Celebrating Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) cultures and contributions in Salford
Still I Rise celebrates Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) culture in Salford and tells the stories of some of those working in the city’s public and voluntary sectors.
The idea for the exhibition came from Salford’s BAME Mental Health Champions, a group of volunteers representing people in their communities – including African, Yemeni and Chinese – who work with NHS Salford Clinical Commissioning Group to act as links to mental health services in Salford.
Working with Salford’s Equality Partnership, the champions have co-produced Still I Rise with acclaimed photographer Allie Crewe, a University of Salford graduate and one of the winners of this year’s Portrait of Britain 2019 award.
In 2019, 16 portraits and stories were exhibited in Salford’s Lowry Art Gallery. A pop up exhibition also toured the city, visiting partner organisations such as Salford University, Salford City Council and Salford Royal Hospital. The exhibition was also shared with primary and secondary school children at a special event to recognise Salford’s Schools of Sanctuary.
This year a further 13 people have taken part, sharing their powerful personal stories including hospital staff, volunteers, prison staff, members of the council and third sector organisations. These individuals share stories to inspire and empower others and offer role models for future generations.
You can view the images and accompanying stories below.
Here are my thoughts for Still I Rise. I didn’t want to get into a detailed CV of me. I felt it wasn’t just about me and I felt that details of individuals experiences and pain was not the main point from my perspective...it’s more about the resilience one builds through their personal journey and the attitude we acquire to manage all the adversity that is thrown at us in our journeys, yet we still rise, to all human beings that once were wounded and hurt because of ignorance and hatred. Here you go:
A message from a Black-African, Muslim, Arabic-speaking, Migrant Worker Woman to racists, Islamophobes, xenophobes, sexists, homophobes and discriminatory beings that are happy to practice their ignorance whenever they choose.
“We are products of distorted world that was created when kindness, justice and humanity were ignored by you.
Your hatred will only make me pity you, what a lost soul.
Be ready, as I will challenge your ignorance! Your unreasoned hatred is disgraceful.
My dignity and resilience bother you
my morals and principles bother you
my stamina and success bother you
my mere existence bothers you.
Stay bothered, as I will continue to prosper and shine.
I am not going away
get used to living bothered
for I exist... Still I rise”
I still lucidly remember the day when I travelled to the UK 15 years ago as a first-generation immigrant from India. I was the first in my immediate family to have ever travelled on a plane, let alone set foot on a foreign soil! Despite having had a very humble beginning in terms of our childhood housing and mediocre schooling, my parents always emphasised ‘hard-work’ as being the key ingredient to success for which I will ever be grateful.
I have of course had my share of explicit name-calling and being not valued at times simply due to the colour of my skin. However, these are heavily overshadowed by all the love and affection I have received from people around me in this country which I now proudly call my home! I am proud to be British! I have always been fortunate enough to have supportive colleagues and managers at work which has helped with my career development.
I am highly self-critical and often not kind to myself, but then I only have to look back and remind myself of what I have achieved and that I AM STILL RISING!
There are times when I don’t want to be strong, when I don’t want to deal with all this.
Sometimes I wonder what else I can do and what else can be done?
Sometimes I just want a soft place to fall.
I thought about Black Lives Matter and the anger and frustration inside me which affects me daily as a black woman in and out of the workplace.
I also thought about the Ankh chain I was wearing which represents ‘purpose’ and helps me to be proud of the work I do to change culture as an equality diversity and inclusion practitioner.
To be honest I had a great upbringing being the only black person in my family, but it was very strange going to school and there was only 2 black children in it. I wasn’t treated any different to anybody else, I don’t know if that’s because I was a lot taller than everyone else. I have had no problems with getting employment or even being bullied due to the colour of my skin.
You may see
A man of colour
How I smile
In a world
Add to the divisions
In ignorance that's bliss.
Still I rise
The way it is.
You may ask me
How I do it?
I find the drive?
In the face
Of such adversity
Why it is I try?
I want to answer,
I just don't have the time.
making changes –
So it is,
For all of those
Who see me
Through prejudicial eyes,
who do not see at all
Beyond society's lies,
Does my happiness
You will deny.
you are the reason
That I proceed
with your coloured views,
Beat me with your words.
My bludgeoned head
Wil never bow,
On equal ground,
Shove me to the floor.
Still I will
That little more.
the quiet whisper
Uttered on the boats,
rise up now
In these poetic notes
I, the rattle
of the shackles
That tethered us
Rise as a reminder
We're separated never.
I, the ravaged motherland
Known as home of past
to my people
"Rise my people - fast"
the washed up refugee
On the morning beach –
Plead "hear my spirit speak –
Please rise up
with fates that were
meant to be.
Elevate to elevate,
Rise up side by side;
And butterflies that float –
Rise my people..
When the society places the burden of not doing well, of not achieving on you, of being poor, disease prone based on the colour of your skin; it can often go in different directions. One could be of resilience in the face of these multidimensional struggles and another could be laying the bed for deep seated anger. I chose the former as the shame of that burden will not be borne by me. This is the driving force behind the need to be a change agent anywhere I find the opportunity including in my job as a Maths Tutor in Forest Bank Prison. It is a tragically shameful to witness what is going on in 2020. It shows that the world has not really gone too far from the times of the Civil Rights movement. We all have a responsibility to question our understanding of what blackness means. For me, it is strength in the face of multifaceted oppression.
My story is a little different to the rest I’ve read on here. To look at me, you may consider me a white man or you may look at me and see my black heritage ….all depends on who is looking I suppose. Throughout my life people can either see my heritage or they don’t. Sometimes I would tell people sometimes I wouldn’t. To me, that’s where the problem lies. I am in-between … I don’t see myself as black or white and I’m not the typical mixed race person either. They used to say I was quarter caste…these days they say I’m mixed race. I know what I am I just don’t know how to describe it. I’m in-between… I am me.
My mam is white and my dad is mixed race of Jamaican heritage. I have a sister who is typical mixed race with really curly hair…then there’s me. I wished I was darker with afro hair or paler with straight hair, anything instead of what I was. Growing up there was no other mixed race families we was the only one. So with that came racism and sometimes misinformed racism where they completely got my heritage wrong….either way it hurt and made me angry. As I got older it became less of a thing or maybe I didn’t let it bother me as much. I became prouder of who I was even though I wasn’t sure what to call it. It started to matter less. I am me.
My dad used to tell me to always tick the White British box when describing heritage when I applied for jobs. He said I’d have more chance of getting the job. This made the confusion and anger in myself even worse. In my early 20s I worked very briefly at a big warehouse in Trafford Park I knew a few lads there from my previous job. On my first day I walked into the canteen and it was segregated…black on one side and white on the other. People I knew from both sides were telling me to come and sit with them. I didn’t know where to sit, I didn’t want to offend anyone from either side. That first day I sat with some friends on the black side but didn’t sit there again as some comments from people I didn’t know made me realise I wasn’t welcome. I wasn’t black. I wasn’t one of them. The next day I sat with friends on the white side…same thing happened…I wasn’t welcome. I wasn’t white….I wasn’t one of them. The next day I ate my dinner outside and noticed a group of lads sat together outside on a bench. I didn’t know any of them, but one told me to come and sit with them. They were lads of different mixed heritages and they were alright. Some you could tell straight away what their heritage was, some you couldn’t but it didn’t matter. I felt welcome. I wasn’t white I wasn’t black but I was one of them.
I had my dinner with them for the rest of my time there and I’m still friends with some. I suppose those tables are a metaphor for me and my life. I’m not white, I’m not black but at the same time I am white and I am black. I’m in-between and I’m happy and proud of who and what I am. I am me.
As the oldest child of Windrush parents, I was expected to follow my Mum into the local factory as I was told at school that I was thick, at 30 years old it was confirmed that I have dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. At my school careers interview I said that I wanted to be a nursey nurse, the careers advisor said that there would be more career opportunities in children’s nursing, that I needed to go to college to get my O’ level Maths & Biology, and there began my ongoing nursing journey. One year at college on a Pre-Nursing course, one year of Youth Opportunities Programme (YOP) caring for children in a nursey in the morning and elderly people in a nursing home in the afternoons, before finally being accepted onto a nursing course. My 37 years as a nurse have brought many challenges that unfortunately BAME nurses still face today including navigating structural & institutional racism, which is an ongoing expedition; and also, much joy from the Children & Young people and the families that I have cared for.
I grew up in a household with a single parent, in a deprived area, with a white majority. However hard life has been for me, my mum went through more trying to raise and feed us. My mother was the epitome of optimism. She always had a smile, chatted to everyone that passed by and was the focus of the room. She held no bitterness to those who wronged her, and instead pushed herself harder to achieve. My mother's attitude spoke volumes to me and instilled in me confidence and resilience to tackle whatever came my way.
One of these situations was the inevitable racism that came with the colour of my skin. My first encounter with discrimination was at a young age when a white individual threw a snowball at me and called me a 'paki'. At the time, I didn't think much of it, didn't understand why something I had no control over, was a reason for torment. Racism followed me throughout my life and I began to understand the implications. I also saw me and my colleagues being treated differently due to the colour of our skin. It could have been silent segregation, or being called 'Saddam' at my work experience, but the result was the same. I felt like an outsider. I had always had a quiet fear of wanting to fit in and feeling different or unworthy fed into the fear. My mother and her optimism was a life jacket to me in these times. I found myself gaining confidence and made my own steps to make sure I do belong. I challenged racism and questioned discrimination. I immersed myself into organisations, to help make a change. I am extending my confidence to those in the grass root initiatives I work in, just like how my mother extended hers. I am an active volunteer in many organisations: a parent governor at a local school, a trustee of cheetham advice centre, Manchester Islamic and Family Services, we stand together, and a manager of a local mosque and C4All. I have used my voice to raise awareness on other injustices, through my work as an ambassador for my area, for the Manchester Evening News.
Working with the community has not only become a passion for me but a requirement. The community and its complex needs should be our focus and once improved, can we truly make sure that the country we emigrated to, is a country of fairness, opportunity and growth.
It still echoes in my ear, my fathers’ stories of trying to fit in, his first wage being stolen by National Front thugs and wanting to ensure his only son (me) and his 5 daughters never face that racism both in society and also their working lives. My father worked in the cotton industry in the 1960’s, never having the opportunity to utilise his creative mind and pursue a career of choice due to societal expectations.
I have been blessed as my father gave up most of his life to ensure that we had an education that rivals the most academically educated in society. Equality obviously does not mean being accepted, it means just that… equality, easy; is it not? What should be a fundamental right in the 21st century? Now with academic rigour, with a Btec National Diploma; A Higher National Diploma, A First-Class Honours B.A. Degree, A Post Graduate Certificate in Education, A Masters in Arts (M.A), A Masters in Science, A Chartered Institute Personnel Development (CIPD) qualification…. I must have equality; I have proved myself right? I have been a public servant in the fire and rescue service, I have saved lives, I have given and continue to give thousands of hours to voluntary roles in the Police Service, in the Fire and Emergency support Service; this must mean that I am treated fairly, equally and transparently right? Not necessarily!
My lived experience tells me that structural barriers related to Race and other protected characteristics does still exist. But one thing is for sure, nobody can take my education away from me and I feel like I am turning into my father, sharing his sentiments insomuch as… “I will give my children the best start in life that I can and; I will role model them behaviours to ensure that they strive to achieve and be the best that they can be”
My lived experience and heritage has made me a stronger, more resilient and versatile, which drives my passion around the equality, diversity and inclusion. My ethnicity, my culture, my religion, my characteristics are something that I am immensely proud of and our allies, colleagues and acquaintances see that diverse communities add value to the rich tapestry of life. Out of adversity often rises opportunity, and that certainly is my lived experience. My family and the community are the backbone of society and I champion fairness; I challenge oppression and I value the concept of being the change that we seek. We cannot sit back and let things slip past us and be complicit in our silence.
Black Lives Matter and I will stand shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters to proactively ensure that the movement remains at the forefront of societies minds. Why are my Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Colleagues disproportionately affected by the COVID 19 virus? Why have my BAME colleagues disproportionally lost their lives on the front line in the NHS? We don’t know? Well that is not good enough! Health inequalities should be a thing of the past, but research tells us that it is not. We will ask why; I will not accept that we do not know, and neither should society. Fairness and Equality is a fundamental basic human right and in the 21st century we should be asking for this in employment, service delivery and society.
I have great role model’s that I aspire to be like. My coaching, mentoring and support is unrivalled and I aspire to be the best person that I can be. I am hugely proud of the organisation that I work for as the challenges that I have faced in my career, in society and in this world are being tackled bravely and boldly and with sincerity and holding up a mirror, and lens; such culture, nepotism and structural as well as institutional behaviours are and being taken apart. I feel privileged to be part of that journey and would like my legacy in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion world be based on actions, not words. I will rise and be heard and I reach out to you to do the same.
When I was doing my photoshoot this morning for the Still I Rise, I was thinking of my personal challenges I was facing relating to my girls. I have written a short passage expressing what I was feeling and thinking, whilst the photo was taken. I hope the below, reflects my photo.
“Life’s betrayal never seems to leave my sight. Sadness drowns my heart, my girls love keep me a flout, amongst the twist souls of kinship. The believing and the innocent souls will rejoice, have faith in the all mighty and one shall exult.”
I have been lucky in my life and career. I have a loving family who have always encouraged me. Friends, colleagues and bosses at work have given me opportunities and helped me succeed. So now here I am now a CEO of an organisation that I am hugely proud of.
That is not all my story. I had parents who emigrated to the UK in the 1950’s, parents who did their best to give us kids a start. My dad was an ice cream seller, having never been given the opportunity to pursue his chosen career because back then he even struggled to get a roof over our heads because of the “colour bar” let alone get a job with prospects. Those experiences and my ethnicity gave me the opportunity to add something different, it motivated me to work even harder, it drives my passion to support fair opportunities for all. I am a better person because of my lived experiences.
I hope to continue to support individuals to be the best they can be and for our communities to thrive and be exemplars of fairness and achievement.
I knew we were different growing up. We spoke other languages, wore different clothes at times and started learning prayers in Arabic and reading the Qur’an.
We went to a Church of England primary school and although we naturally respected and were included in all elements of the church and school, I would often adapt the words of the prayers to have meaning for me. That’s what I feel I was learning to do over the years to adapt, integrate, learn and work hard to succeed in both the family/inner community and the outer world.
We were always told to work and become something. This was continually drilled into us, perhaps because my parents knew we had to work harder as they did to get somewhere and prepared us to really standout and achieve, which meant working harder and consistently doing a lot more than everyone else to ‘deserve’ a place in society.
Most of the time I was ok being the only BME/Asian/Muslim and female person in any of the jobs that I have been in. Yes I had the Mancunian/salfordian accent, wore similar clothes to everyone else but visually I am different. This brought about both good experiences and learning points over the years.
As always, there’s the awkward how do I pronounce your name and again for adaptability I shortened it to Sharn which was the name that was given to me by a teacher when we moved primary schools so it wasn’t difficult for others to make the effort to pronounce my actual name. Names are really important as they are our identity – and when people don’t make efforts to pronounce or shorten without consent, this tells you a lot about how you are ( difference is) valued, I didn’t have a choice then, but over the years I’ve claimed it as my name and will adapt in settings to how I choose.
I still feel as though I have to represent the entire/Asian/Muslim/Female Muslim population or justify why my religion, culture, family or I am different from certain individuals that have certain beliefs or lifestyles or even more seriously have committed heinous acts. This can be draining at times and often I choose not to get involved in ‘putting’ people right as it shouldn’t always be my place to do so or that I should be the voice for an entire religion, continent or community. I choose however to do this in a more within my professional, family and social circles.
Within my current roles as BME staff group chair and within the Safeguarding Children Board I am often very aware of the impact that discrimination can play in society and the workplace and the impact this has on staff and our communities. For Example we know that there are hardly any senior managers from a BME background in our organisation, like many public sector organisations, so where are my role models? Who do I look up to and think ‘you are my inspiration” “it’s realistic for me to achieve those positions?”
You just don’t see people like me in many senior/leadership positions in public bodies? what does that message give to BME staff and people who want to achieve or aspire to more senior roles?
Often success/promotion/value can only be achieved when you venture out on your own or work within private settings.
I am sadly more aware of the overt attitudes of discrimination that is visible.
I hear endless stories of people applying for promotions, having the rights skills and experience, qualifications but still not getting the opportunities. Always hearing “ it was really close” and then finding out that the person who got the job is nowhere near as qualified and experienced .
Also being the ‘yes person’, taking on extra work and doing the unpaid acting up projects, working and delivering above and beyond. Taking on more qualifications so you can be ready for the next opportunity. Only to be told no again.
It’s easy to give up and not have aspirations. Many people do give up...
The managers/peers that have believed in me and encouraged me and given me the opportunity to make mistakes, learn and develop has prepared me for the roles I carry out now. Most importantly it’s been my family my parents and siblings. My parents who laid down the foundations for us to achieve whatever we wanted without some of the barriers they and my grandparents faced in the 50’s and 60’s coming over from Bangladesh, being British within their own right but sadly still felt like foreigners. My siblings and I have supported each other both socially and professionally being in various fields. This in turn gives us the motivation to ensure the next generation including my nieces and nephews to have a fair platform to opportunities that often we have had to fight for. I’m privileged and proud to be in a position where I can support others and in turn received support from others.
Thankfully in work and social circle I am friends with a lot of likeminded and open minded people from all walks of life and backgrounds where healthy debates can be had if required. That’s what’s helped along the way. I’ve networked and identified champions that have the similar visions so that we can make positive change and make appropriate challenges so improvements to people’s attitudes and services can be made. I know there’s still a long way to go, but a little change is better than no change.
I think it is very much needed. I have been involved in the BME Staff network for around 9 years now and I have seen little progress, in fact I think things are getting worse.
This has been on our agenda for years so we welcome and support the initiative.
Regardless of how much we claim that there is equalities and equal opportunities despite all the legislation in reality this is not the case. We still have hate crime, we still have the glass ceiling and we still have a gender pay gap!
My Mum was a Queen! She was my everything, my rock, my comforter and my inspiration. She made me feel 10 feet tall and this equipped me with the resilience to deal with racism. I will never know my place!! The thing is these days I am not so worried about direct abuse, although we know things have got worse with the far right. No, it’s the very subtle forms it takes, where it can be hard to decipher what is going on, subjectivity and how people can reinterpret and misinterpret to fulfil a subconscious bias which does result in race inequality.
We do have racial disparity in employment. I have left organisations after ‘restructures’ which, funnily enough have left the whole senior and middle management teams completely white (some of them, in my opinion and others, only half as competent as me. There I’ve said it!! Lol) I have worked within and with organisations that are meant to be all singing and all dancing in terms of equality, but the only place you see diversity is within lower paid positions! There is still a long way to go and I will call out all forms of inequality anywhere I encounter it which is everywhere. This also means as a leader that I also have to be self-reflective and call myself to account on different forms of inequality in view of my responsibilities. I’m open to challenge from others. I embrace it.
I’m comfortable in Salford and feel at ease being myself especially as Chief Officer for Healthwatch Salford. I aim to emulate the dignity and strength and perseverance of my mum but also I have had some great mentors black/white, male/female, young and old who have raised me up when I’ve been on my arse! I will always get up, head held high. I will never let them down and I’ve been humbled by the acceptance, support, compassion and encouragement given to me. This is who we really are. I’m British, We are BRITISH!
My family thought that we would be welcome and had high hopes about their new life in the ‘mother county’.
I was the 1st grandchild born here. Each school day I was called n________ or w___. Each day I was pushed, pinched, kicked, spat at and regularly refused a seat in the dining hall.
I am so very grateful that my children have not had to experience that at school. We have made so much progress in that, life is not like this now for all people of colour - just some.
So when I hear the question ‘what difference does it make?’ I can say hand on heart that working towards inclusion is about changing practice in the short term and the culture and experiences for our future generations. Working to make my grandparents and parents proud and pushing forwards for BAME young people.
We may not benefit directly from our work now but I have no doubt that future generations will.
What do YOU see ?
Imagine a little girl, say 8 years young, making a journey from home to school on a red dust road.
Imagine her hopes, dreams, ambitions, inspirations. Imagine the journey she would take in her mind.
Now imagine her making the journey from a small village in Ghana, speaking only her mother tongue (Twi), to Mental Health Nurse, to University Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Imagine.
When you look at me what do you see? Now look through the lens of our children.
A Salford father observed his son’s interaction with a group of his friends. He said to his son, “son, I am so proud of you”. So his son asks “why dad?”. The father replies, “because you are clearly mixing it up with your friends son. They are male, female, black, white, Asian, Jewish, gay and straight. What a diverse mix, I am so proud of you”. His son does not understand and asks “what do you mean dad? They are just my mates”.
Whilst our journey continues, let’s not lose sight of what we are already achieving. One day we will celebrate simply being a community of people.
“I don't like that man. I must get to know him better.”
― Abraham Lincoln
I have wondered what you may see or think when you look at my portrait? Will you see:
- someone who is an immigrant, gay, and has been on a journey of self-discovery leading to this day?
- a dignified man proud of his achievements? Someone whose work includes supporting people who are marginalised in society?
And yet there are signs of some scars too. So you may or may not see the impact of the major breakdown I had 20 years ago which lasted for 2 years. The man who hit the very bottom before starting his gradual recovery. The man who only got here because of the discovery that being your authentic self is the only thing that will make you happy. And surrounded by a caring partner, family and friends, learning the hard way, to really love my life.
My parents were born in India and then moved over to Kenya Nairobi for work, and then they had my brothers and sister. They came over to the UK in the 1960’s to find a better life and work, and settled in the North West, and I was born in this decade.
We lived within a mixed community, of all ethnic groups, so feel we integrated straight away, without a problem. We lived next door to a couple Sid and Evelyn who couldn’t have any children and they immediately took us and became our adopted Auntie and Uncle. Uncle Sid passed way when I was 10, and we helped auntie through this difficult time. My mother passed away when I was 17 and soon after this my father remarried, and my stepbrother and sister were born – extending our family to 6 children.
Auntie played an important part in our lives, especially for me, she looked after us, and to this day I am very grateful for her upbringing, as well as my parents and extended family. My father passed away over 13 years ago, and Auntie passed away 2 years ago at the age of 95.
This I say, has helped reshape my values and beliefs of having such an upbringing, living in a community that embraced diversity and celebrating three cultures… Indian, English and Irish. This has helped me progress throughout life…from school, to work and then to marriage. I married an Irish guy from Tipperary, Ireland (I know it’s a long way!!). We had an English wedding, and at our 25th Wedding Anniversary we promised ourselves to have an Indian blessing and we did this a year later at my parents’ home town in Navsari, Gujarat in India – what a memorable day.
We have a son born here who’s 26, who still lives at home, and for me this isn’t a big deal, this is what our families do – we look after each other. He’s gay and we love him dearly, we are so proud of him, as I know he is of us. We have so much diversity in our lives at home and work, and we truly value and respect this, and this is what makes for a better world.
Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice and belonging is having that voice heard.
I am very much the product of my mother’s spirit and energy. From a young age she taught me to stand up for myself and speak my voice, even if my words are unpopular, even if there is consequence to speaking out – as long as it is my truth. Through her example she gave me the permission to be fearless and, as American activist Maggie Kuhn said, to ‘speak your mind even if your voice shakes’.
This tool in my arsenal has served me well in my life, from speaking up against racist comments in my nearly-all white elementary school that wasn’t yet used to little black bodies, to the frustration of being routinely overlooked for more senior roles when less qualified white male bodies were granted appointments, because my body didn’t fit the image of which kind of body should inhabit management roles. However, like Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise to meet new challenges and seek new opportunities.
I carry that same spirit with me in my daily work as Head of Race Equality Charter at Salford University, where the university has set out to improve the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students within higher education. It is a challenging role, and a rewarding one, thus far. I want to use this new role to be a voice for positive, impactful change for our Salford University community. I want to use my voice to ensure that every body not only has a seat at the table but also feels a sense of belonging.
This poem summarises my journey so far and where I am.
“There are times that this world makes me feel smaller than I am.
Times when I feel unworthy of the space of which I take and the air which I breathe.
Times that I need to remind myself that I, myself, am whole and that no one or nothing can make me feel less than I allow them to.
Times I need to remember that I am to be unapologetic of my existence and live with the certainty that I am remarkable.
The ocean does not apologise for its depth and the mountains do not seek forgiveness for the space they take and so, neither shall I”. Becca Lee.