Updated: Oct 16, 2022
It was 9:30 on Thursday evening when I dictated these notes into my laptop. The best way to describe how I felt was overwhelmed - but in a good way. I had an amazing day which started with my Member’s Story that I shared with my very warm and supportive allies in the Woman’s Business Networking group at one of our bi-monthly meetings. I knew what I had to say was powerful, but I didn't appreciate how much it would move the members of the group, most of whom have a sensible job, aren't in education or currently have young children in school!!
I'd like to be able to say that the stories I shared of the lived experience of some of the children I've worked with are rare, but sadly they’re not. It concerns me deeply that until the government takes a much more informed approach to providing appropriate services for our vulnerable children and their families, the situation won't get better anytime soon. As I've recently tweeted in response to Young Minds’ reminder to mark World Mental Health Day below:
I had to dash off to attend another event, so I quickly downloaded the messages from the chat and saved them on my laptop, then rushed out to the next appointment of the day. I attended the Birmingham Schools Race Summit 2022 that was held at Matthew Boulton College in the heart of the city, hosted by BRIG, the Birmingham Race Impact Group. There were a range of keynote speakers, many high-profile members of the Black community and practitioners past and present involved in the areas of education, supporting anti-racist practice, inclusion and diversity awareness. There were great presentations from Birmingham secondary schools and Matthew Boulton students. A highlight was three incredible performances from a brilliant spoken word artist who goes by the name Zaki. It gave such a poignant insight into the minds of young people that we often don’t get to know about. Habitually we think we don’t understand their language but if we really listen, we’ll hear their voices loud and clear. Zaki proved this by awakening my inner child with his extremely inspirational poetry and the ability to retain and recall the lyrics with such ease.
I’ve been to many networking events since starting my business six months ago and have heard countless times the importance of finding your tribe. Yesterday I did. Everyone at the summit was fighting the same fight. Gilroy Brown spoke of his experiences as a pupil and as a teacher in Birmingham in the 1960s and 1970s. It illustrated how far we’ve come as a city, but there’s still a long, long way to go. We heard remotely from Dr. Judith Bruce-Golding about her passion for teaching. Her words struck a chord with me when she said: “Voices need to become actions.” Karamat Iqbal spoke eloquently about the road yet to be travelled and shared with us a quote from the past: “Birmingham children are white and they’re black; immigrants come, we can’t send them back. Really we’d like to, but they’re here.” Sadly, that lack of understanding, distrust and conscious bias is still in the minds of some who carry a responsibility to educate and influence our young people of today.
Every delegate I spoke with during the summit, regardless of race or gender is working towards a common cause and there is much potential for collaborative working with others to affect change. I managed to reply to a few emails yesterday but was much too tired and emotional to tackle any of the lovely, but highly-charged messages and posts relating to the day’s events. I have a plan. It’s in its early stages, but I endeavour to bring together as many people as possible who are passionate about changing the trajectory for many of our vulnerable young people. I strive to prevent children who are marginalised in any way from being failed by our blinkered systems and excluded from our schools.
Permanent Exclusions by Ethnicity in 2022 In 2014 the highest group of children being excluded were White boys.
Trends now show that GRT children, Black boys and, increasingly, Black girls are being excluded from school. Reasons are often given as not complying with the school uniform,
a thinly veiled attempt to hide what is hair discrimination by nature of their race.
I handed out my flyers and business cards to anyone who stood still for long enough!! I vowed to include Zaki’s talents via social media. There’s another young Black superhero in the West Midlands called Anthony D who does the most amazing work with schools around the country. They really should collaborate. I had an amazing response to my Ghana scholarship venture with a lovely woman called Annie Shah, who is considering joining me on my return trip to see Nurudeen and visit his school in December. Early in the day I missed the opportunity to pose a question for the panel of keynote speakers which would have been: Frequently I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness when I’m talking to schools about truly inclusive practice, how do I get them to take note and explore the possibilities to achieving this? Over the course of the presentations and workshops yesterday I met professionals I have worked with in the past and discovered some of the little people who are altruistically inspired to do big things for the benefit of our next generation. I didn't ask my question, but it was answered by lunchtime!! Rebbecca Hemmings posted this video on Twitter and sums it up perfectly:
I was due to complete some online training on understanding personality disorders, but arrived home too late. I was one of the stragglers leaving the venue; we were still talking, absorbing and respecting the unique yet shared perspective each of us brought to that space, in that moment. I would certainly have been too distracted to concentrate on the subject matters - perhaps a little heavy for a Thursday evening anyway!! At about 3:00 am today I watched the recording of my Member’s Story. There was some humour, a few memorable anecdotes and photos of some of the voluntary work I’m exceptionally proud of, but also dejection and shock. Following the delivery of my story, I listened to the words of my WBN sisters and heard their dismay at the experiences of some of our young people. However, the impact of watching the recording was immense, I could see the sheer horror in their faces in response to the story I was telling. I'm so pleased that Nina Molyneux was there to help soothe their hearts. Reading their comments left in the chat, on our Facebook group page, on LinkedIn and in personal emails, their sadness and anger was palpable. Clearly, so is their fighting spirit. They have offered me their time and networking connections to raise awareness and, hopefully, reach some of the people who need to hear my story; the narrative of my inner child and the conversations I’ve shared with children and young people who need an advocate in order to make their voices heard.
On occasion I have recalled the story where the six-year-old me is sitting in the second row during assembly. The headteacher, who looked permanently cross, had shocking white hair that stood on end and a very red face!! One of the boys in my class, Timothy, always seemed to be in trouble and on this particular day the headteacher decided that he was going to cane Timothy on stage in front of the whole school. Timothy was dark-skinned, wearing a crisp white shirt and as he writhed away from the strikes of the cane, the headteacher grabbed the back of his shirt by the collar. Timothy jumped off the stage, popping the buttons off his shirt and ran, leaving the headteacher holding it in mid-air. As a family we had been watching the series "Roots" at the time and that image - of the powerful versus the powerless, who is then forced into defiant empowerment - had a very profound effect on me.
It saddens me to tell this story. I hope that when I'm gone, this story will be lost. No six-year-old should know of this; my inner child has been slow to heal. No six-year-old should turn and ask an adult: What is racism?
In a professional capacity, though also from the stance as someone who will fight with all that is within me for the best possible outcomes for children whether I'm paid to do it or not, yesterday was special. It was one of the most rewarding days of the last three years. That was the day my employer, a neighbouring local authority, disbanded the behaviour support service I managed. The message they communicated was: this is not something that young people, schools and families want or need. The message I took away at the time, despite all of the hard work, commitment and fighting for and with my team, was that I wasn't worthy of this privilege. The support, allyship and championing for what I'm doing places me in a very different mindset. My response now, after months of self-doubt and crippling imposter syndrome is: Oh yes they ******* well do!!
Drop the mic.