Black History Month

21/10/2020
Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate and recognise what black people have achieved. It’s also a time to reflect on the lived experience of black people, both past and present. We spoke to five of our black colleagues to find out what Black History Month means to them, and what their experience as a black person has been like at the DCC.

Remi Oluwabamise, Senior Business Analyst

David Kamailo, Business Planning Manager

Miriam David, Executive Business Officer

Rayna Miller, Head of Employee Engagement & Social Responsibility

Rashid Ogunbambi, Software Tester

1. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Rayna Miller: Black History Month is a chance to celebrate the contribution my people have made to society. I have had people say to me in the past, ‘why not have a White History Month too, then?’. My response to that is that white history is taught every day in schools across the UK, it’s in our museums and in many other parts of our society. Black history however is often forgotten or ignored in the UK. So, BHM is a chance to bring it to the forefront and to celebrate what generations of Black people have contributed to our country.

Remi Oluwabamise: Two words; recognition and equality. Black History Month is an opportunity to remember and, in some cases, educate people about the contributions and values of melanin-rich people. Over the past four centuries, black people have been subjected to different forms of oppression which has led to the devaluation and dehumanisation of black lives. It is a constant reminder of the continued struggles for freedom, equality and respect for black lives.

Miriam David:  Black History Month for me is an opportunity to celebrate the amazing things done by people that look like me! It’s also an opportunity for me to learn more about Black British History and even history and culture from my native land, Nigeria (that I never learnt in school).  I celebrated Nigeria Independence on 1st October by watching a documentary ‘A Journey of an African Colony’, and watched some newly released Nollywood films on Netflix, since COVID won’t permit us to party. This year has been quite traumatic for our community globally, so I believe we owe it ourselves to celebrate in some way and encourage ourselves that despite the injustice, ‘still we rise!’. 😊

David Kamailo: Black History Month for me is a time to remember and reflect on all those who have helped pave the way for the freedoms I enjoy today. It’s also time when I make an extra effort to seek inspiration from my heroes like Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela on remember how perseverance and decency will always lead you to success.

Rashid: For me, Black History Month means celebrating all the achievements that have been achieved by black people, and other under-represented groups.  It also means teaching these as part of history lessons and lectures at schools, colleges and universities, and acknowledging the fact that people of colour are equally as capable as their white counterparts to make a mark in the world. A few individuals predicted that one day a black person will be president of the United States, and whilst this prediction caused discomfort and consternation for some, it happened, and Barack Obama did an excellent job despite the barriers that were thrown on his path. Likewise, after decades of apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela served his term as president and did the best that he could do as an eloquent leader and gentleman. All these notable achievements must be recorded, rewarded and celebrated, and not relegated to the annals of the forgotten rubbish heap.

2. What is your overall experience as a black person working in our sector and at DCC?

Miriam: The DCC is probably the most diverse place I’ve worked at so far, having started my career working for a Nigerian energy company in the UK where I was counted as part of the majority. I feel that as an organisation we’re making good progress to make everyone (like me) feel like they can belong. We still have a way to go in terms of representation at senior levels, but it really is a journey and I believe the top are listening and understand that there is an expectation to address it.

David: Working at DCC as a black person has been very positive. We have a diverse group of people working here and honestly, it’s one of the few places I’ve worked where I have not been made to feel aware of the colour of my skin. I also get opportunities to work across the organisation and closely with the Executive Team which makes me feel empowered.

Rashid: So far, so good. My experience has been memorable, and I have been adequately impressed with the recent actions that were implemented following the George Floyd incident. However, this sorry saga shouldn’t have been the catalyst for the paradigm shift in industries to actively deal with cases of injustice, impunity and racism in the workplace. The UK is a melting pot of varying cultures that encompasses a cornucopia of different lifestyles and diverse cultures. I’d like to see the faces of black and other ethnicities in senior management positions at the DCC, as this will further buttress my belief and opinion that the DCC is the “place to be” for under-represented groups in terms of working, learning, and interacting with other individuals. 

Rayna: My experience hasn’t been without challenge. For most of my career I have worked in corporate communications. I’ve worked in a range of companies and have often been the only black face in very white spaces. Early on in my career, I found it intimidating and disheartening. Now, I am seeing a bit more diversity in the corporate world – so it is getting better, but we have an incredibly long way to go. Representation at senior levels is still a big problem in the communications sector and others. But, that’s what spurs me on every day to be the best I can at what I do. I hope I can be an example to a young black woman somewhere, because she sees that I achieve whatever I do, and believes she can achieve the same and more, in her field.

Remi: Starting out at DCC was a blend of excitement and challenges. I was delighted to be part of a team delivering the core infrastructure for the Smart Metering Implementation Programme. I have found that I’ve had to work extremely hard to prove myself. I held a pivotal role in establishing DCC’s Technical Operations Centre and Implementing SEC Releases which helped me to gain trust and confidence in my competence. Many black people find themselves in this situation.

3. Have you had to face any challenges or had any struggles?

Remi: Being female and black has been quite challenging in many ways.  Apart from dealing with prejudice, ignorance and discrimination, I have had to stand up to bullies and let my voice be heard. I have learnt to be resilient and courageous in a world that has often made women invisible. Policies, cultures and laws that govern our existence discriminate against melamine rich people and women, leading to a lot of challenges in life. During one of my most difficult experiences, “Rising High” my debut song was birthed. Such events can be overwhelming, accompanied with feelings of hopelessness and pessimism about the future. The song draws upon the inspiration and boldness I received to face life’s obstacles with courage. I hope it inspires and enable people overcome life’s challenges. You can listen here.

David: Yes, sadly there have been struggles in my past. Coming from Zambia when I was 12 years old, I only ever read about racism and inequality in history books so, when I moved here, it was strange to experience it first-hand in the school playground. I feel like a lot has changed since then. However, I’m not sure it’s for the better. Whilst I don’t experience more apparent forms of racism, I still think systematic racism exists – and that now needs to be rejected. An example of systematic racism that I have experienced was when I was very close to being deported due to an “admin error” by the Home Office. As part of the process, they held my passport for 10 years where I was unable to enjoy the freedoms that my peers had. Whilst everything worked out in the end, their attitude of “No Harm, No Foul” did not make me feel valued. 

Miriam: I have battled with imposter syndrome being the only black person in the room.

4. Do you have advice for any young, black people thinking about a career in this field?

Rashid: I encourage any young person, regardless of their race, colour, ethnicity, creed to actively seek employment at the DCC. Our degree apprenticeship incentive for young graduates is an encouraging and brilliant move, and I wish I’d joined the DCC earlier to be a part of this. My advice to these young people is to also seek a mentor who can nurture and help them develop in their chosen careers, so that they can have a life-long experience that will be with them wherever they chose to be.   

Remi: Black people have a shared history of resilience and perseverance. I would say, ‘Don’t Ever Doubt Yourself’. Be the best you can ever be and when you’re at your best, strive to be better than your best. Keep developing yourself and learning new things. Make your contributions count and make your voice heard because they are valuable. I hear you say; does she sing too? Yes. I am a contemporary gospel music artist 😊. My foundation as a Chemical Engineer enabled me to transfer my skills and contribute to diverse fields. This has been key in my ability to engage and contribute to complex DCC projects. I am learning not to hold back on any of my talents. Most people have many skills. This inherent ability is what enables us all to adapt to different situations by choice. Learning to leverage these skills is key to growth, success and fulfilment.

Rayna: Go for it. You are just as deserving and capable as white people, or those from other ethnicities. I know society can make us feel, as black people, that we are less than others, but we are not. Don’t be put off by the tough times, see them as opportunities to excel. I believe that the real change will come with the next generation – so don’t lose heart and pursue your goals with all you’ve got. We’re right behind you cheering you on.

Miriam: Be yourself, use your authentic voice, take up space, find people in the organisation (or within your field) who can mentor you even from afar. I follow so many people on Instagram or LinkedIn (who in inspire me and look like me) It’s really important to have career role models – it’s really helped my self belief in recent times.

David: The biggest advice I’d give to young black people who would like to join a career in business planning is stay curious and always be open to learn new things. This will help you grow as a person and as a well-rounded strategist. Also, find a mentor. They can see where we need to improve in areas that we can’t - this has helped me grow in my career.