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Black History Month: Let’s learn from it, then put action to our words.

Black History Month: Let’s learn from it, then put action to our words.

I sat down to think about what I should write this year and unsurprisingly, I put it off a few times. Procrastination has always been my Achilles’ heel and it’s fitting that the theme this year is ‘Time for change: Action not words’.

Since my last blog, I have looked back at the year and tried my hardest to figure out if it has brought any breakthroughs, significant or otherwise. As a black man promoting positive mental wellbeing, (that’s me trying to take ownership) I should make personal changes, before I can even expect the world out there to do something about it.

I truly believe for us to seek a better tomorrow, by addressing racial inequality we can’t focus on the past. We can, most definitely acknowledge and learn from it, then put action to our words. 

The opportunity of Black History Month

To remind us all BHM is a great opportunity to ensure that we celebrate black history, culture and heritage. It’s a great opportunity to set a fresh pair of eyes on our way of life and ensure its fit for purpose. Black History Month is a good time to remember that inclusion, rather than exclusion, will forge a better future of harmony and belonging – not only for black people but for everybody.  

Here’s a question that you should clip out and tape somewhere you’ll see it often. The question is, “What did you do about the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement? I hope your answer to that question isn’t, “It wasn’t my problem or issue”. That answer seems to be the norm these days – people are just too busy with their own lives to want to get involved.

Fortunately, there is growing hunger and heart for people to get involved in making the world a better place, not just through acknowledging BLM, but also through other initiatives. The truth is that we live in a time where we have massive opportunities for change. In fact, more than an opportunity – I feel that we have an obligation. An obligation to dedicate our lives to doing great things like uplifting and supporting each other no matter what race, colour or ethnic background we identify with or come from.  

Lessons from my upbringing

When I look back on my upbringing in Zimbabwe, I realise we had a sense of togetherness and of community that I haven’t experienced elsewhere. People would always come together and help each other with gardening, house chores, childcare, birthdays, funerals, weddings and whatever else needed doing really. I believe there are other cultures that do the same and we can all learn from them. Black culture taught me the importance of coming together as people and working together.  Hopefully that culture of togetherness can transcend to all the different races. We all go through stuff mentally and emotionally, and we all need support at different times in our lives.  

In my blog last year I touched on a few things that as a black man living in Dorset I experienced, and how it took a toll on my wellbeing. I have made a conscious decision to be more optimistic this time round and look at promoting action more than words.

I feel my mind-set has evolved. It doesn’t weigh on me as much now when I am the only black person in a room. Instead, I find that to be an encouragement for inclusion and diversity. I don’t struggle with sharing my thoughts and feelings anymore. I feel like I have a voice that is being heard and sharing my struggles hasn’t taken away any of my ‘manliness’.

Ways I’ve helped my own wellbeing

Volunteering for Dorset Mind has helped me immensely. It has given me the opportunity to form great relationships and work with some amazing people. Volunteering with local non-profits and charities is an excellent way to help us as people of different races and cultures to learn, collaborate and work together.  Furthermore, working together can help us establish diversity, equity, and inclusion committees in our places of education, work and in the communities that we live in.   

I have also challenged myself to read more and always have a book at hand. Part of my reading challenge is reading more books by black authors. Joining or starting a book club and reading books by black authors, and books about black history can be a great way to share thoughts and learn from others. ‘So You Want to Talk about Race’ by Ijeoma Oluo; ‘Parable of the Sower’ by Octavia Butler and ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’ by David Olusoga are some examples of amazing books by black authors. 

As a father, it is my dream that my son Justin, grows up in a community where he is able to openly embrace, and be proud of his cultural and ethnic background. Where he isn’t judged for wearing an African print outfit to Prom. Where he doesn’t get left off a sports team because his surname isn’t “white-sounding”. Let’s make sure we have policies in place that will ensure that he has the same opportunities that other children of other races might have and if not, let’s not be afraid to relocate resources to level the playing field. 

In summary

I am grateful to Dorset Mind for this amazing platform where as a black man I can share my heart, and the struggles experienced because of the colour of my skin. An opportunity to challenge the stigma of mental health and as a black man seek ways to promote mental wholeness in our day to day lives. It is fulfilling for me that people have become more sensitive and conscious of the struggles of racism and the issues of white privilege. I’m aware of the progress made in the areas like the work place, education, healthcare and policing. We are all now taking time to learn about the black experience and the historical legacy of colonialism and slavery. While doing all this learning we shouldn’t forget that there is still a present day problem with institutional racism and this won’t change overnight without concrete action. 

Yes, Black History Month celebrates black culture and heritage, and black iconic figures, but I hope BHM can be much more. It CAN be much more. We can come together to make a change for the better. We can celebrate community, provide support, and give others a safe platform for true acceptance. It is Time for Change: Action Not Words. 

Today’s Guest Blogger

Thank you to our Ambassador Chris, who shares his perspective on Black History Month and mental health and how we can learn from the past to start taking action now.

Help and support

If you need support, please reach out. Don’t suffer alone.

We can help with non-crisis interventions. Dorset Mind offers group support that can also help with your wellbeing. The group offers peer support and helps to reduce stigma by normalising conversations about mental health. You can also check out further support for stress and mental health here. You’ll find links for 1-2-1 and groups mental health support we offer here. 

If you are struggling to cope with your mental health in general, please talk to your GP. If you’re in a crisis, treat it as an emergency. Call 999 immediately or The Samaritans, FREE on 116 123. NHS Dorset’s Helpline ‘Connection’ can be reached on 0800 652 0190. It’s also available 24/7.

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