Appreciation is the 8th A of Authentic Allyship

Maybe it’s because of the trauma, the humiliation and cruelty that we as black people have had to endure for centuries that we know how to celebrate, how to party and really enjoy ourselves. Anyone that has been to a Caribbean or African wedding will know that celebrating and partying is something we do really well, that and the making and eating of the fabulous food that goes with it of course. This thought came to me on Friday 29th October at the Black Country and West Birmingham NHS Trusts black history month awards event. It was an outstanding evening and what was even more uplifting to see was how the joy and delight overflowed and infected the white colleagues that were there too. The atmosphere and perhaps a few glasses of wine made many of them relax and find their way onto the dance floor. I was impressed to see them dancing to ‘Jerusalema’ and my favourite, ‘the candy’.

So here we are at the end of another black history month, 31 days when the country sits up and takes notice of the contribution of people of African descent to this country. That contribution has not been inconsequential and lot of it has been accompanied by blood, sweat and tears. 2 years ago, after a number of white leaders in the NHS asked me how they could practically and demonstrably support people from black Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, how they could become true allys, I wrote the 7 A’s of Authentic Allyship. The model was designed specifically to support white colleagues in how they could become authentic ally’s and support the cause for racial
equality in a practical and positive way. I am delighted that the 7 A’s has been widely circulated in the NHS with many people using it to develop training modules on allyship, like Candace Bedu- Mensah at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS FT.

On Friday evening amidst the celebrations at the Birmingham and Black Country awards ceremony, it came to me that another A needs to be added to the model. That A being Appreciation. True, wholehearted and genuine appreciation of the contribution of black people to society and the world at large is sadly lacking, apart from during black history month that is. The truth of the matter is that black and white history are inextricably linked and without black history there is no white history, the stories of each group are interconnected and should be told together. Over the years this has not been done, we hear stories about white heroes and heroines, over and over again,
they are deeply embedded in our minds, we know their names and what they do or have done off by heart, however we know little of black people that have also made significant contributions not to mention sacrifices in the world. Yes the names of Nelson Mandela, Mary Seacole and Martin Luther King are well known but what about people that invented household items, things we use every day, a black man called
Thomas Stewart that invented the mop, Sarah Boone, a black woman, the ironing board, and Thomas Ray another black man, the dustpan. Black people have been ground breaking scientists and mathematician’s like Mary W. Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan the three amazing black women that helped put rockets into space at NASA. We need to show a genuine and heartfelt appreciation of what people with African heritage have brought to this country and the world at large over centuries. Black people have contributed in sport, politics and the arts, too
many people to name here, sadly appreciation of their contributions and achievements are muted, whitewashed or not celebrated at all.

Appreciation does several things, it makes people feel valued, lifts their confidence and self-esteem. It makes you feel valued and worthwhile, it gives you that extra spring in your step when people appreciate and value what you have done. Appreciating people comes in different forms, it comes in saying thank you, in bothering to take an interest, it comes from valuing the contribution of the individual and the communities they come from. This A is essential if we are to really get to grips with being authentic allys.

On Friday night at the awards ceremony, appreciation was shown in so many ways, and you could actually feel the energy in the room go up, energy that could be harnessed to ensure patients receive a high-quality service from valued and appreciated staff, particularly at this difficult time for so many in the service.

At the event, 93-year-old Jamaican born, Neil Flanigan was in the room. Neil came to the UK in 1943 and fought alongside other Caribbean soldiers during world war 2. Neil fought for this country and was willing to lay down his life for it. The room showed Neil how much he was appreciated by giving him a standing ovation, he very much deserved it. Neil was touched by the gesture; people thanking him for his contribution to making the world a safer place and openly and loudly valuing his contribution. Appreciation
was shown to all the award winners for their efforts, for their commitment to the NHS and to the patients that they served.

Appreciating and valuing people is key to building their self-esteem their self-confidence, it makes people stand taller and want to do more when people say we value you and your efforts.
On the whole people from black backgrounds are not valued or appreciated, surely that has to change if we are to have true allyship, which reminds me, someone told me that we don’t need allys in the fight for inclusion and acceptance we need accomplices. On second thoughts perhaps I need to add two more A’s to the model making it the 9 A’s of Authentic Allyship.

This blog would not have been written if Donna Mighty, Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust and Sabrina Richards, Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust both WRES Experts and fabulous human beings had not invited me to speak at the Black Country and West Birmingham Trusts black history month awards ceremony and by way of this blog I want them to know how very much I appreciate them.

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