Every October, people across the UK acknowledge and celebrate Black History Month (BHM) – a time of year dedicated to learning about the contributions of black people across the ages. This year’s theme for BHM was ‘Time for change: Action, not words’ and to support this theme, the Race & Ethnicity group from our wider Inclusion & Belonging team put together a varied and interactive curriculum for our co-members to get involved with.

To start the month, we launched Reed’s first ever book club, the idea being that co-members would all read one of two books from Black authors during October and re-group at the end of the month via a video conference call to debate and discuss the book and its associated themes.

From the initial longlist of book options, there were two options that emerged as the most popular. Firstly, ‘The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism’ by John Barnes – Part biography, part social deconstruction, this book weaves together John Barnes’ personal experiences with analogies of institutional and systemic racism whilst holding a mirror to this country’s past, present and future.

For fans of fiction, the second option was ‘People Person’ by Candice Carty-Williams. After finding huge success with her bestselling first novel ‘Queenie’, Candice Carty-Williams’ sophomore novel ‘People Person’ is a witty and insightful novel about the power of family—even when they seem like strangers. Through subtle and clever nods to the nuances of growing up as a Black person in south London, the well-written and fully dimensional characters will have you rooting for them as if they’re your own siblings.

Hearing each other’s opinions and perspectives on the books during the book club review at the end of the month seemed to be just as enjoyable as the books themselves with co-members fully immersing themselves in deep discussion on the feelings and memories evoked by ‘People Person’ or how John Barnes’ perspective in ‘The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism’ would shape their thinking on the role that race plays in society going forward.

Whilst co-members were reading one of the two books in their spare time, we also shared two blogs that covered the brief history of two pivotal forms of expression within black culture: music and visual arts. Each blog discussed the origins of the art form as well how they’ve developed in recent times and the cultural significance of landmark pieces in each form. For music, we highlighted the instruments that originated from prehistoric Africa such as the guitar and the banjo and also the role that music played in the liberation of black people during the slave trade. More recent highlights include Civil Rights-era musical figures like Little Richard and Chuck Berry as well as the impact of Reggae on modern UK and US Black music. The history of visual arts in Black culture is equally fascinating, we shared the often-undiscussed influence that African art had on 20th century artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and more. Furthermore, we highlighted the significance of portraits within Black art, culminating in Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Barack Obama in the Smithsonian National Gallery.

Kehinde Wiley presenting his portrait to President Barack Obama at the Smithsonian (2018).

To add an extra dimension to these educational pieces, we provided links to upcoming events focused on black arts across the country that co-members could visit as well as curated our own ‘Reed Celebrates BHM 2022!’ Spotify playlist with songs from seminal Black musicians which you can find below!

Furthering the educational feel of the month, the Race & Ethnicity group collaborated with our Learning & Development team to deliver one of Reed’s famous ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions, this time focusing on the timely topic of microaggressions. A microaggression is defined as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. In the case of this Lunch & Learn, Rosina Humphrey (L&D Business Partner) explored this definition, some common examples and advice on how to identify and challenge microaggressions before passing to a 3-person panel who discussed their experience of microaggressions in wider society.  Whilst definitely a sensitive topic, the panel handled the conversation with respect, understanding and a welcome touch of humour which landed extremely well with co-members who left numerous positive reviews.

“I am always blown away when co-members put themselves out there. A big thank you to the panel: Lucy St-Marthe, Frederick Idiong and Ryan Pearson for giving so much of themselves in order to bring this topic to life for others… This has been a fantastic Black History Month. It has encouraged me to be curious, it has given me the opportunity to listen and laugh, along with listen and learn. Thank you to everyone who has participated.”

– Karen Jackson, HR Director

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Kudos to our Race & Ethnicity team for curating an excellent month of teachings across multiple formats and to the co-members who took the opportunity to learn something new this Black History Month and hopefully, make a change for the better.