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What does Black History Month mean at The King’s Fund?

Last year at The King’s Fund we did not celebrate Black History Month. At all. October was silent.

We have a vibrant, thriving, active Black Staff Network whose members had for many years shouldered the burden of planning and facilitating zero-spend Black History Month events in isolation for what felt like minimal payoff. In the meetings leading up to Black History Month I could hear the collective exhaustion of the group in discussions. The frustration of giving to an organisation that didn’t seem to be giving anything back to us while we continued to experience racism ourselves, felt almost tangible.

Tired, disappointed, and angry, we started wondering what would happen if we just celebrated together privately on our own and didn’t step forward to do the work on behalf of the organisation. So, we did nothing and waited with anticipation.

Nothing happened. Oh no wait – a decision was made to recycle prior year events and resources and share them internally. That was it.

'This year’s Black History Month theme – ‘Time for change: Action, Not Words’ resonates particularly. It’s what we’ve been saying, all this time, to anyone who would listen.'

Stepping back had felt like such a powerful move at the time, but months later I came to realise that most colleagues, including several in key leadership roles, had not noticed the lack of activity across the month and the absence of Black staff from any celebrations. In fact, no one even asked why we stepped back as a collective until six months later.

This made it clear that it was time for change here at the Fund. This year’s Black History Month theme – ‘Time for change: Action, Not Words’ resonates particularly. It’s what we’ve been saying, all this time, to anyone who would listen.

Celebrations of Black History Month feel performative when October is the only month where Black staff are given a voice, given opportunities, and where the experiences of Black staff at work are put in the spotlight. When Black History Month is a tick box exercise in that way, it forces Black staff to participate in a charade that they know won’t move the dial and results in a range of deep emotions associated with feeling inauthentic.

Things feel different this year. In the very best way, I am pleased to say that The King’s Fund I joined is not The King’s Fund I work at today. Conversations about race are happening more openly with more willingness to listen and understand at all levels of the organisation. Over the next few months, all team members at the Fund will attend anti-racism training as part of our commitment to becoming an anti-racist organisation. People are more willing to speak up and challenge discrimination at work. The role of race and racism in health inequalities features strongly in our work. We have a Board Champion for diversity and inclusion. And recently, right here at the Fund we launched the Open Wounds exhibition in collaboration with Stafford Scott and the team at Tottenham Rights, to highlight the connections between health, racism and inequalities through the eyes of the Black community.

These organisational changes brought a renewed energy. This year we started planning for Black History Month in July. We were that excited!

'The true objective of Black History Month is to build a society where Black History Month is no longer needed because Black people and our history and beauty is represented and celebrated all year round.'

Black History Month may mean different things to different people within the community, but at its core, it is a time to celebrate Black history, heritage and culture, and the iconic figures who have contributed so much. It is also an opportunity to reclaim Black history and tell our own stories. It is about Black people as advocates for our communities, but it is also about shining a light on the effects of racism and discrimination, and teaching others how to step up as allies who consistently challenge discrimination and negative stereotypes and work to level the playing field and create equity. The true objective of Black History Month is to build a society where Black History Month is no longer needed because Black people and our history and beauty is represented and celebrated all year round.

It was important for us in the Black Staff Network that our agenda for the month included both celebration and education, a focus on the work to be done alongside the work we have done, acknowledgement of the sadness of some of our story with space for Black joy, and a chance to showcase our culture through food, film, music and spoken word.

We were given a budget and resources this year and we have been planning and executing our events with the help and support of a host of allies from across the organisation.

This year, Black History Month no longer feels like a ‘Black Celebration at The King’s Fund’, it’s ‘The King’s Fund celebration of Black History’ and the difference is felt.

The story doesn’t end here, however. What comes next? How will we maintain this momentum and energy? Will we manage to avoid slipping back into unhelpful patterns? These are questions that we continue to ask ourselves and we will continue to share our journey and some of the answers as we work toward inclusion for all at The King’s Fund.

Joy Warmington on anti-racism, leadership and the courage to speak out

What is anti-racism, and why is it important in the context of health and care? Jo Vigor sits down with Joy Warmington in our podcast episode.

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