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Bo’s story: Black History Month

Bo Escritt
22 October 2020

To honour Black History Month, the BAME and ally network have planned a number of activities throughout October. In addition to this, we have also spoken to colleagues to tell their story about their culture and their work in healthcare.

Bo Escritt is a Human Resources Manager (Medical HR). She is Black British (Yoruba, Nigerian).

Bo talks through her career in healthcare, people who inspired her to go into healthcare and what Black History Month means to her. Thank you Bo.

What made you want to get into the health care industry?

From being a child, I remember wanting to work for the NHS.  I have a lot family that work in the health service as doctors and nurses, so I guess it is what I was exposed to. I was always intrigued by the stories that were told about how my family members enjoyed caring for patients.  It was hard but rewarding work.  Following my postgrad, I volunteered in the personnel department at Mildmay Mission Hospital, London’s only specialist HIV hospital and a charity providing NHS services.

What do you like about working in health care?

I like the range of people that you come into contact with, there is such a range of careers.  I have met so many fantastic people, admired their dedication and seen how hard working these individuals are. I have always understood that by doing my job as a HR professional to the best of my ability and caring for our staff, it enables them to give the best quality care to their patients.  Caring for those that care, so that they can give their very best is so important.  The NHS fits with my values of equality and altruism  – “the NHS is by the people for the people”.

What struggles if any have you faced?

As a young black woman, I initially struggled to get into my chosen career of human resources. I attended many interviews and had so many rejections. The HR profession is extremely white (8.9% BAME HR Managers & Directors CIPD) and I guess I wasn’t what a typical HR professional looked like.  The interview feedback I was given time and time again was that I was not a good fit for the team. There was no equality data such as the Workforce Race Equality Standard back then to evidence any inequality and worse treatment of black people. My family would say; “keep going – you’ll need to work twice as hard to get half as far and it will take twice as long”. They spoke from experience.

What does Black history Month mean to you?

I only learnt about white history at school, I didn’t learn about the history of any great black people. Africa was referred to as a dark, distant and uncivilised place – somewhere bad.

The history of my people, my Yoruba ancestors and my noble lineage was taught to me by my family and community.  I also had to teach myself about black history. Black history did not start with slavery as taught in schools, we had fully functioning organised civilisations.  I remember being taught about Benin City in Nigeria and the Benin civilisation.  At an early age I went to see the Benin bronzes in the British Museum, bronzes dating back to the 13th century and it was my community that made sure that I understood my heritage and that I was told about their world importance in the history of humanity.

Black history is our shared histories.  Black History Month gives a chance for learning about this collective history.  As a black person growing up in the UK, I quickly discovered that black people’s history is not given prominence or even acknowledged. History involving black people is buried and in some cases consciously forgotten.  Black History Month gives the opportunity for us all to celebrate and focus on BAME achievements from the past and present.  Here at Sheffield Children’s, I hope that Black History Month will amplify the voice and visibility of our BAME staff and this will continue not just once a year but throughout the year.

Is there a Black figure that has inspired you to go into health care?

There are many inspiring black figures in health care the most obvious one is Mary Seacole (23 November 1805 – 14 May 1881) a British-Jamaican  nurse. Incidentally, Seacole was still alive when Sheffield Children’s was established in 1876.

Another inspiration nearer to home is Sheffield born, Dr Gina Higginbottom, the first BAME nurse to hold a professorial role in a Russell Group institution.  Black women make up less than 2% of the professoriate in Higher Education HESA.  The statistic highlights the further progress that still needs to be made in addressing race inequality in 21st century in the UK.

Gina, grew up in Pitsmoor and went to King Ecgbert School in Dore. Her dad is Ghanaian and was a steelworker, while her English mum worked at the Bassett’s confectionery factory.

She was the first of her family to go to university and was given an MBE in 1998.

Can you tell us of any black figures that inspire you today?

It has to be Barak Obama, the first black president of the United States of America.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that this would or could happen in my lifetime.  He’s a great intellect, humorous and fantastic orator.  He was ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ such as Martin Luther King, John Lewis and Angela Davis – African American civil rights activists who spent their lives fighting for justice and fairness for people of colour.  I believed this pathed the way and made a black president possible.

What would you say are your greatest achievements in healthcare?

I am an accredited coach and have often coached and mentored BAME staff.  I have supported BAME staff to navigate the system and barriers they encounter in order to reach their potential.  My greatest achievement has been to see others believe in themselves and reach their potential.  I am committed to raising awareness around the issue of inequalities and creating a fairer workplace and society for all. It is a great achievement for Black History Month to be happening this year at Sheffield Children’s and to be part of it with other BAME colleagues.

Do you have a recommended film or book which may educate inspire others?

As a teenager I read ‘Black Like Me’ by John Griffin published in 1961. It is the true account of a white man who temporarily darkened his skin by taking medication and spending up to 15 hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp. Once he could pass as an African American, he began a six-week journey in to the Deep South. At this time African–Americans lived under severe racial segregation. He travelled for six weeks throughout the racially segregated states to explore life as a black person and gave his account of his experiences.  I remember thinking this man was really able to experience with his own eyes what it was like to be black then and the worst experience that he encountered as a result.  The book left me with a profound question – If you could choose, with all that we now know about the impact of racism, would you choose to be born black?

The film that I would recommend is Black Panther, Marvels’ first black mainstream superhero.  With an all-black cast there was concern that the movie would not be popular or make enough money…it went on to smash the box office.  The lead character, the late Chadwick Boseman was an inspiration and a superhero in his own right.

A superhero that looked like me was unheard of when I was growing up. It was great that this was something that my kids could experience.

 

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