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Dawn’s story: Black History Month

Dawn Blake
08 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.  

Dawn is a Specialist Vulnerability Practitioner in the 0-19 health visiting and school nursing service. She was born in Great Britain, her parents were born in Jamaica and her grandfather is Chinese. She talks through her career in healthcare, her inspiration and what Black History Month means to her. Thank you Dawn.

What made you want to join the healthcare sector?

Initially nursing was not my first choice as a career. I wanted to become a professional dancer, joining the Northern School of Contemporary dance. Quite soon after I started, I knew this was not what I wanted to do. My parents were quite strict and although I expressed from a young age that I wanted to become a dancer, my mother who was a ward sister, stressed I could not go until I finished my A-levels, which I did. As a young teenager I was left confused as I had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. Mum being mum, said; “stop the messing around, you’re going to become a nurse” and this is where my journey started.

What is your experience of getting into healthcare?
I was very appreciative of the process, especially in terms of applying, as I had no clinical experience at all.

What do you like about working in healthcare?

I really enjoyed my time working within the acute setting at Sheffield Children’s. I worked on the medical wards and really got to know the children with long term conditions, becoming part of their family. Named nurse really did mean named nurse!

I felt privileged and proud to be part of M2, it felt like one big family. I gained many skills and felt confident to move into school nursing which I thoroughly enjoy. I enjoy meeting the healthcare needs and although the families are challenging and more complex today, I find the work really rewarding. The team are also really supportive. I am a Specialist Vulnerable Practitioner which involves safeguarding supervision for health visitors and school nurses within the 0-19 service. I also have the practice teacher education qualification which has enhanced my practice.

What struggles have you faced?

On a personal note, I am a mother of two young adults, one is my son who has a disability which is hidden. My daughter is a student mental health nurse. I knew it would be hard but I have faced challenges and prejudices which have brought tears to my eyes, more so with my son. However with the Black lives Matter movement and recent events, I have felt compelled to try and make a difference, no matter how small. I strive to be a positive role model for others.

On a professional level it really hasn’t been an easy journey and like many others, I have faced obstacles and challenges along the way. If I had to describe my journey it would be like an obstacle race – you have a flat run, you might jump over the obstacle or run into it and the cycle continues. However it is my ambition to pave the way for a smooth run! It is time for a culture shift and break this cycle.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

I am filled with excitement and feel privileged to be part of the development of our first event within the Trust. It’s a time to reflect and celebrate historical and current achievements and bring them to the forefront of the agenda. It is an opportunity to share our own experiences and raise awareness. I look forward to the day when Black History is truly recognised and not just an event held in one month.

Was there a black figure that inspired you to go into healthcare?

On a personal level I would have to say my mother. Historically I am inspired by Mary Seacole. Mary Seacole was a pioneering nurse and heroine of the Crimean War. A black woman of duel heritage, who will have faced many prejudices. She studied medicine and helped wounded soldiers in battlefields. Mary died in London in 1881, unfortunately she was then lost to history for around 100 years until nurses from the Caribbean visited her grave. Mary was voted the greatest Black Briton. In 2016, the statue was finally unveiled in the grounds of St Thomas Hospital in London. She is an excellent role model for citizenship and entrepreneurship… know her name.

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

I have several, including Martin Luther King, who when faced with adversity his quote always resonates within my mind – “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”. Another is Ruby Bridges, who was only 6 years old when she became the first African American child to integrate a white southern elementary school. She was escorted to school by her mother and US marshals due to violence. Ruby’s act was a milestone in the civil rights movement.

A more recent figure would have to be Chadwick Boseman, a great inspiration to us all . A black super hero, he challenged producers when he was given roles where black people were not seen in a positive light. I admire him for his bravery, encouragement and determination to pave the way for others. His death is a great loss to many.

What would you say are your greatest achievements in healthcare?

Achieving my Masters degree has allowed me to broaden my skills and knowledge and the publication of my research in the Community Practitioner in 2019. Being successfully selected for the Sheffield Children’s Governors post is a great achievement too, I really didn’t think this would happen. I still have goals that I want to achieve.

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

I would recommend ‘Hidden Figures’ because what those ladies achieved is truly remarkable. A great series to watch is ‘When they see us’ – what the men faced made me lost for words. They showed bravery and courage when faced against adversity however they still strive today to make a difference for others and are role models.

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