Coming from mixed heritage background (Afro Caribbean, Irish, Indian, English + more) and growing up in a predominantly black, inner-city area, Handsworth (B20) – I didn’t question my racial identity until around the age of 9.
This was ignited by my instant awareness of being ‘different’ when my family moved to Great Barr (B42), which at the time, was mainly a white area and where I received my first ever experience of verbal racial abuse from a neighbour.
Two years later in 1992, I encountered my first real experience of questioning my cultural identity when I left my primary school, St. Marys CofE in Handsworth, and stepped into King Edwards VI Grammar school.
As well as leaving a predominantly black primary school and entering a mostly white secondary school; I was also instantly exposed to the differences related to race and social structures. Due to this, Black History month was always an event that I looked forward to as it was an opportunity for students and parents to collectively understand more about the significant contributions black people have made to the world, as well as gaining cultural awareness.
Inequality, across all spectrums, was something that initially angered me throughout my teens after leaving school - yet it then began to inspire and motivate me to make a difference.
Over the past 20+ years, I have gone on to run community-based organisations and projects for young and disadvantaged people; contributed to the Social Housing Sector through employment and board positions; delivered 100+ workshops and programmes to a range of corporate and public sector clients on the topic of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion etc.
Throughout my journey to date, what I have realised is that the first step to making a real difference when addressing racial inequality is simply being willing to listen and learn. Black History Month gives us the opportunity to do so.
Learning more about black history gives us all the opportunity to understand the racism and inequalities that have and still do unfortunately exist in our society today…. whilst simultaneously, acknowledging the progress we have made and actively celebrating black heritage and culture!
Black History Month gives us a real opportunity to embrace this and to me, this means a great deal.
Melissa Shervington, Board Member at Black Country Housing Group