Celebrating Black History Month

History & Origin

Black History Month is a celebration and annual commemoration of the history, achievements & contributions of Black people in US history. It was originally introduced by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. The origins of the event were initially introduced as ‘Negro History Week’; but it was later decided that it wasn’t long enough. Civil right movements & the Black power movements pushed the event to become the Black History month in 1969. Since 1976, every U.S President has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

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Bringing Black History Month to the UK

A visit to America from Ghanaian-born Akyaaba Addai Sebo was enough to found a UK’s version of Black History Month in 1987. Akyaaba chose October to celebrate Black History month (in contrast to Americans celebrating in February). He did so to since  as a way to connect to his roots, since October was traditionally when African Chiefs & leaders gathered to settle their differences.

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In addition to this, October also aligns with the start of the academic year. Many have thought that the decision for Akyaaba was to also give black children a sense of pride and identity.

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Celebrating black British culture and identity

Black culture has contributed significantly to British history, its influence can be traced back to c.125 – 300. Black History Month gives us an opportunity to salute those who have made considerable contributions to the development of our society but who often go without the recognition they deserve. We aim to celebrate black British culture by highlighting some of these hidden stories and by giving a nod to our understated heroes.

We would like to lead this initiative with, John Edmonstone, a Taxidermist who taught students, including the likes of Charles Darwin, at Edinburgh University in the 19th century. Edmonton was born into slavery in Guyana and later travelled to Britain where he gained his freedom and qualified as a Taxidermist. John Edmonton’s accounts of his homeland is thought to have inspired Darwin’s exploration of the tropics. Darwin’s travels across the Galapagos islands allowed him to discover the 12 distinct species of Finches that are differentiated by their beaks. This ultimately led to the development of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Thus his input should not be omitted from our history.

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Trailblazers of today

In this issue, we wanted to highlight the efforts of people who currently support and contribute to the black community. It’s an inclusive look at people who are making a difference within our generation.

Recognising current achievements and celebrating those who have broken barriers and forged a way for those behind them 

‘The Receipts Podcast’ is a light-hearted British podcast headed by three women of colour, Tolly Shoneye, Audrey Indome and Milena Sanchez. The podcast launched on the Apple Podcast and the Soundcloud in October 2016 and has seen success through its rising popularity (topped the Apple Podcast chart in 2018). The ladies of the podcast are known for their frank and honest dialogue where they tackle issues such as Colourism in the workplace, cultural appropriation and topics of a lighter nature, such as ‘how to deal with first dates’.

The accelerated uptake of the podcast by the public demonstrates the extent to which conversations within the black community are equally as engaging as those that take place in mainstream media and broadcasting. Representation within the Arts industry is extremely important today, particularly across media platforms.Telling the stories of people of colour as well as sharing their perspectives in this way ensures that the media we consume and interact with is relatable and diverse. The Receipts Podcast exemplifies a group of trailblazers who have taken the initiative to tap into a once closed space by capitalising on the booming podcast industry, providing an assurance that the voices of black women are heard and their opinions are valid. Ultimately serving the black community and the wider British community alike by providing representation and diverse perspectives.

The Receipts can also boast of its success through its recent exclusivity contract with Spotify in June 2019, their partnerships with name brands such as MAC Cosmetics and collaborations with celebrities including Regina King and Boderick Hunter.

Check them out here

Rising stars

Shining a light on upcoming game changers who are making large strides in their respective fields. 

Timothy Armoo is a graduate from the University of Warwick and co-founder and CEO of Fanbytes. Fanbytes is a creative marketing agency that supports brands in advertising to Gen Z and Millenials on social media. The enterprise has allowed brands to partner with Snapchat to reach their audiences directly resulting in a 93% ad-completion rate – outperforming traditional ads by 4:1.The agency is founded on the principle of non-disruptive forms of advertising, infusing advertising with entertainment to drive emotional engagement: Advertainment. Fanbytes has helped brands such as Apple Music, Boohoo and Deliveroo. 

I wanted to build a new advertising offering for the 21st century that would help brands collaborate with online stars and personalities. 

Timothy Armoo, Interview with The Telegraph – 14/11/2016

Timothy Armoo built the start-up as a student in 2015 and is a great example of how we can be successful in changing times, such as the rampant digital revolution that we are currently experiencing. Armoo is cognisant of the inversion brought to social interactions by the surge of social media and demonstrates his creativity and innovation through a model of effective solutioning and problem solving when faced with such changing circumstances as those brought on by the digital age.

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Making an impact

Stormzy Cambridge Scholarship Programme

Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr., known professionally as Stormzy, is a British rapper and singer. In 2014, he garnered attention on the UK underground music scene through his Wicked Skengman series of freestyles over classic grime beats.

Stormzy started a scholarship programme to help black students read at the University of Cambridge. The University of Cambridge has long been revered as one of the best institutes of learning in the UK & worldwide. The aim of the scholarship is to assist black youths to attend the university without fiscal worry. Stormzy initially founded the scholarship programme to combat a longstanding underrepresentation of black students in the UK’s best Universities. Despite a more proportional spread of academic results in secondary schools and sixth forms, there has bit little to no change in uptake of black students in the UK’s top school. Stormzy initiated the Stormzy Scholarship programme to close this gap and offer more University places to black students.

University of Cambridge’s Outline of the scholarship

The scholarships, which are non-repayable, will cover the full cost of tuition fees and provide a maintenance grant which will significantly reduce the need for awardees to take out government or commercial loans. This support will be available to recipients for up to four years of undergraduate study. For 2019-20 the total award to each student for the year will be worth £18,000. Receipt of this award will not affect eligibility for a Cambridge Bursary.

A statement from Stormzy says everything

 There are so many young black kids all over the country who have the level of academic excellence to study at a university such as Cambridge – however we are still under represented at leading universities. We, as a minority, have so many examples of black students who have excelled at every level of education throughout the years. I hope this scholarship serves as a small reminder that if young black students wish to study at one of the best universities in the world, then the opportunity is yours for the taking – and if funding is one of the barriers, then we can work towards breaking that barrier down.

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Sopra Steria’s Race, Religion and Belief Network

Sopra Steria has introduced a Race, Religion and Belief Network! The Network was launched this October and we had our first meeting to establish and introduce the chair of the Network, Mo Ahmed, & the networks purpose in general. The Race, Religion and Belief Network has introduced a community for people to connect with other members of the business across the UK. The Network is a place for people of all beliefs and backgrounds to collaborate and work together to make Sopra Steria a more inclusive place to work.

We have our first event coming up in celebration of Black History month! We’re having a networking and mixer in London. There will be speakers who talk on topics on the theme of Black History Month & an introduction talk from the chair of the Race, Religion and Belief network as well.

An invite will be sent to all members of the Race & Religion network prior to the event. Being part of the Race & Religion Network is not required to attend the event; but we would like to have you. If you want to join, send an email to inclusion.uk@soprasteria.com.

The first event for the Race & Religion network will take place on 29th October in the Holborn office (1&2 Hatton Garden). We’ll have the Chair Mo Ahmed say some words alongside a few other speakers. We’d love to see you there or hopefully organise any other events in the office as well. If you have any questions or queries, please forward them to the inclusion.uk@soprasteria.com.

Co-authored by Ali-Hamzah Ahmed and Naomi Kilonda