Black History Month (BHM) – WHAT is it and WHY does it matter?


Rakesh Chand, RenewableUK Shadow Board Member

By Rakesh Chand


‘Mom, why can’t I be white?’


These words were shared with Akyaaba Addai-Sebo by a colleague who had come to work one morning heartbroken from the words said by her seven-year-old son before going to bed the night before.



This event alerted Akyaaba to the fact that Black children in the UK faced an identity crisis.


Akyaaba worked as a special project co-ordinator for the Greater London Council GLC and despite Race Awareness campaigns of the GLC and Inner London Education Authority ILEA, he realised that more had to be done. Akyaaba wanted to create an annual celebration to promote and celebrate the contributions of those with African and Caribbean heritage to British Society, and to improve the understanding of Black History. Akyaaba created a collaboration between the GLC, and ILEA and Black History Month was born in London, 1987. This celebration quickly spread to other parts of the UK, with many areas beginning to formally recognise October as Black History Month.


There are two reasons why Black History Month is celebrated in October in the UK. Traditionally, October is when African chiefs and leaders gather to settle their differences, so Akyaaba chose this month to reconnect with black people’s roots in the continent. Additionally, since it was the beginning of the new academic year, October would give black children a sense of pride and identity; the very things that Akyaaba wanted to support providing to Black people.


The influence of Black Culture within the Energy Sector

If I think about the energy sector, many energy innovations we take for granted would not exist without the contributions of Black people. We have better lighting, heating, transportation, communications, and more, thanks to some brilliant thinkers who faced the extra burden of being marginalised as they contributed to history.


I truly believe that an inclusive and diverse workforce is essential to tackling and achieving the urgent climate and energy challenges of today and Black History Month is allowing me the opportunity to shine the spotlight on some Black energy pioneers who have helped shape the energy landscape.


Lewis Howard Latimer, born to slaves was an inventor who improved on the work of Thomas Edison and created a light bulb with a more durable filament. Because of these contributions, light bulbs became more affordable and practical. He also worked closely with Alexander Graham Bell on the patent application for the telephone.

Annie Easley. Image: NASA

Annie Easley started her career in 1955 as one of the first African Americans at NASA, where she performed manual computations for researchers. A gifted programmer, she developed computer code that was used to analyse wind and solar energy projects, as well as batteries for early hybrid vehicles.


David Crosthwait was a mechanical and electrical engineer who helped create innovative heating systems for landmark buildings, including New York City’s Rockefeller Centre and Radio City Music Hall.


Hazel O’Leary broke barriers as the first woman and first Black citizen to serve as U.S. Secretary of Energy. She was known for her commitment to linking energy policy decisions to the health and quality of the environment.


This is a brief overview from just a small selection of Black impact across one business sector. You can find out more, as well as other inspirational black people, on the Black History Month website: https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/


The Power of being an Ally

For me, Black History Month also acts as a reminder of the continued action that is required to ensure equality and representation of individuals within the workplace. This would not have been possible without the hard work, commitment, and strength of individuals who recognized the need for a world (and at the very least, a month) that better represents and reflects their lived experiences.


We can all come together to ensure change, our actions allow us to become the catalyst for this change. In the workplace this means having policies in place that achieve real outcomes and as an individual it means being willing to act with and for others.


I mean, what is more important than a person being able to bring their whole authentic self into the workplace? This requires open and inclusive conversations to take place and safe spaces for Black and other marginalised colleagues to connect and share.


I am challenging myself to do and act more because action drives change. I am also thinking about how I can influence those around me, how can I challenge those around me to act more and how can I empower those around me to act more.


We need people to act, and that cannot be the few, it must be you, it must be all of us.

As an ally, colleagues play an important role. A role that is about action, what you do rather than what you believe. Here are three simple tips to help you get started in your role as an ally.


  1. Listen. I like to listen. It is a way for me to learn from others’ experiences and views. It is important to be willing to learn. This helps me understand and show respect for an individual’s identify across culture and religion. The more voices of various people I listen to, the more I learn, the more I understand. I think about the motto of Jamaica. ‘Out of Many, One People’ based on the population’s multiracial roots. Across the energy sector we need to hear from different voices and help them share their unique experiences, perspectives, and ideas.

  2. Educate yourself. A person can expand understanding and knowledge of UK Black history and culture themselves and not rely on others. The Black History Month website has great content to support learning (link)

  3. Avoid assumptions and language matters. Use learning to expand your knowledge, do not assume that because someone is a different ethnicity/race that they are a different nationality. I am a lover of language from across the world, if ever I am unsure about names or pronunciations, I always ask in an open and kind way. I ensure that I am aware of microaggressions and ensure that I do not cause offence. You can find a huge amount of content regarding microaggressions online. The telling and re-telling of Black presence in the UK is full of stories and lessons that affect all of us in the coming decades.


I challenge you to consider what you can do to help create a future where people of every identity and background feels represented and celebrated across every month of the year.

Happy Black History Month, a great Time for Change – Action not words!


 

About the author

Rakesh Chand, Scottish Power Renewables (SPR) Offshore Business Support Lead, RUK Shadow Board member and Chair of ‘VIBE’ Scottish Power’s Employee Network group.

Rakesh has 15+ years’ experience within the Renewables Energy Sector, Onshore and Offshore Wind, working across multiple project lifecycle phases. He built and led the delivery of the Offshore Wind Business Digital Strategy, and as Business Support Lead, provides value to the business as it grows in new markets and geographies.

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