Over the past few years I have comfortably written blogs about what is happening in the flexible working arena and the Civil Service Job Share Finder site, for which I am the Product Manager.
But this time I am writing about something far more personal…
At Civil Service Live 2019 in London, I delivered a session called ‘A Civil Service Life of Brian’. I explained how my parents’ West Indian cultural values – as I was growing up in East London (modesty forbids me to mention the era, but suffice to say punk and funk music was gaining popularity at the time!) – shaped me to become the civil servant I am today.
The presentation was intended to be humorous, with a nod to classic Monty-Python-style comedy (of which I am a big fan). However, as I put it together, the content evolved to become less funny and more thought-provoking, as I started to reflect on what I had learnt from my parents.
I spoke about how hard my parents – who were part of the Windrush generation – had worked, often in poor conditions. My father worked at the Ford Dagenham Plant Foundry for over 25 years in a dangerous environment, surrounded by searing heat, while my mother worked as a seamstress and dressmaker in East London’s Brick Lane sweatshops for a similar length of time.
But there is so much more to be said about my parents. I explained that my father was outgoing and gregarious, and very much the life and soul of the party. He believed that you should live well today and immerse yourself fully in your work. For her part, my mother loved making clothes for family and friends, taking great pleasure in the intricacies of pattern cutting, dress fitting, sewing by machine and hand-finishing garments. She is also very studious, studying the Bible, reading novels, or working through puzzle books. She firmly believes that one should study hard and achieve qualifications to allow you opportunities for a better future.
I reflected on my own career journey in the Civil Service, which began in 1996 on the frontline in Jobcentre Plus, helping job seekers find work. I subsequently worked in the Home Office and HMRC, and now work in the Cabinet Office. I had a variety of job roles, including Employer Engagement Executive, Learning Consultant, Account Manager, Career Consultant and Project Manager, before taking up my current role as a Digital Product Manager for the Civil Service Job Share Finder website and subsequently the Civil Service Careers website.
I realise now that, while I started off striving to fulfil my mother’s ‘work ethic’, over the years I started to fulfil my father’s. When I was younger, I didn’t think I’d grow up to be anything like my parents. But here I am, a few decades later, recognising that much of how I operate and conduct myself in the world I have inherited from them!
At the end of my session, I showed the 1968 music film of Ska Legend Prince Buster performing his hit single ‘Enjoy Yourself’, which aptly encapsulates the key themes of my presentation, while giving a flavour of how my parents used to ‘Enjoy Themselves’! You can view the video here.
So, in summary, what does Black History Month mean to me? It is something very personal. It is an opportunity not only to learn from and appreciate the values and teachings of famous and inspirational Black figures who have gone before us, but also of those who are much closer to us personally and professionally, whether they have passed on or are still in our lives today.
I have met many Black Civil Servants who have inspired and motivated me to make a real difference in what I do, including mentoring others. But for me, what Black History Month really boils down to is what my two greatest Black heroes - my parents - have instilled in me over the years: Resilience. Persistence. Industriousness. Celebration.
Comment by Tracy Adams posted on
Thank you Brian.
Living and working in the same areas you describe both then and today I can truly put myself in your description of times gone by.
You sound like you have amazing parents and I'm sure you let them know how important they are and were in your way of looking at the world.
Lovely read, thanks again.
Comment by Keith Wallace posted on
Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Prince Buster link - A nice touch and a reminder of the fantastic energy and influence that your parents generation brought with them.
Comment by Loretta Sealy posted on
Great Blog Brian!
Good to see you're still sharing your positivity 🙂
Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on
Thank you Brian for sharing with us your personal journey. I am sure that they are proud of what you have achieved.
As someone who is from the BAME community, I recall growing up in an environment where I experienced racial discrimination and learnt quickly that I was different to others around me.
However, rather that take this is in a negative away, I looked to use my experience in a positive way and as I grew up, I looked to overcome the challenges that I faced and enjoy the moment!
I hope that everyone had an enjoyable Black History Month!
Comment by Jack Richardson posted on
Great blog Brian - an absolute joy to read!
I’m always impressed by people who are comfortable to share their personal stories with colleagues, and you’re certainly one of those people - both in person and in print.
Thank you for sharing.