Reflection on Black History Month

First published 30th October 2023


As Black History Month draws to a close we would like to offer reflections from Revd Dr Catherine Okoronkwo, Bishop’s Adviser on Racial Justice and Rashida Hartley, Diocesan Racial Justice Project Officer. 

Most people see Black History Month as a time to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of Black men and women throughout history. In the UK, Black History month is celebrated in October and this year's theme has been 'Saluting Our Sisters' – remembering the contributions of strong black women whose accomplishments have often been forgotten or overlooked.


Revd Dr Catherine Okoronkwo, Bishop’s Adviser on Racial Justice

"I never owned a doll in childhood. With envy, I watched my school friends (both Black and White) comb and braid the hair of their very white barbies. My sister and I were creative in making our own dolls to play with. We used cans of Fanta and Coke, glued knitting yarn as hair, buttons for eyes, coloured and decorated paper for clothes. Looking back, it’s interesting that our created dolls still represented the White Barbies with our preference for long flowing yarn hair and blue button eyes. Growing up in 1970s Israel and subsequently going to boarding school in England meant that my childhood were spent in very White spaces, often 'the other' or 'othered'. 

As I reflect on why it remains important to mark Black History Month, I am reminded of the lack of representation I had growing up into adulthood. I rarely saw people who looked like me in significant sectors - teachers, lawyers, scientists, engineers, artists. I rarely read about Black adventurers, philanthropists and philosophers. And, it isn’t until much later in life I realised the significant Black presence in the bible. The achievements of Black people were not acknowledged nor celebrated and I believe this contributed in part to why I struggled to believe in the possibilities and potential of what a Black child/person like me could achieve. 

In my role as Bishop’s Adviser on Racial Justice and as a Church of England priest I am keen to uplift the stories and voices of Black people, pioneers, prophets and poets - who have paved the way for the struggle for a more inclusive, diverse and just society. For me, it is in giving a spotlight to these Black narratives - past and present - that we honour the Gospel’s message of seeing Christ in one another because “we are all created in the image of God” (Genesis 1.27)."


Rashida Hartley, Diocesan Racial Justice Project Officer

"Black women have always served on the front-line in the fight for equality. Although their contributions were sometimes overlooked. As a Black woman, who have been influenced all my life by other strong black women, I’m honoured to salute their resilience, and courage.

Black History Month however, remains a controversial topic for me. My main contention is because Black history is confined to a single month, instead of being fully integrated into mainstream education. So, whenever I’m asked to share my thoughts on Black History month, the first word that jumped into my head is… “WHY?”

“WHY” in 2023 is it still being treated as an enigma?

But, in the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, in this spirit, I choose to honour those great women who’ve fought for equalityand social justice not only here in the UK, but around the globe.

To make good on those sacrifices I will use Black History month to celebrate the achievements of Black people — to celebrate our long history, our contributions to society, and our ability to thrive despite negative circumstances. I will choose to think of joy, vulnerability, resilience, intelligence and love.

I will remain hopefully optimistic, embracing the Bristol Diocese inclusion and diversity initiatives. Continue the conversations and action toward equality and social justice, which is at the forefront of Transforming Church. Together.

However, on a final note I would like to say that Black history is everyone’s history and can be celebrated by everyone. Allies are important for success and progress.


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