Unite celebrates Black History Month

Black History Month, which this year honours Black inventors, is now more important than ever

Reading time: 6 min

Every October, Unite’s headquarters holds its annual Black History Month event, featuring a range of speakers and the ever-popular buffet of African, Asian and Caribbean foods which sees Unite’s staff descend en masse in the most anticipated event of the year. Unite’s regional offices, too, hold a series of events marking Black History Month.

This year, Unite’s cherished Black History Month celebrations will not take place as usual – but the show will still go on in a special online Zoom event, with other online events taking places across regions. The keynote speaker this year for the central office event is Professor Lez Henry, a prominent academic, anthropologist and speaker of international renown. His speech will focus on how Black history has often been ‘hidden in plain sight’.

In lieu of the usual buffet at Unite’s headquarters, there will be a virtual lunch – and special cookery lessons of different African, Asian and Caribbean foods. Steps for cooking signature dishes such as ‘caldo de mancarra’ or African peanut stew, will be demonstrated by Unite staff as part of the Zoom event.

At the heart of this year’s Black History Month is celebrating Black inventors and innovators, of which there are many who have not received the recognition they deserve.

Some of these include Charles Drew, who invented the blood plasma bag; Alexander Miles, who invented the modern elevator with automatic doors; Thomas Marshall, who invented the first fire extinguisher sprinkler system; Lyda D. Newman, an activist in the women’s suffrage movement who also invented the first durable hairbrush; and Ronjon Chakraverty, who developed the bone marrow transplant – among many others.

Black History Month is also especially poignant this year in light of Black Lives Matter – a movement that has swept the globe after the murder of George Floyd by police in America earlier this year, sparking a wave of protests against racially-charged police brutality in the US, the UK and across the world. Unite has stood in solidarity with the movement since its inception, and the union’s Black and Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM) committees have in recent months hosted a range of online events to discuss how the union can further support the aims of the BLM movement.

Unite has also been at the forefront in highlighting the disproportionate impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on BAEM people. Not only have BAEM communities faced a heightened risk of dying from the virus, they have also been much more likely to lose their jobs amid the current crisis, even as their roles as key workers across industries have shown just how vital their contributions are.

Unite national officer for equalities Harish Patel explained why honouring Black History Month this October is now more vital for our union than ever before.

“Black History Month is celebrated in the UK every October, and within Unite we will continue to raise awareness of the important roles Black people have played in building our society throughout history from as far back as the 12th century,” he said. “These contributions are often unknown and not found in our school curriculum or in history books. This year, we focus on celebrating Black inventors and innovators, and it is our aim that they receive more widespread recognition.

“As we all know, much has happened since the murder of George Floyd in America at the hands of police brutality,” Harish added. “This horrific event was the spark that lit the fuse for a global movement that has drawn attention to the injustices and discrimination that Black and Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM) people experience daily. Equally, the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately claimed the lives of Black people, has highlighted the structural and systemic inequalities that BAEM communities in the UK face.

“The Unite National BAEM Committee joins in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in calling on the government to end racial discrimination in the criminal justice system; to reform our education system; to end gaping racial disparities in health; and to implement recommendations from various reviews on racial equality such as the Lammy Review, an independent report into the treatment and outcomes of BAEM people in the criminal justice system.

“We stand with Black communities both here in the UK, in the US and across the world in the fight to stamp out discrimination in all its forms.”

In honour of Black History Month, Unite staff member Albert Mills, PA to Harish, shares with UniteLIVE her own recommendation for a recipe for chilli pepper sauce in the video below. If you have any African, Carribbean or Asian recipes you’d like to share with us this month, drop us a line at [email protected].

You can find out more about Black History Month on Unite’s web page here. Unite has also produced a brilliant history of our creators and inventors for Black History Month.  You can ask your rep for a copy.

By Hajera Blagg

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