“I remember when I was really quite small, I was told by my mother and father that every single one of us has a talent and it is a talent which is special and only given to us. It is our job to find that talent, hone it and then use it for the benefit of other people.”
These words marked a defining moment in my life. I was a junior lawyer at the time and I was watching Baroness Scotland give a TEDx talk titled “You have got the power”. Her personal story and the many obstacles she overcame to become one of the UK’s most accomplished lawyers and public servants really struck a chord with me. So much so that I sought her out as a mentor and had the privilege of working for her.
The 10th of 12 children born in Dominica, she emigrated to the UK in the 1950s and grew up in Walthamstow, East London at a time when signs such as “no dogs, no Irish and no blacks” were not uncommon. After studying at a local state school, she graduated from the University of London with a degree in law and went on to practice as a barrister specialising in family law. Her career achievements have included many firsts, such as being the first black woman to be appointed a Queen’s Counsel, the first female Attorney General, since the post was created in 1315, and the first female Secretary General of the Commonwealth (you can read much more about her from an interview in The Lawyer in 2009).
It is not just Baroness Scotland’s accomplishments but also her ability to use the platform she has been given to effect progressive change in society such as spearheading major reform of the criminal justice system and being an advocate of the fight against domestic violence, which is particularly inspiring.
For a young black person aspiring to pursue a career in law, seeing people who look like them and are from a similar socio-economic background succeed in the legal profession is critical in helping them raise their ambitions and ultimately realise those ambitions and fulfil their full potential. That is why we need more Baroness Scotlands. People who can help reinforce the idea that if they can do it, then so can I.
I for one have benefited greatly from the advice and guidance of my mentors over the years. Their mentorship has been vital in helping me realise the role that we can all play in supporting and elevating the next generation of black lawyers. As a mentor, I have had the privilege of working with many intelligent young black students through initiatives such as the legal launch pad organised by the Black Lawyers Directory which helps black students successfully secure vacation schemes and training contracts, as well as the Prince’s Trust which provides one-to-one support to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and helps them successfully start their own businesses. Both programs are phenomenal and are making a real difference in the lives of young people across the country.
Equally important are the efforts being made to shed light on and celebrate the contributions of Black Britons to the economic prosperity of the nation. A few days ago, I was fortunate to receive the Rising Star – Professional Services Award at the Black British Business Awards, an accomplishment I owe to my mother’s prayers and the many hours invested by my mentors in helping me realise my aspirations. Through the Black British Business Awards, Melanie Eusebe and Sophie Chandauka have created a platform which celebrates and brings to the fore, the exceptional performance and outstanding achievements of black professionals and entrepreneurs across Britain.
The Black British Business Awards is not just a recognition of individuals for their achievements. It is also a great platform for businesses to be able to see the talent that is out there within the black community and for the next generation of black talent to be inspired and be encouraged to dream big.
In the early stages of my career, I was advised to seek out mentors who have accomplished the goals I aspire to achieve and have attributes I admire because they have an abundance of knowledge and experience which could help me achieve my goals. It is possibly the best advice I have ever been given.
Written by: Macky O’Sullivan