Black History Month, celebrated in October in the UK, is a time of celebration, recognition, and reflection. It acknowledges the significant contributions of people of African and Caribbean descent to British history and society. This month-long celebration can also provide valuable insights into mental health, a topic that is increasingly gaining attention worldwide, and it’s of course what we do at St Martins.
The theme for Black History Month 2023 is ‘Black Resistance’, recognising the ways in which Black individuals have resisted oppression, discrimination and prejudice throughout history.
St Martins is also celebrating the contributions that Black residents and staff members have made to the organisation and within local communities during Black History Month each October, such as the inspirational poems from our resident Ben in Chalkhill Road, regular Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) support from our Operations Manager – Yvonne Gravillis for our staff, safe and inclusive buildings for our residents well-maintained by our Head of Asset Management – Kehinde Olutade and many more examples that we look forward to celebrate and share soon on our website.
The Intersection of Black History and Mental Health
The experiences of black individuals throughout history have been marked by struggles and triumphs, resilience and resistance. These experiences have shaped the mental health landscape within black communities. The stigma surrounding mental health, coupled with the unique socio-cultural challenges faced by these communities, often leads to mental health issues being overlooked or misunderstood.
Lessons from Black History Month
Resilience in the Face of Adversity
Black History Month highlights the resilience of black individuals who have faced and overcome adversity, such as Walter Tull, a pioneering figure in British football and military history, faced and overcame racial discrimination in both his professional football career and military service. In his football career, Tull became the first black outfield player to play in the English top flight when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 1909. However, he was subjected to racial abuse during his time at Tottenham, particularly during a match against Bristol City. This racial abuse was a factor that led to Tottenham selling him to Northampton Town. In the military, Tull enlisted with the Middlesex Regiment and became part of a ‘Footballers’ Battalion’. Despite Army rules stipulating officers had to be “of pure European descent”, Tull rose through the ranks to become the first black officer in the British Army. He was recommended for a Military Cross for his bravery, but he never received it. Tull’s story is a powerful testament to his resilience and determination in the face of racial discrimination. His legacy continues to inspire and remind us of the importance of equality and justice. A campaign for Tull to be posthumously awarded the Military Cross is ongoing.
This resilience is a powerful tool in mental health management. It reminds us that it’s possible to endure tough times and emerge stronger.
The Power of Community
Black History Month fosters a sense of community, reminding us that we’re not alone in our struggles. This sense of belonging can be a powerful antidote to feelings of isolation often associated with mental health issues. At St Martins, we have been able to create a community for our residents by organising regular co-production meetings and service-specific groups for resident wellbeing support. These initiatives have promoted inclusivity, empowering individuals and strengthening community resilience for our black residents in different services.
The Importance of Representation
Black History Month underscores the importance of representation. Seeing successful individuals who look like us and share similar experiences can inspire hope and contribute to better mental health, such as the former wheelchair racer, Anne Wafula Strike MBE who is now a board member for Active Essex, the British Paralympic Association, and UK Athletics – the only black person serving at that capacity across all the 12 British government-funded sports boards. She continues to be a powerful advocate for an accessible and inclusive society where disabled people are fully integrated. As the first Goodwill Ambassador for Action on Disability and Development, she successfully supported the campaign for nations to ratify the UN Convention on the “Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities”.
Another example of representation would be of Dambisa Moyo and Jean Tomlin, who are the only two UK-based black individuals serving on the board of a FTSE 100 firm. Their presence in these high-level positions highlights the importance of representation in decision-making roles.
Moving Forward: Mental Health in the Black Community
While progress has been made, there’s still work to do in addressing mental health within black communities. Greater representation in mental health professions, increased access to culturally competent care, and continued efforts to destigmatize mental health are crucial steps forward.
The diversity within St Martins is something to be proud of, as black people represent the majority of people who work for St Martins, with much higher than average representation at Executive and Board level.
In conclusion, Black History Month offers an opportunity not only to celebrate and reflect on the past but also to learn valuable lessons about resilience, community, and representation that can inform our approach to mental health.
Remember, it’s okay not to be okay. Reach out, speak up, and seek help if you need it. Your mental health matters.
- Black History Month – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_History_Month.
- Black History Month: What is it and why does it matter?. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-54522248.
- How Black History month is celebrated around the world – BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/49883230.
- Mental health – NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/.
- What are mental health problems? – Mind. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/mental-health-problems-introduction/about-mental-health-problems/.
- Mental health – World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response.
- Black History Month 2023 – Celebrating our Sisters. https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/.
- Back to the future: black pioneer’s battle against racism | CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2012/10/24/sport/football/football-walter-tull-racism/index.html.
- Walter Tull: The incredible story of a football pioneer and war hero – BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/43504448.
- Justice for Walter Tull, victim of racism in sport and war. https://www.channel4.com/news/justice-for-walter-tull-victim-of-racism-in-sport-and-war.
- Wafula Strike and Rowbotham re-elected as Edmunds joins BPA Board – ParalympicsGB: https://paralympics.org.uk/articles/wafula-strike-and-rowbotham-re-elected-as-edmunds-joins-bpa
- How has black people’s representation changed in the last 10 years? – Guardian UK: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/23/black-powerlist-10-years-on-michael-eboda