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Stumbling is not Falling

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10 Downing Street  
     June 2019
10 Downing Street June 2019

My mother was the most gentle, quietly confident and self-assured woman I have ever known.  She came to this country from Jamaica as a proud, trained and qualified nurse, or so she thought. She worked all her life in the UK as an Auxiliary Nurse in a hospital many miles away from where we lived.  She sacrificed her pride in order for her children to dream and to become whatever we had the potential to be.

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming after all is a form of planning.”  Gloria Steinem

At 17 year old, I jumped at an opportunity to apply for a part time Office Junior role whilst I was attending college.  I was shortlisted and attended my first ever proper interview at a large supermarket in my hometown of Oldbury, suited and booted.  I was totally ecstatic by the end of the interview because I knew that I did super well and as testament to my execution, I was offered the job there and then to start the following Monday. The feedback I received was complementary, genuine and totally encouraging.  It told me that I would become whoever and whatever I want to be in the near future. Of course, I immediately accepted.

I arrived at my new job bright and early on Monday morning, excited, fired up and ready to start learning. My interviewer, the Office Manager,  came along to meet me accompanied by the store Deputy Manager whom I wasn’t introduced to, his name and title was on his badge. She didn’t seem as warm and as welcoming as previously, but it didn’t faze me.  I gave a very enthusiastic good morning greeting which was received coldly, the Deputy Manager then informed me that I was ‘mistakenly given the wrong job but they had a cashier position available’ for me.  Different emotions simultaneously came over me. But I knew I could not be that person.  Mum always said to me, ‘the most powerful reaction to upset is to never get angry’.  I started repeating those words over and over and over in my mind as I stood frozen to the spot. I could hear, feel and see those words.  I held on to those words as I turned around and without uttering a word I walked straight out of the main doors, desperate to break down in floods of tears but couldn’t, wouldn’t.

“Silence is a source of great strength. The best fighter is never angry.” Lao Tzu.

This experience had a significant impact on me, changing the direction of my life. I chose to become a leader, in fact, a teacher. I worked with whoever I could, whenever I could to prepare all Black young people for future rejection and how to overcome it.

“Changing attitudes is not easy to do, and must come from within. Drawing on inspiration can empower us to do this.” June Sarpong

Many years later and here I am. I am still realising my dream, having worked with a multitude of educational institutions, significantly impacting positively on students, staff and parents. Change has been present but very slow. Teaching young people about self-awareness is one of the strongest weapons they can use to defend themselves from their enemies.  If they have a strong sense of who they are it becomes difficult for other people to manipulate them.  When they are aware of who they are, it is far easier for them to become who they want to be. Self-awareness helps them to live up to their full potential as they make better, more informed choices.  Young people who have good self-awareness will develop a strong sense of identity.  They will not only be aware of who they are but also where they are from, how they got to where they are and where they can go, if they so choose.  The essence of great leaders is knowing yourself first and then lead others. That is, knowing your strengths, your areas for development and learning about your blind spots. 

“Education must provide the opportunities for self-fulfilment.  It can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore in his own way.”  Noam Chomsky

Things will not change for the BAME communities overnight, but they will change. 

Whether it is in an educational environment or in the corporate world, we will find people around us with limiting beliefs about themselves and about others.

Do you recognise any of these in your own thought process? 

  • We have negative attributes assigned to rich people.  Example, rich people are…
  • The fear of: greatness, failure, we are not good enough to achieve what we want, not being loved, being rejected.
  • We fear success – we don’t deserve / we’re not worthy of success.
  • We have to work very hard, long hours for our money.
  • There are lots of deep-rooted beliefs that hold me back.

By taking time to consider what you want to believe you can choose your beliefs and values or sabotage your path to success. Changing your belief system is one of the most important steps to take in achieving success for yourself and success for others.

“Limiting beliefs about ourselves and each other prevent us all from achieving our full potential.”  June Sarpong

Unconscious/conscious bias – When we have lower expectations for a student, our behaviour toward them creates a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” In her research on teacher expectations, Dr. Christine M. Rubie-Davies explained how self-fulfilling prophecies create a cycle of expectations that can keep some students from reaching, or even realising, their potential. There are three main steps in the cycle:

  • Step 1. At the beginning of the year, a teacher begins to form opinions about each student based on their grades, test scores, and what they’ve learned from previous teachers.
  • Step 2. This information becomes a lens they see the student through. This lens impacts the expectations the teacher has for the student’s academic achievement, which then impacts the teacher’s interactions with the student, as well as the learning opportunities given to them.
  • Step 3. A student’s academic outcomes are directly impacted by their learning opportunities and teacher interaction. This information is then passed on to their next teacher(s) and the cycle starts all over again.

“We have hidden viewpoints and unexamined attitudes that shapes the inequality we see in society.”  June Sarpong

William Sloan Coffin highlighted that “diversity may be the hardest thing for society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for society to be without.”   We are all different, internally and externally.  We need to nurture the greatest minds of our age no matter what body they reside in. By operating in a more inclusive way toward any and every one, no matter what their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious belief or political beliefs, will help us all to realise the skills, talents and potential of everyone.

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