Soldiers of African and Caribbean heritage have been integral to the British Army for more than 100 years. However, as we will highlight during our coverage of Black History Month, their value and contribution is often overlooked or distorted.
Significant progress has been made in recent years and the British Army is very much an inclusive and diverse employer. Despite the progress, however, various annual reports and survey results demonstrate there is still much to do to complete the cultural change within the organisation itself.
As a reflection of society, there are still some serving and former soldiers who do not recognise the value of a diverse and inclusive team in their own activities. Some view it as ‘political correctness’ and others see it as a threat to the status quo. There remains a need to remind everyone of how a diverse and inclusive culture benefits everyone in the team and enhances operational effectiveness.
Black History Month started in 1926 when Carter G Woodson, known as the ’Father of Black History’, wrote a press release to mark the first Black History Week in the United States. Born in Virginia in 1875 to former slaves, Woodson’s opportunities were limited, but he was able to study at one of the few high schools for black students after saving money from working as a coal miner.
Throughout his life, Woodson worked tirelessly to promote black history in schools, leaving an indelible legacy. The event was expanded in 1970, and since 1976 every US president has officially designated February as Black History Month in the US.
When Black History Month started in the UK, the focus was on black American history. Over time there has been more attention on black British history and key black figures from British history, including Walter Tull, one of the first black officers to command white troops in the British Army and one of English Football's first black players.
Celebrate the here and now
For the British Army, Black History Month provides an opportunity to recognise the contribution and achievements of those with African or Caribbean heritage. It's also an opportunity for everyone to recognise the benefits of a diverse and inclusive team; breaking down the barriers and obstacles that are preventing our people from giving their best, being comfortable with who they are and feeling valued.
Black History Month 2021 is also a time to look forward and celebrate the here and now – and throughout the month we will be telling the stories of some of our serving soldiers. Keeping with this year’s theme, they will share why they are #Proud To Be members of our Army.
Black soldiers have always been a part of what makes the British Army the best in the world. This month is a time for people to come together and learn lessons for the present and the future. It’s a time to honour the commitment of everyone in the Army and remember how everyone in the team, irrespective of race, gender, faith, belief or sexual orientation, contributes equally to its success.