Celebrating Black British Trailblazers by Dionne Gravesande

As I write this, I wonder if there is any topic more controversial today than that of the so-called ‘race debate’. Here I am speaking of both the broader cultural movement and the Church itself. In my estimation, this will end similarly to how many of the debates within Evangelicalism have over the years, where the existing lines will invariably lead to fractures and splits along both church and cultural lines. 

For example, in the context of culture, take the idea of institutional or systemic racism. While there are varying definitions of the term itself, at the broad level, systemic racism simply refers to the idea that existing power structures (ie. the government) have procedures and processes enshrined in law that create and perpetuate disadvantages to Black people and, by the 

same stroke, favour White people. This idea is not confined simply to the government, but is representative of society at large, and undergirds every institution in our culture, making it a culture that by design favours Whites as the dominant people group. Thus, if you are White, by ‘birthright’ you have inherited an advantage (White privilege) over your minority peers, when it comes to education, job prospects, marriage, interpersonal relationships, financial outcomes, policing, etc. In other words, Whiteness is woven into every aspect of life and, even though you might be in good standing with your Black neighbour, you nonetheless stand at an advantage simply by virtue of being White.

For Black women and men to thrive and flourish in such realities requires resilience, tenacity and, in most cases, courage. So, the place and space that faith occupies is crucial, not just as part of our identity but also as part of our critical thinking. As a daughter of a faith that proclaims ‘with God all things are possible’, I want to empower and enable the women trailblazers whose talents inspire and stretch me to reach my potential. Created in the image of God means, for me, I have purpose and potential to fulfil; this is only limited by my imagination.

The arrival of the Windrush generation in 1948 is often seen as the starting point of Black British history, but our history goes much further. Today we have some remarkable women who deserve recognition and, as part of the 2020 Black History Month, I want to again shine a well-deserved spotlight on a few inspirational Black women cited as those helping to shape Black British history.

Margaret Busby – Tessa Sanderson – Baroness Doreen Lawrence

Margaret Busby

Margaret Busby OBE became Britain’s youngest and first Black woman book publisher, co-founding the publishing company, Allison & Busby, in 1967. For more than three decades, Margaret campaigned for greater diversity in publishing, and is a founding member of the organisation Greater Access to Publishing.

Tessa Sanderson

Athlete Tessa Sanderson OBE became the first British Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1984. She spent her incredible 17-year career at the top of her game in international javelin throwing.

Since retiring from athletics, Sanderson has presented the sports news on Sky, and also runs her own sports management company. She was awarded an OBE in 1998 for her work with sports and charities.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence

Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE campaigned tirelessly for reforms of the police service after her son, Stephen Lawrence, was murdered in a racist attack in 1993. She was awarded an OBE in 2003 for services to community relations, and appointed Baroness in 2013. In April 2014, she was named as Britain’s most influential woman in the BBC Woman’s Hour power list.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock – Sharon White – Diane Abbott

Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Dr Margaret Ebunoluwa Aderin-Pocock MBE is a British Space Scientist and Science Educator and also an Honorary Research Associate of University College London’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Since 2014, she has co-presented the long-running astronomy TV programme, The Sky At Night. In 2013, she was named on the UK Power List as one of the UK’s most influential Black people.

Sharon White

Dame Sharon White DBE was the second permanent secretary at HM Treasury, the first Black person – and the second woman – to hold this position, which she held for two years. She took over as chief executive of telecoms regulator, Ofcom, between March 2015 and November 2019, and is currently Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership.

Diane Abbott

Diane Julie Abbott is the first-ever Black woman to be elected to Parliament, and has been the Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987. She served as the Shadow Home Secretary in the Shadow Cabinet of Jeremy Corbyn from 2016 to 2020, and has also founded the ‘London Schools and the Black Child’ programme, which aims to help Black children achieve in the classroom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *