Acknowledging black history

October marks Black History Month in the UK – this is a time to celebrate, learn and recognise the contributions that black people have made in the nation and across the world.

Across leisure and libraries, we have been running events and speaking with different people in the black community to share their perspectives on history and identity in black culture.

Q&A with Montell Douglas, GLL Sport Foundation Athlete

Montell Douglas GSF

­­Why do you think it’s important for us to celebrate black history?

I think the reasons why it’s important for us, meaning British culture, to celebrate black history is multi-faceted.

Importantly, I think it is crucial for everyone to celebrate their culture and history whatever it is. Black history is no different, but it also serves multiple purposes in acknowledging the impact black heritage has had on British history as a whole.

We can acknowledge the events and the backstory for what has occurred throughout the wider history, the history we are predominately taught throughout our experienced lives in Britain.

It’s vital for black people to celebrate internally who they are, and I just think BHM is a vehicle in which we can do that. It allows us to pause and reflect on black culture and black history and as we have; African people from African and Caribbean backgrounds, been a fundamental part of British history for many centuries and counting. It provides extreme value and perspective in being able to really divulge deep and celebrate the positives that have arisen from the contributions of black heritage in this country.

What has your experience been like as a black athlete in the UK?

I like that this question differentiates between being a black athlete and just an ‘athlete’ or a ‘white athlete’, because there are positive and negative biases towards that title. These biases fuel perpetuating perspectives, which would otherwise only be of detriment to those involved.

I think the challenges of being a black athlete are not exclusive to sport, but roam through probably most industries. Frrom reflecting on my experience, it’s hard to differentiate between being a black athlete and just being a black person in general, because you have historical learnings and for example; are taught from a young age that as you are a black person you have to work 10 times harder to get half recognition, or you may be discriminated against because of your colour, you might not be chosen for certain positions due to your colour etc.  Even down to your perspective of the treatment you’ve received.

It might not be so much of how you feel, but it’s also important to consider and address what other people’s opinions towards you as a black athlete are, whether its attitude, emotion, physical capability, or intelligence and how that affects their engagement with you. Being a Black British athlete has many challenges, one in the very title itself. You are aware that there are people that do not want and would not associate you with being British. Perhaps they do not relate with the physical image they’re presented with, wearing a Union Jack and will always see an immigrant in front of them. I feel that maybe they feel I am not a representation of what they deem to be ‘British’. So, it can be difficult to feel totally connected all of the time to the pride one would perhaps be expected to feel in representing their country.

How have you overcome challenges and adversity as an athlete?

Challenges and adversity are part and parcel of being an athlete. Expectation is the thief of joy and the mother of disappointment, but I guess if we are discussing more specifically around black history and being a black athlete, the overcoming of adversity is already heavily ingrained as well as the attitudes that have been instilled from young and are still evolving.

Seeking advice and mentorship from my counterparts, black counter parts in athletes or officials and coaches that have experienced similar hurdles is a great help overcoming these challenges, as it’s like going to the community for support.

The type of challenge is also relevant, because not every tool can do the same job. Having a support network, learning from past experiences and developing coping strategies provide a great action plan to tackling what you’re going through.

Can you name a black athlete that has inspired you and why?

My friend and former training partner – Donna Fraser OBE

As a black athlete, she’s of course also a black female athlete, so we had a very strong relationship; very relatable to me, Donna taught me how to be an athlete, how to be strong and how to discipline my disappointments, but also how to be a representation of what I’d like to see in the world.

She really depicts how to overcome adversity in life as a whole but also on the track where even just from her sporting achievements alone, is exemplary to what anyone would ever like to achieve.

Donna has also exemplified resilience through life with battling medical challenges during her sporting career but also in her personal life and aside all that, remains an outstanding member of our nation’s sporting legacy.

As a 4-time Olympian she has been able to show consistent excellence and elitism in everything she has done and inspires me with the natural desire to continue with leaving a legacy even in her life after sport. Since retirement she has continued to impact change through her EDI work and continues to be an inspiration to me.

Q&A with Stella Oni, Author and GLL Employee

Author Stella Oni

Why do you think it’s important for us to celebrate black history?

It is a way for the nation to remember and understand black history and achievements.  There are a lot of hidden histories that are coming to light and that should be celebrated.

What has your experience been like as a black person in the UK?

It has been challenging as a 2nd generation immigrant but I am thankful for opportunities as well. Racism still exists and the fight against it is continuous. It is important to add black experience and history to education as there is a lot of ignorance on black ancestry and civilisation. Black civilisation started thousands of years ago and did not begin with slavery.

How have you overcome challenges and adversity?

I cannot say that I have overcome the challenges as it is a daily battle. What I can say is that I have found a way for my voice to be heard in my writing. I am also thankful for a good education and a nurturing work environment. 

Can you name a black author that has inspired you and why?

I will cheat and give you two names. Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison gave black women hope for expressing a fearless unapologetic authentic voice and I admired that. I am awed by Maya Angelou’s amazing memoir and the fact that she travelled around the world with her theatre group when it was almost unheard of for black people.  At some point in the future I would like to follow in her footsteps and discover people, food and culture.

Q&A with Pauline Thomas, Department Manager for GLL

GLL Staff

Why do you think it’s important for us to celebrate black history?

It is important to celebrate all cultures and to be proud and embrace your culture. It is important to have conversations about diversity and to celebrate achievements by some of our black people.

Our young black people must see they have role models that look like them and come from the same culture as them - not just footballers or people in sports but also doctors, lawyers and scientists that are making decisions that can impact their future.

What has your experience been like as a black person in the UK?

For me, I was born in the UK and have been brought up with a mixed culture around me. When I was younger, I didn’t really see people on TV that looked like me, which made me feel that being black was not something to be proud of. Not many adverts or programmes had black females in them. There were no black female role models that I could relate to on screen. I am pleased that this is changing, and we are being represented across the board such as media, Parliament, etc.

I took the role I am in now to represent female leaders and a black female leader. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of us in this business and that needs to change and as a business, we need to understand why.

How have you overcome challenges and adversity?

It has been hard as a female of colour as you feel and are told that you will have to work that bit harder to get on in life and to be successful. I have always tried to be myself and not to conform to any ‘norms’ that have been set. I embrace diversity and will ‘call out’ anything or behaviour that I think is not acceptable. When calling things out, I need to ensure that I am not seen as the ‘angry black woman’ or being ‘oversensitive. It is a shame to have to mention this, but they are stereotypes that are bandied around when actually you are just being a strong woman of colour.

Who inspires you and why?

My inspiration will always be my mother. She came to this country from Jamaica when she was 18 years old. She worked in a country that did not want her or her type here. She never used to moan about it - she just worked hard and brought up three young girls on her own who have all gone on to have successful careers. She has shown us to respect all cultures and to embrace and love our black heritage. I am bringing up two young black boys, and my job is to encourage and inspire them to believe that they can achieve whatever they want and that the colour of their skin should not hold them back. We need to keep celebrating different cultures, and with that we will learn to understand and respect all.

Libraries for everyone

In Wandsworth, author and BBC broadcaster Colin Babb gives a talk on his novel ‘1973 and Me’ which includes reminiscences of the victorious and history-making West Indies Cricket Touring side.

In Greenwich, writer Stella Oni spoke about her novel ‘Deadly Sacrifice’ which draws upon her lived experience in London and Nigeria. The novel was Audible’s Crime Thriller of the Month in September 2020, and Stella was interviewed on BBC Radio Devon on creating the first black female detective in UK crime fiction.

In Bromley and Dudley, libraries celebrate Black History Month for young readers with promotions, activities and displays to learn about famous black people in history.


Interview with Kristal Awuah, GLL Sport Foundation athlete