An award-winning photographer is sharing the stories of Salford’s black, Asian and minority ethnic communities through an exhibition at The Lowry marking Black History Month 2019.
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.
You can view the images and accompanying stories below.
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.