Johnson Situ, Southwark council's cabinet member for Growth, Development and Planning, reflects upon the challenges faced by Southwark's diverse communities.
In recent weeks much has been said about the watering down of Black History Month celebrations; from diversity month to cultural clash week, the attempts to erode the importance of celebrating Black History Month has quite rightly been criticised.
But the month also gives us the opportunity to ask the tough questions, reflecting on some of the challenges black communities face and inspiring the next generation to pick up the baton.
Last year I faced such a question when interviewed by Community Southwark.
The interview was largely going smoothly as we spent some time discussing the past generation of black leaders in Southwark. I enthusiastically praised their passion for the community they represented, their struggle in what was often a very hostile environment and their sacrifice for the next generation of community activists.
We also covered the challenges ahead, including a recently published report which highlighted that BAME employees still lagged behind their white colleagues in pay. So as the interview wrapped up I was happy the conversation would end on representation within politics.
I noted the steady increase of BAME councillors on Southwark Council but the interviewer also quite rightly highlighted the need for greater representation around the top table. A tough question but absolutely one that needed to be asked, and a year on it is great to be part of a more diverse top table.
That is exactly why politics needs you now more than ever…
Nevertheless the push for diversity should never be restricted to the public sector alone; we must also ask serious questions of the private sector. Now to be clear, there are a number of organisations that are leading the way in promoting diversity, but for too many, the phrase ‘we don’t get many applications from ethnic minorities’ is used as a cloak to veil their lack of ambition and to be quite frank, their will to promote diversity at all levels of their organisation.
So this year whilst celebrating the contribution of the black community to British history it is important that we also ask the tough questions. For leaders, this means reflecting on the work we’re doing to promote diversity in our organisations.
Are we going far enough in encouraging the next generation to build on the work of the likes of Dr Harold Moody or my fantastic colleague Councillor Dora Dixon-Fyle MBE, Southwark’s longest serving black councillor and co-founder of Africans for Labour? Do we take every opportunity to show our organisations as a welcoming place for the diverse borough Southwark is?
This leads me to conclude with this short note for the community activist reading this and considering a more active role within politics. You may already be doing a lot within the community; volunteering with your local charity or helping with homework club in your local library, but you’re also frustrated on how politics is currently being done. You switch on your TV and not enough of the people that look like you appear to be making the decisions, and you’re right! Just as the private sector, we have a way to go, but that is exactly why politics needs you now more than ever…
Below is a link to the group of Councillors in Southwark, diverse in both their background and life experience.
My simple message to you this Black History Month is if they can do it, so can you!
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