Since 1987, the UK has celebrated Black History Month in October with educational, political, cultural and community events. It was a concept developed by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a special projects officer at the GLC and later at the London Strategic Policy Unit, and was inspired by the USA Black History Month, which takes place in February. Over 30 years on, UK Black History Month is a highly-anticipated part of the calendar and a chance to not only reflect on the history of black excellence, but also to have candid conversations on how society can continue to become more equal, open and inclusive.
While progress has undoubtedly been made, the events of 2020 have brought existing inequities and inequalities into an even sharper focus. There has been a massive upheaval in our daily lives due to COVID-19, with Black People in the UK disproportionately affected. Simultaneously, Black Lives Matter, which began back in 2013, has gathered momentum and become a truly global movement. In the wake of the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many more Black Americans, combined with a renewed focus on disparities in the UK’s judicial system, Black History Month 2020 takes on an even greater significance.
Here at Chambers and Partners, in September 2019 we created a Black Focus Group to provide a safe space for our black colleagues to shape our vision for how to become a more inclusive organisation, with a direct line to senior leadership. The Black Focus Group is now working on plans for positive action in key areas, such as recruitment, retention, promotion and workplace culture. This work is combined with that of INSPIRE, our internal D&I committee and employee engagement network, which includes a Cultural Inclusion team that focuses on race, ethnicity, faith and religion.
These two groups have been instrumental in planning our agenda for UK Black History Month 2020. As well as creating some fantastic content (which you will see as the month progresses), we have organised our second internal UK Black History Month event. Taking place on Thursday, 15th October, from 16:00-17:30, we are welcoming some incredible speakers to share their experiences and offer insights into racial diversity in the legal profession.
Professor Leslie Thomas QC, LLB (Hons); LLD (honoris causa), is a human rights/civil liberties barrister. A specialist in inquests and public inquiries, he has appeared in many leading high-profile death in custody cases representing the families of the deceased, (Azelle, Rodney, Mark Duggan, Christopher Alder and Sean Rigg). In 2012 he was awarded Legal Aid Barrister of the Year (LALY) and again in 2016 for his work on the Hillsborough disaster. A former Joint Head of Garden Court Chambers, in 2020 he became the first Black Professor of Law at Gresham College. He is currently one of the senior barristers representing many survivors and families following the Grenfell fire disaster.
Alexandra Wilson, Barrister, Five St. Andrew’s Hill
Alexandra is a barrister specialising in criminal and family law at 5SAH Chambers. In her criminal law practice, she represents a variety of clients charged with serious matters and specialises in young and vulnerable clients. Her family law practice includes private children, public children, domestic abuse and finance cases.
Alexandra is a published author, having written ‘In Black and White.’ She is an advocate for change within the legal profession and in all walks of life. Alexandra champions diversity and equality for all and has also spoken out after experiencing racism as a black female at the Bar, and how we need to do better within the legal profession.
We look forward to celebrating UK Black History Month with you all and hope that together we can create a more equal and inclusive legal profession, and by extension, society.