The theme of Black History Month this year is ‘Proud to Be’ – so we asked some of our black Partners to share what makes them proud
I’M PROUD TO BE MIXED BLACK
Nathan Robinson, Partner and Transport Operator
To me, Black History Month is all about representing my culture, and who I am as a person of colour. It’s a conversation starter – a reason to talk about the history of black people.
The Black Lives Matter protests last year sparked questions from my eldest daughter, who’s nine. She’s fair skinned, and it really upset her to realise that people may see me, her dad, differently – she didn’t understand why. It’s so important to talk and give my daughters the tools they might need to challenge ignorance.
We’re a mixed heritage family – my dad’s Jamaican and my mum’s from Mauritius. When the whole family meets up, there’s a mix of music and food, and my dad’s family will be speaking Jamaican Patois and my mum’s family French Creole. I hope my daughters grow up feeling proud of their heritage, and how unique they are.
When I was a kid, my dad would call us to watch the evening news – and we only later realised that it was because he wanted us to see Trevor McDonald, who was the only black face on TV at that time. My dad was proud, and wanted us to look up to him. Now, there are lots more black role models – the doors are opening up for young people.
At home, I love to cook Caribbean food. I’ve got my dad’s Jamaican recipe book – but he doesn’t always approve when I try a different version of a favourite recipe, and always points out when I’ve done something wrong!
I’ve worked at Waitrose for 17 years, and I’m involved in conversations to increase diversity in the supply chain. We’ve still got a lot to do, but I can see changes happening. It’s about talking about inclusion all year round – but Black History Month is a good time to start.
I’M PROUD TO BE MY MOTHER’S DAUGHTER
Donna Ferrance, Operations Partner
My mum taught me to stand tall, be honest and stick up for myself. When I was a 19-year-old fashion student, I did a shop report on a very English brand that I loved – my face definitely didn’t fit and I was followed around the store. Fast forward 10 years and I worked there as a temp – on my first shift I asked to change a mannequin! Within three months I was a manager. This was one of my earliest moments of feeling truly proud.
I grew up in Kent, and was the only black girl in my school. I didn’t have much connection to my Caribbean heritage, as we were an army family often on the move – I only met my grandmother when I was 14, and I was amazed to find out what a huge family I had.
Without this connection in my childhood, it was so important for me to see black role models. One of my earliest memories is watching Muhammad Ali with my dad, and I was blown away by how witty and disarming he was. He made me feel proud to be me.
“It was so important for me to see black role models”
Now, I’m involved in the Black Partners Advisory Group at the John Lewis Partnership, and I reverse-mentor a manager at a John Lewis in Wales. We talk every couple of weeks, ask honest questions and have an open conversation. Although we’re from different backgrounds, in some ways we’re the same – we’re both women navigating our working lives
Black History Month has been around for years, but people are only now starting to become curious, and more aware of how important it is. I feel hopeful that the younger generation won’t have to go through the same experiences I did.
I’M PROUD TO BE HALF JAMAICAN, HALF GHANAIAN – AND 100% BRITISH
Felix Akuoko, Partner and John Lewis Oxford Street Team Manager
When I was a kid, it wasn’t cool to be African or wear traditional clothes. I have a Ghanaian name – Kofi, meaning born on Friday. I used to be so embarrassed if my friends ever heard me being called by my traditional name! Now, I’m proud of my ancestry, and proud to wear clothes that show who I am.
I love my hair – it’s my pride and joy. People ask me about it all the time – how do you get it like that? When I was young I wanted dreads like Busta Rhymes. I was a big fan, but my mum wouldn’t let me as dreadlocks weren’t considered a respectable hairstyle. I think she loves them too now, and can’t imagine me without them!
“My hair is my pride and joy”
To me, Black History Month is a chance for people to understand more about other cultures, and a chance for black people to share our knowledge with each other, too. It’s so important for young people to know where they’ve come from, and to be able to ground themselves in history. It means we can rally round to support each other, and continue to rise.
Jamaican and Ghanaian cultures are very different: Jamaicans are livewires, while Ghanaians are very diplomatic and softly spoken. I have the best of both West Indian and West African: I’m subtle, gregarious and loud when I need to be!
I’m part of the Black Partner Advisory Group, as well as the Unity Network, which is the largest network in the John Lewis Partnership with 2,700 members. It’s all about supporting black and minority ethnic Partners at John Lewis and Waitrose – and building a world where, one day, networks like Unity aren’t needed.
WHO AM I?
Sabrina Elliott, Partner and John Lewis Brent Cross Team Manager
At some point in your life, you ask yourself a question
Who am I and where do I fit in? As you seek verification
Am I a child whose innocence is strong without a care in the world
Am I a teen seeking direction, observing events that have occurred
Am I the teacher that teaches or the student that learns and reflects
Am I the mother that nurtures or the father that stands and protects
Am I called the superior or simply the one collecting the stones
Am I a Queen who cannot be broken or a King building his throne
Am I embodying the sacrifices made by those that came first
If the truth were really to be told, I'm all of those things in reverse
So despite the negative exposure I get, albeit opinion more so than fact
I look in the mirror and see my reflection and say...
...I am truly proud to be black
Written by Sabrina Elliot for Black History Month 2021