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Black History Month at Chambers

Chambers are championing the need for diversity and inclusion, internally and across the legal market, discover how we plan to celebrate Black History Month in October.

Published on 1 October 2021
Written by Arriela Grimes and Alhaji Kanu
Arriela Grimes
Alhaji Kanu

What is Black History Month and why is it celebrated?

Black History Month is an annual observance that commemorates the history and achievements of members of the black community. In the US – where it originated in the early 20th century – the month is also known as African-American History Month.

Carter Godwin Woodson, born in Virginia, was an American historian, author, journalist, and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Following more than four decades of ‘Negro Week', and prompted by the rise in black power and civil rights movements, the first celebration of Black History Month in the US was held at Kent State University in 1970 from 2 January until 28 February.

In 1976, US President Gerald Ford recognised Black History Month, urging members of the public to “seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history”.

Black History Month in the UK

Black History Month was first celebrated in the UK in 1987, organised by Ghanaian-born Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. After visiting the US in the ‘70s, Akyaaba went to the UK to seek refuge from political persecution in Ghana.

Though celebrated in February in the US, it is celebrated in October across the UK because African Chiefs and Leaders would meet in October to discuss their differences - the founder, Addai-Sebo, chose October to reconnect with our Africa roots. Another reason celebrations in October were planned was to align with the beginning of the academic year, so students would have a sense of pride and identity.

Black History Month in the UK is typically commemorated with various events across the country, including talks, exhibitions and concerts.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the BAME Community?

Public Health England research has found that people of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority groups had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death than compared to White British people.

One reason for this is individuals from BAME backgrounds are more likely to work in occupations with a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure. They are also more likely to use public transportation to travel to their essential work. According to The Guardian survey, they are also over-represented in key-worker roles compared to white British people.

In addition, historic racism and poorer experiences of healthcare or at work may mean that individuals in BAME groups are less likely to seek care when needed or, as NHS staff, are less likely to speak up when they have concerns about risk or PPE.

How COVID-19 affected Black History Month celebrations

For the second year running, COVID-19 has hurt how Black History Month can be celebrated across the UK. We have seen a movement towards online events to showcase the many different aspects that make Black History Month. While this is a negative as we are not able to celebrate by attending museums that showcase black art through different cultures, the emergence of online events has expanded the global reach for Black History Month, as events have become accessible through the click of a button. This has been achieved through virtual events, such as Black History Month workshops, black film screenings, online exhibitions, and panel discussions.

Chambers D&I initiatives and Black Focus Group actions

Chambers is committed to fostering and promoting an inclusive professional environment for all employees. Diversity and Inclusion is at the heart of what we do and a core value of our company culture. To promote diversity and inclusion internally and externally, we have two D&I Managers who produce awards, events and content externally and work alongside the Executive Leadership team to implement D&I policies and create an inclusive culture. To learn more about Chambers Diversity & Inclusion please visit our website here.

We have also launched an internal D&I and responsible business committee, INSPIRE, which is staffed by colleagues from across the company, with each member of the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) acting as a sponsor for nine sub-committees.

The ELT also receive quarterly inclusive leadership training to ensure we continue to be at the forefront of furthering openness and setting an example to improve diversity and inclusion. 

Working to create a more inclusive environment

In the last year, the Black Focus Group has been working on several initiatives to make Chambers a more inclusive company. The group has created a series of blog posts for our internal hub, recognising events such as National Windrush Day and Stephen Lawrence Day. The Black Focus group has also carried out an employee survey to gather data to report on the Ethnicity Pay Gap and plan positive action as necessary.

As a group, we have also signed up to the Halo Code, a campaign pledge signed by schools and businesses, that promises members of the Black community that they have the "freedom and security to wear all afro-hairstyles without restriction or judgment". Further, we are creating a microaggressions animation video to raise awareness of the issue and signpost inclusive solutions.

Creating an open space for all to come together

To raise awareness of intersectional experiences, the Black Focus Group has hosted many Digital Tea Times in collaboration with the INSPIRE Gender and LGBT+ teams, one with guest speaker Savannah Adeniyan. We are celebrating this month with two more Digital Tea Times for Black History Month.

On Thursday 21st October, the Black Focus Group will be hosting an internal panel event to celebrate Black History Month. The event will be hosted by our Black Focus Group members and will feature special guest panellists. In 2020, we were delighted to host Leslie Thomas QC and Alexandra Wilson for our celebrations. Follow us on Social Media for highlights from these events.

What Black History Month means to some of our Black Focus Group

Colleagues across Chambers share what Black History Months means to them and discuss the importance of the month.

'When I talk about black history I am filled with pride. To me, Black history month means identification and recognition in a society where African and Caribbean achievements and contributions have largely been invisible.

To know your history is the root to truly knowing yourself. Black history is an integral part of all our lives, as it represents leadership, strength, resilience, empowerment, integrity, determination and community cohesion.'

Donna LeMaitre – Payroll Manager

Photograph of Donna LeMaitre – Payroll Manager celebrating Black History Month

'It’s an occasion to specifically celebrate the rich and diverse history of those of Caribbean and African descent. We are able to positively celebrate their contributions and achievements while bringing their impacts throughout history to the forefront of people’s minds.

This time instils pride amongst ourselves and can inspire future generations, while also making our history accessible to wider groups.'

Daniella Lowe – Publishing Manager

Photograph of Daniella Lowe – Publishing Manager celebrating Black History Month

'Black History Month is a time to be proud, to reflect and acknowledge those who have successfully helped shape and pave the way for the next generations to come. I am proud to be a black woman of Caribbean heritage and I appreciate our black history which offers insights into many things: the lives, hopes, defeats, victories and recognition of our black culture.

Black History month gives everyone a chance to learn and celebrate the ways in which the black community have contributed to making the UK what it is today.'

Arriela Grimes – Senior Executive Assistant

Photograph of Arriela Grimes – Senior Executive Assistant celebrating Black History Month

'Black History Month for me is a time to reflect. A time where we look back at the achievements, progress and sacrifices of those before me have made. A time where we celebrate the rich culture that derives from our African and Caribbean ancestors. Where we take a look at how society has treated us as individuals both in a negative and a positive light.

Black History Month to me is a time to be proud of our culture through the forms of music, dance, literature, fashion and sports. Black History Month for me is how the culture is preserved for future generations to understand their history.'

Alhaji Kanu – Credit Controller

Photograph of Alhaji Kanu – Credit Controller celebrating Black History Month