As Black History Month draws to a close in the U.K., we wanted to know who our friends, followers and colleagues have been celebrating and learning about this past month.
Black History Month marks a great opportunity to broaden our historical perspectives and understanding of Black History. And learn more about key figures from the past and present that too often don’t make into the official history books.
Who We’ve Been Learning About for Black History Month
From current celebs, like Marcus Rashford and Bernardine Evaristo, to historical change-makers like Mary Seacole and Harriet Tubman, we’ve been busy immersing ourselves in some amazing and inspirational stories. And, most importantly, engaging in some great learning, too!
Here’s a selection of the people we’ve been celebrating during Black History Month:
Marcus Rashford MBE (1997-present) – Soccer Player and Activist
By Lucy Bishop, Senior Content Editor at Mind Tools
“When you come from a place of struggle and pain, a lot of the time it switches and it becomes your drive and motivation.”Marcus Rashford, “Feeding Britain’s Children,” BBC.
“Marcus Rashford is 23 years old, famous for playing soccer at the top level in the U.K. and has an MBE. Before we go on, let me just repeat… he’s 23 and has an MBE. I don’t know about you, but when I think back to what I was doing when I was 23, it seriously pales in comparison.
“As well as being one of the top soccer players in the world, Rashford made headlines during the pandemic with his campaign to extend free school meals to children from low-income families during the school holidays. Despite initial refusals, the government finally caved in to the mounting public pressure driven by Rashford, and announced a £170m care package to support low-income families.
“Rashford has continued to back campaigns to end child poverty and hunger, with his work earning him an MBE in 2020. His reasons for doing so are personal… he comes from a working-class background himself, his mother worked three jobs when he was young just to make ends meet, and even then there wasn’t much food to go round. Now, he donates much of his time and money to low-income communities. And became the youngest person to top The Sunday Times Giving List after raising £20m for food poverty charity, FareShare.”
Mary Seacole (1805-1881) – Nurse, Healer and Businesswoman
By Sally Wilson, Publishing Director at Emerald Group.
“…the grateful words and smile which rewarded me for binding up a wound or giving a cooling drink was a pleasure worth risking life for at any time.”Mary Seacole.
“I wasn’t aware of Mary Seacole until my children studied her at school about 15 years ago. A pioneering and resilient figure who didn’t take no for an answer! My school history lessons had focused only on Florence Nightingale. I do feel it was a missed opportunity to not use Seacole’s name with Nightingale’s for the COVID hospitals in the U.K.”
Seacole was a Jamaican-British nurse who lived over 150 years ago. Among her many achievements, Seacole set up the “British Hotel” to look after sick and wounded soldiers fighting the Crimean War.
At the time, Seacole was as well-known as Florence Nightingale. She even became the first Black woman in Britain to publish her autobiography, “The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands,” which became an instant bestseller. Despite this, she fell into obscurity toward the end of her life, and her story was lost to history for over 100 years. That is until nurses from the Caribbean came to visit her grave in north-west London, where the local MP promised to raise money for a statue honoring Seacole. This was finally unveiled in 2016 in the grounds of St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.
Claudia Jones (1915-1964) – Journalist and Activist
By Jennifer Bough, Content Coordinator at Emerald Publishing.
“A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom.”Claudia Jones.
“Claudia Jones was a feminist, Black nationalist, political activist, community leader, communist, and journalist. She is most commonly known as the mother of Notting Hill Carnival. But was also the founder of Britain’s first black weekly newspaper, The West Indian Gazette in 1958.
“Born in Trinidad and Tobago, her family migrated to the U.S., where Jones became an active member of the Communist Party U.S.A. Her main focus was creating “…an anti-imperialist coalition, managed by working-class leadership, fuelled by the involvement of women.”
“Her best known piece of writing, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!,” written in 1949, demonstrates her radical politics through (what later became known as) intersectionality within a Marxist framework. Her involvement in the party lead to imprisonment and eventual deportation to England in 1955, where she became involved in the British African-Caribbean community, campaigning for equal rights and basic access to facilities.
“While in London, her campaigning continued until her death, aged 49. She is buried in Highgate Cemetery, to the left of the Karl Marx memorial.”
Bernie Grant (1944-2000) – Activist and Politician
By Jennifer Bough, Content Coordinator at Emerald Publishing
“Only if we understand our past can we as Black People move forward in the future. We must demand compensation for the biggest crime in history – the colonization and enslavement of our people.”Bernie Grant.
“An outspoken, charismatic Black political leader, Labour MP Bernie Grant fought for racial justice both in Britain and worldwide.
“Born in Guyana, he came to Britain in 1963, and attended Tottenham Technical College before studying engineering at Heriot-Watt University, Scotland. He left university in 1969 in protest against its discrimination against Black students. Over the following nine years, he worked as an International Telephonist, quickly becoming involved in the Union of Post Office Workers, fighting for the rights of fellow workers. In 1978, he became a full time Area Officer for the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE), responsible for its local authority and health workers, and founded the Black Trade Unionists Solidarity Movement.
“A successful local politician, Grant served for a decade as local councillor in the London Borough of Haringey, of which he was elected Leader in 1985. He was the first Black head of a local authority in Britain, and was responsible for the well-being of a quarter of a million people, many of them Black or from other ethnic minorities. Grant joined the Labour Party in 1975 and was elected as Member of Parliament for Tottenham in 1987 – the first of three Black MPs to be elected, alongside Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng.
“Fiercely committed to a just world for all, he campaigned against racist policing methods, deaths in custody, on institutionalised racism in healthcare, housing and education, for refugees, and greater resources for inner city areas.”
Bernardine Evaristo (1959-present) – Author and Academic
By Charlie Swift, Managing Editor at Mind Tools
“One thing I have learned is that the future won’t look after itself… If those of us who are considered marginal stop campaigning, we experience social regression… The plethora of books [written by Black women] currently being published is astonishing, but we must be wary because today’s boom is not the result of a steady, incremental transition. It has exploded out of a void.”Bernardine Evaristo, writing for The Guardian newspaper.
“My current inspiration is Bernardine Evaristo, who won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 2019, alongside Margaret Atwood. She was the first Black woman to be awarded the Booker in its 50-year history, she herself was 60, and “Girl, Woman, Other” was her eighth book. Unsurprisingly, much of the coverage of her since has been about her persistence, vision and work ethic – in other words, how she kept going.
“I and millions of other people round the world are only now catching up on Professor Evaristo’s decades of resilience and achievements. She’s faced rejection and adversity far beyond the world of publishing and academia, experiencing racism, misogyny, homophobia, and a coercive and controlling relationship, yet developed an unstoppable positive mindset.
“Her newly published memoir “Manifesto – On Never Giving Up” is a fascinating exploration of her journey. It also showcases her work to elevate others in the wake of her successes, which I believe is just as admirable and even more impactful. She’s used this enabling approach throughout her career, and especially now with her increased visibility and reach.
“Her latest project is “Black Britain: Writing Back,” a book series published by Penguin which includes forgotten or neglected Black writers from the last century.
“Bernardine Evaristo is challenging, witty, and stylish too – definitely someone to celebrate!”
Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) – American Abolitionist and Activist
By Nahdia Khan, Chief Impact Officer at Emerald Works
“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the wood, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”Harriet Tubman.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1822 in Maryland, U.S. But after her owner died in 1849, she escaped to the North and to freedom. But she didn’t stop there. Instead, she dedicated her life to helping others do the same by becoming the famous “conductor” of the Underground Railroad.
Between 1850 and 1860, she made 19 trips on the Underground Railroad, guiding more than 300 people, including her parents and siblings, to freedom in the North. She became a prominent abolitionist before the Civil War and, during the war, became the first woman to lead an armed expedition which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.
Despite falling into financial ruin, Tubman dedicated the last years of her life to looking after her friends and family. But head injuries she’d sustained earlier in her life while she was a slave became more painful and debilitating. After she died, she was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.
Nahdia celebrates Tubman for, “…her inspirational journeys on the Underground Railroad. The bravery, and her acts of defiance that laid the foundation for people like Rosa Parks.”
Mary Jackson, Katherine G. Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan – NASA’s “Hidden Figures”
By Katie Danes, Custom Sales Manager at Mind Tools for Business
“I don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better.”Katherine Johnson, NASA Statements on John’s Medal of Freedom, 2015.
“I recently watched the film “Hidden Figures.” It tells the amazing story of three female mathematicians in the 1950s and their roles at NASA, as well their achievements. However, their fight for recognition and equal working conditions at a time when race and gender went against them is what’s truly inspiring. The three women I’m celebrating for Black History Month are:
- Physicist and mathematician Katherine G. Johnson (1918-2020). She calculated trajectories, launch windows and return paths for many of NASA’s major orbital missions between the 1950s and 1980s.
- Mathematician Dorothy Vaughan (1910-2008). She was the first African-American woman to be promoted to Head of Personnel at NASA. While there, she led a team of African-American female mathematicians through several crucial space projects.
- Mary Jackson (1921-2005). Jackson was a mathematician and became NASA’s first black female engineer in 1958. After trying unsuccessfully to break into management-level grades, she made a dramatic career change, leaving engineering to become the NASA Langley Federal Women’s Program Manager. She used this position to help others like her break through the glass ceiling by impacting hiring and promotion opportunities for future female employees.”
Leroy Logan MBE (1957-present) – Author and Former Metropolitan Police Superintendent
By Sarah Harvey, Team Coach, Facilitator and Mentor
“Good times build confidence, bad times build character.”Leroy Logan.
“I recently attended an HR leaders forum where the guest speaker was Leroy Logan MBE. He is a fabulously engaging speaker and gave snippets of his inspirational life story which both engaged, shocked, moved and inspired everyone who was there, regardless of background.
“Leroy is of Jamaican heritage and his parents came to Britain in the 1950s to contribute to the rebuilding of the country after the war, and to improve the lives of their future family. On arrival they were met with hostility and faced much racism. In 1983, Leroy joined the Metropolitan Police despite the fact that his father had recently been assaulted by the police! Relations between the police and the black community were tense at the time, to say the least.
“Despite encountering repeated racism himself, by the community and fellow police officers, Leroy stood his ground. He progressed within the Met Police despite facing numerous obstacles, outright racism and being “overlooked” for promotion on several occasions.
“In 1997, he was promoted to Inspector, then elected first Chairperson of the National Black Police Association (NBPA). In January 2000, Leroy received an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honors list. He continued to serve in the Met Police until retiring in 2013.
“As I mentioned at the start of this post, Leroy’s story is all at once engaging, shocking, moving and inspiring. So I shall be celebrating him this Black History Month by reading his new book, “Closing Ranks, My life as a Cop.” You can also learn more about him in Steve McQueen’s BBC dramatization of his life, Red, White and Blue.“
Ade Hassan MBE (1984-present) – Businesswoman and Entrepreneur
By Sonia Harris, Events Manager and Coach/Community Moderator at Mind Tools
“My nude isn’t the nude I see in shops.”Ade Hassan.
“For U.K. Black History Month, I would like to highlight Ms. Ade Hassan, MBE, a pioneer who helped redefine “nude” in fashion. She is the founder of and creative mind behind Nubian Skin, a London-based company whose products include more inclusive shades of lingerie and hosiery for women of color.
“I had the pleasure to meet Ade during her 2018 U.S. tour, where she visited a Washington, D.C. boutique to promote Nubian Skin. I had been following her on social media since 2017 and was excited to meet the founder of a product that I need and would buy. Ade recently celebrated Nubian Skin’s seventh year in business. She now has multiple lingerie products and has even expanded her line to include menswear.”
Dr. Nira Chamberlain (1969-present) – British Mathematician
By Yolande Conradie, Community Manager at Mind Tools
“You don’t need anybody’s permission to be a great mathematician.”Dr. Nira Chamberlain.
“I love listening to the BBC Discovery podcast, “The Life Scientific.”
A few months back, I listened to an episode featuring British mathematician, Dr. Nira Chamberlain. I love the magic of maths – and I love what Dr. Chamberlain does with it. He specializes in complex industrial processes and engineering, and creates mathematical models to better understand a specific feature or process. Then, he creates simulations to better understand how those processes work and to predict how it will play out in future.
“He loves to say, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a mathematician” and describes it like this: “…when mathematicians see a problem, they float all around it like a butterfly looking at it from different angles. Then they zoom in and “sting” – getting to the heart of the problem!”
“What also struck me while listening to the interview, was Dr. Chamberlain’s down-to-earth approach and how humble he is, despite his many achievements. He is one of just a handful of esteemed mathematicians. And has even featured in “Who’s Who,” a British book series that chronicles the world’s most influential people.
“When first featuring on the U.K.’s Black Power List, which celebrates the top 100 most influential people of African or African-Caribbean heritage, he ranked higher than F1 superstar, Lewis Hamilton! He said it was proof that maths is for everyone. You’ve simply got to love a mathematician who quotes Muhammad Ali and ranks higher than an F1 driver!”
Mae C. Jemison (1956-present) – Astronaut and Physician
By Amy Jones, Emerald Group
“There is a fascination with the idea that one has seen someone else do something before one can achieve it. I knew what I wanted to do.”Mae C. Jemison
Mae C. Jemison became the first African American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program in 1987 and the first to fly into space.
Growing up with a love of science, especially astronomy, young Mae spent much of her time in the school library and was a particularly talented student. She graduated as an honor student and went on to study at Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship.
While there she also served as head of the Black Student Union, and after her graduation went on to study medicine at Cornell University Medical College. After obtaining her M.D. in 1981, she worked as a general practitioner, and worked for the Peace Corps as a medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia.
It was not only her return to the U.S. in 1985, that Jemison made the decision that would eventually see her enter the history books and applied to NASA’s astronaut training program. After finally making it into space, she left the astronaut corps in 1993, and began teaching at Dartmouth, before becoming Professor-at-Large at Cornell University. She also established the Jemison Group, which does research into the sociocultural impact of technological advancements and design. And, interestingly, even earned a spot on famous sci-fi series, Star Trek as Lieutenant Palmer, becoming the first real-life astronaut to appear on the show.
Amy said she’s been learning about Mae C. Jemison because, “…she was the first black woman to travel into space and the first person from Star Trek in actual space (before William Shatner). My 6-year old told me she was inspired by Nichelle Nichols (Uhura from Star Trek) to become an astronaut and, after that, managed to get a speaking part on Star Trek: The Original Series.”
Who Have You Been Celebrating for Black History Month?
If you want to join the conversation, tell us who you’ve been celebrating or learning more about during Black History Month.
Perhaps you’ve been learning about a famous historical figure, a celebrity or current public figure. Or you just want to celebrate a friend or family member who you’re particularly proud of.
Whatever the case, please share your recommendations and stories in the Comments section, below.