, I am Nigerian/British, and Jasmine and Leo are Polish/Nigerian/British, the UK will always be our home. So, as citizens of the world, our journey as migrants is about the experience, rather than the destination. Indeed, I hope my migration journey to the UK has been as beneficial to the UK as it has been for me – and that you have enjoyed my blog. Reach out - let's have a 'chinwag', not a 'natter'. I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy the experience of the BHM, but let’s cherish each other on this journey of life. By the way, at which generation do we stop counting? First, second, third or fourth generation migrants?
Comment by Benjamin Kermah posted on
'To thine own self be true'. There is no need to change your identity to please anyone. Just be yourself. 'Know thyself'.
Comment by Oludade Alade posted on
Thanks for sharing your story Austin, I find the blog funny and inspirational in equal measure. Baroness McGregor-Smith's quote, "The time for talking is over, now is the time to act.” always resonate with me.
We acknowledge that the Civil Service continues to make progress in advancing race equality ( we are all part of the success story) but it still has some way to go.
Keep playing your part championing the race agenda and never stop speaking truth to power.
Comment by Louisa Joseph posted on
Loved your blog Oyiyole Augustine ? hearing about your journey . I think to many you are an example of what it is to be a successful BAME leader and it would be great to interview you. Thank you for sharing
Comment by Sarah Mitchell posted on
Very interesting Blog Oyiyole, the big smile on your face says it all.
Comment by Bernadette Thompson posted on
Really interesting blog Augustine, showcasing multiculturalism and the utmost importance of fostering a culture of inclusion and a sense of belonging. Thanks for sharing.
Comment by John Murray posted on
Your final question "when do we stop counting" is an interesting one. In America, the answer seems to be never. Hopefully it's different here.
Technically, I'm a second generation migrant, my dad having come here from Jamaica in 1944 and then again in 1953, this time to stay. My mum came from Ireland in 1959. As a child in the 60's and 70's, I was asked, pretty much on a daily basis: "So where are you from?" (I could have answered Essex, but I knew that's not what they wanted to know).
As a rule, people don't ask anymore, at least not by way of a conversation starter. I'm still second generation, so it's not that we now stop counting at second generation, but the idea that I can be classed as British, despite the way I look, is no longer ridiculous to most people. It helps to have people like Dina Asher-Smith happily and unconsciously draping themselves in the union flag.
Comment by Ruel Cole posted on
Hello John Murray,
Without Prejudice and for the records,
Your dad was born under the British Empire flag in Jamaica, and that makes him British. We are being program to consider yourselves to be migrants by those who do not want us to be classed as British because we are not white. If we step back and think about this we are classes as being British when we are needed in time of war to be put on the front line and in sport when we are winning medals.