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Civil Service

Black History Month – unfinished business

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: A great place to work, Diversity and inclusion
Rob Neil and Paul Downer, pictured together in the 1990s
Rob Neil and Paul Downer, pictured together in the 1990s

Rob Neil, Department for Education, and Paul Downer, Government Digital Service, both started their respective journeys as civil servants 36 years ago, when there were no networked computers, no mobile phones and no Black History Month in the workplace. Three and a half decades later, we have all of those, two of which are accepted as business-critical to the way we work. 

This blog, in the form of a Q&A, is a personal exploration of Black History Month by Rob and Paul. They have forged a loving friendship and work together as allies across all aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion, as part of who they are and what they believe in. They explain why Black History Month exists, who it’s for, and what we should be doing.

Why does Black History Month exist?

Rob Neil (RN) 

It’s a celebration of lesser known facts. It is an opportunity to highlight the contribution of people from the African diaspora and a platform to openly wrestle with the exciting challenges we face and, at the same time, embrace an increasingly diverse Britain which has a legacy of Black presence.

Paul Downer (PD) 

There is a need to celebrate, to remember, to focus on the successes as well as the challenges faced by those who created and built the country that I love. The Windrush Generation, Notting Hill Carnival and undoubtedly what comes with all of that; music, literature, arts, food, film, sporting achievements and community. 

We will always have unfinished business if Black History Month is regarded as a one-month-only event.

What place do White people have in Black History Month?


We stand alongside, we walk in support of, we acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of giants. We come from a long tradition of struggle that includes people of all races, genders and those of a different sexual orientation, all focused on achieving justice. As a White person, I do not see my role as leading the struggle for racial justice, but rather in standing, sitting, indeed marching alongside those who have first-hand experience of racial injustice.


As colleagues in the workplace and friends beyond the workplace, all supporters of Black History Month can help to ensure that a true and meaningful exchange of culture takes place. We are all capable of being the change we wish to see and by working together we can. 

We will always have unfinished business if White people decide not to participate in Black History Month because they think it’s only for Black people.

What’s next for Black History Month?


Lest I am charged with Whitesplaining, I am bound to say that this question is best answered by any of my Black friends. What I will say is that we need to be aware of the positive role that we can play as White people. We can own our privilege, talk about the uncomfortable and be brave.


More exciting and colourful revelations, a greater and deeper exchange of cultures and a richer exchange of what makes us so diverse. I think we are already starting to move beyond a single month and I want to see more activities in schools. 

As part of their "unfinished business", Rob and Paul will be sharing further reflections on Black History Month and their respective careers next month, at an office somewhere in London. And, yep, that’s beyond October!

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  1. Comment by Jo Greenlees posted on

    Thanks guys, this blog has really got me thinking about what and how we can celebrate diversity all year, what steps can we can each make.

  2. Comment by Kenny Chigbo posted on

    Great post. Love the old school pic!

  3. Comment by Emma posted on

    Thank you for confirming that BHM is for everyone!

  4. Comment by Melissa posted on

    I really loved this. The end of Black History month does always feel like unfinished business, so love the view of taking this beyond October, carrying on the conversations and integrating all into this celebration.

  5. Comment by Sean Davin posted on

    Like National Inclusion week -BHM provides opportunity to raise our consciousness , to learn, celebrate and remember but it goes beyond a date (s) on a calendar. Great blog and so young fellas- PD has a good barnet too-like my own Paul that's history bruv!
    Much love to you both

  6. Comment by Nas posted on

    There have been some brilliant events taking place across CS for BHM. Thank you to everyone who was involved. Rob keep doing what your doing lets not stop we need to carry on and continue. You inspire many of us and we love hearing you speak from the heart the truth but we’ve got a long way to go yet to change the culture.

  7. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Rob and Paul for sharing with us your reflections. It is great to have these views from the difference perspectives.

    As a BAME Office who has been a Civil Servant for a number of years, I have been encouraged with the change in mindset and behaviour with regarding to Race Equality.

    However, the recent incidents that have taken place in the football space have shown that there is still much work that needs to be done and the importance of all of us coming together and having this conversation.

    This also applies to the LGBT+ community, who have recently experienced discrimination!

    However for now, I join you and other colleagues in celebrating what has been achieved to date!

    • Replies to Gavin Thomas>

      Comment by pauldowner posted on


      Thank you for this , i think we should celebrate , but doing so that the struggle continues. You are so right to highlight what has gone on in football recently , but also there is so much more to be done in our very own Civil Service. We need to remain the eyes and ears of the department and to support all of those who seek to challenge and call to account injustice and inequality.

  8. Comment by pauldowner posted on

    Thanks Cherron 🙂

  9. Comment by Catherine Ahorituwere posted on

    Such an open, honest and beautiful blend of perspectives from both shades of colour. Love the pic, and by the way, Paul you haven't changed much, but for the full mop of hair?

  10. Comment by Cherron ? posted on

    Wonderful blog. Let this blog inspire similar conversations beyond the 31st October. #makingworkbetter

  11. Comment by Jessica posted on

    I really got so much from this. More please and soon!

  12. Comment by Bernadette Thompson posted on

    Fantastic blog gentlemen - I like the different perspectives and more importantly the picture!!

    We learn from the past the present is our gift, the future is our motivation