What Black History Month means to me

    This month, as we continue to celebrate Black History Month (BHM), Esther from our Learning and Development team shares what Black history means to her, the importance of diversity and how her mother supported her community despite the odds.

    Blackness, history and tomorrow

    Someone recently asked me what Black History Month means to me and I struggled to answer this because one month out of twelve isn’t enough to celebrate oneself, and others. Yes, Black History Month can lead to a glance back at people who having done great things in the world, have impacted another generation. However, we should always use October (in the UK) and February (in the USA and Canada), to turn up the volume of our blackness and celebrate our history.  My roots are deeper than the skin I wear to work, to church or to school. This BHM, I celebrate what makes me different and how I was created in God’s image.

    Darwin, in his escapist mentality, gave the world an image of a monkey to depict evolution. Unfortunately, there have been many occasions when that image has been used as a distorted representation of black people, who apparently refused to move from all fours to the erect posture of hunter-gatherer. That is why positive representation of black people from all walks of life, not only during this month but throughout the year, is very important. Some people who wish to deny the accurate history of Black people, run to the theory of confusion by using negative labels and descriptors to break our spirit. However, BHM continues to affirm that we have a stake on earth— look at the size of Africa before and after earth-splitting environmental changes.

    Diversity provides the world with access to grow into its full potential in terms of commerce and freedoms that other species lack. For example, a lion has no need to prove its origins or intelligence to the tiger. They both belong to the “Big Cat” family. I strongly believe that the world (metaphorically) still has one tree which gives birth to its kind. But there is potential for it to yield a progressed kind, where a guava tree produces passion, apples and mangos because diversity has bridged the historical, cancerous division between the branches.

    My mother: an example of unity and perseverance

    This month I celebrate my mother Rachel, a Black-African woman, who only studied up to year three of primary school. Due to colonialism, she was separated from her parents at fifteen, to work the land in the Rift Valley while they returned home to Murang’a, near Nairobi, Kenya. She went through an extremely difficult time but continued to work hard to raise us and to put my brothers and I through school.  For years, she has supported her community so others could stand too. And although we complain about her excessive giving, at 85, she has shown us how historical wrongs turned on their head can expel divisions between people.

    Housing First as part of the pandemic response

    Over the last year our Housing First service in Brighton has grown rapidly as part of the response to the pandemic. Last summer the service was supporting 22 people and by the end of this year this will increase to 60. We are currently helping 50 people with an imminent five offers made and the final five expected to be completed in October.

    Here, Jonathan* speaks about his experience of this ground breaking initiative that’s fast becoming our flagship service in Brighton.

    My dad died on my 21st birthday and it hit me hard. I moved from County Durham to Brighton to get away from everything. I came with a friend and I remember we partied hard and I woke up on the Green opposite Glenwood Lodge by myself. My friend went home without me and I stayed. That was 26 years ago.

    During that time I had been in a cycle of rough sleeping and time spent in prison. I had survived by shoplifting and doing anything I needed to get through each day. I quickly became addicted to heroin and crack cocaine. Although outreach teams tried to help me over the years, all I was interested in was getting my next fix. To me, I had a sleeping bag and a tent so I was happy as long as I could score. I didn’t think I needed their help.

    I have seen some horrible things and it was hard. I have seen people at their worst on nights out thinking it’s funny to urinate on you while you are sleeping, or chuck beer cans at you and spit on you.

    In 2017 my groin exploded and I went to A&E – this was a turning point for me as they encouraged me to accept help and face my addictions. I was 6.5 stone and I’m 5ft 8” so I was in a bad way. I ended up in prison again though. But once I was released, I met Sophie from St Mungo’s Housing First team and things began to change. On release I was placed in a hotel for two weeks and then offered a one bed flat through Housing First.

    I thought it was a joke, I didn’t trust it and expected to be back on the streets after a few days. I have been here 7 months now. At first I couldn’t get used to being on my own and having my own bed with the choice to come and go as I wanted. My first night I was up and down, I didn’t feel I wanted to be there, I wanted to go back onto the streets. I can’t explain it, I had lived so long on the streets and in prison I couldn’t get my head around having my own space. It’s all thanks to Sophie from Housing First and Emily (CGL Adult Drug & Alcohol Service). They have helped me get a grant so I have everything I need in my flat, a washing machine, furniture and TV.

    I feel ecstatic now. I honestly didn’t think I’d last it out. I didn’t think I would be able to pay my bills but I do. Sophie supports me through this and keeps me on track if I need her help. I feel supported but I also feel independent.

    My hopes for the future are to keep hold of my flat, to keep my two voluntary jobs going, and to remain substance free. Staying clean is the hardest part – I have been off the crack and heroin for 4.5 years and off methadone for one year now.

    I feel like I have woken up. I am part of a community and I chat to my neighbours every day. I love getting up early and catching the bus to work. I enjoy cooking roasts and baking cakes. One of my favourite things is to sit in the communal garden and share my cakes with the seagulls.

    Find out more about Housing First service here.

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