Black History Month

Throughout October at Enable we have been shining a light on Black History Month to inform, educate and celebrate. As part of our wider internal activities for staff, each Friday we will be sharing interviews with inspiring black women from Wandsworth in line with BHM’s 2023 theme – Saluting Our Sisters; honouring the black women who have been at the heart of social justice movements throughout history.  

We speak to inspiring women about their role models, their heritage, family and careers.   

In the first edition we spoke to Enable Sport Assistant Nikki Strachan who has worked in the borough for 20 years:  


Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are from? 

I’m 51 years young that’s on a good day, I have worked for Wandsworth/Enable for 20 years or so. Born in London to Parents from Jamaica and Guyana. Sport is my passion playing (not so much now) I love to watch and also coach a lot of different sports. 

Tell us about the work you are doing for the people of Wandsworth? 
I work at Barn Elms Sport Centre as a Sport assistant which is a varied role. I also coach Beach Volleyball and run sessions. I work for our Sports Development team as well teaching PE in schools and I also coach the Wandsworth Volleyball Teams in the London Youth Games, were we have been very successful over the years with multiple wins. 

What does black history mean to you? 
It’s my history, which I am very proud of living in a country where you are a minority it’s important that we know our identity. Growing up there were no active visual role models unlike today, so we had to ensure that we learnt our history from the elders in our family. Today, even though we have lost a lot of our stories there’s more information readily available, about what we have invented and our contribution to world events and history. We have a responsibility to ensure that we pass to future generation their history the good and the bad, so that they know they can achieve anything and everything, but also to learn from the mistakes from the past. 

Can you share a quote or words of wisdom which have remained with you throughout your career and spurred you on to your success? Bob Marley quote “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only option” . A friend once told me, the easiest thing is to look at someone and find fault or think or say something negative that our default response, so I had to train myself to make no judgement. This includes about yourself, we are not taught to praise ourselves. 

How have you overcome an adversity either professionally or personally?  
Professionally ( I won’t go into details) but I learnt pride doesn’t pay bills, the saying I quoted in the previous question. One door closes and multiple doors open. How you overcome is to take it one day at a time one foot in front of the other, try not to become bitter. Let change happen and leave your options open and lastly know your rights. 

What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
I like to read a lot. (Romance novels) Also probably that I’m a romantic. 

Who inspired you professionally and personally?
My mum on both, for me my mum is my role model. She worked to provide for her family, no job was beneath her as long as it was legal and paid the bills. 

What is your proudest achievement? 
When your kids invite you to their weddings and say that you were a big influence in their life. ( I don’t have children of my own but refer to the kids that I coach volleyball as my kids) or parents/grandparents thank you for your influence in their lives. When my kids go on to play in the Olympics, become doctors, dentist or make it to university. It’s my responsibility to pass my knowledge on, so when its well received, job done. 

 

Next, we met Marsha de Cordova, Labour MP, serving Battersea, Balham and Wandsworth since 2017. Marsha was born and raised in Bristol and moved to London over 25 years ago.  

Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are from?
I was born and raised in Bristol. Moved to London over 25 years ago. My family’s heritage is Jamaican with my grandparents moving to the UK in the 1960s as part of the Windrush Generation. 

Tell us about the work you are doing for the people of Wandsworth? 
I have served as the Member of Parliament for Battersea since 2017. My mission is to make Battersea the best place to live, work and visit. This year has been extremely busy and some of my work highlights include: 

I have been calling on the government to provide financial support for my constituents during the cost of living, energy, and mortgage crises. I hosted my first Jobs Fair which was attended by over 300 people and where many were offered jobs paying the London Living Wage or more. 

Over summer, I held my third Political Summer School for young people from across Battersea to learn more about politics and an insight into the inner workings of Parliament. 

In response to rising violence against women and girls, I launched my Safe Spaces initiative in collaboration with the police, businesses, and the Council. 

As the world enters a period of “global boiling”, I called on the government to address the climate crisis through tackling air pollution and calling for homes to be properly insulated. 

Every day 250 people start to lose their sight and yet England still doesn’t have a National Eye Health Strategy. I introduced a Bill in Parliament calling for a National Eye Health Strategy for England which would end the post-code lottery and ensure everyone receives good quality treatment and support regardless of 
where they live. 

Following the government’s decision to close ticket offices, I have been campaigning to save tickets offices at Wandsworth Town and Clapham Junction stations which will lock many elderly and disabled people out of rail travel. 

What does black history mean to you?
Black history is British history! It is essential that our history is part of the curriculum.Black History Month UK was founded in 1987 with one of its co-founders Akyaaba Addai-Sebom living in Battersea.  Whilst I choose to celebrate Black history every day, October is an opportunity to reflect, not only on our own history, which is all too often hidden, but also on the contributions Black people have made to our country and its culture. 

Can you share a quote or words of wisdom which have remained with you throughout your career and spurred you on to your success?
Nelson Mandela: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” 

Barack Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” 

Benjamin Franklin: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” 

How have you overcome an adversity either professionally or personally?   
I was born with Nystagmus and I’m registered blind/severely sight impaired. It is a condition that causes an involuntary movement of the eye and affects 1 in 1000 people in the UK. 

I was told by my mother from a young age that I would need to work twice as hard as everyone else as I was disabled. My condition has meant that I have faced, and I’m proud to say overcome, many of the challenges that come with being partially sighted. Even now, Parliament isn’t an inclusive and accessible workplace. The lack of markings on glass doors and steps were a real problem when I first arrived which led to me falling on many occasions because I couldn’t see the stairs. The inaccessibility of voting machines means that it often difficult to know that my vote has even been registered. 

I have always been open about my visual impairment as I believe that it should never hold me back. That is why I am determined to do my bit to make it that bit easier for those come behind me. That is my motivation and provides me with the drive to keep doing what I do. 

What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
I am the older sister of a Premier League footballer. 

Who inspired you professionally and personally?
There are many people that have inspired me and had an impact on my life. The support of my family and friends alongside my own determination and strength has enabled me to be the leader I am today. 

I have always looked up to my mum. Without her support, I don’t believe I would be in the position I am now. I particularly admire how my mum’s courage in always fighting for me, no matter the cost. It is incredibly powerful to have supportive parents who want the best for us. 

Professionally, my foremost political hero is Nelson Mandela – a man whose fight against the abhorrent Apartheid regime has inspired me ever since childhood. I was given my first book about his life when I was ten years old whilst he remained incarcerated. His struggle for freedom, equality and justice continues to inspire me today. 

The Obamas have also inspired me. When Barack Obama was elected as the first African American President in 2008, I began to see politics as a meaningful route for change. They inspired me to think about public office and to run. 

In our own Parliament there are many politicians who inspire me. To name just two, I would say Diane Abbott who made history as the first Black female Labour MP and the disabled politician Lord David Blunkett. 

What is your proudest achievement?
There are many achievements that I am proud of. 

Politically, I would say it was winning the Battersea seat at the 2017 General Election. Going up against a Conservative incumbent with a majority of just under 8,000 meant winning the election was deemed a near impossible task. But we did something amazing and managed to make Battersea a Labour gain. 

Serving as Shadow Minister for Disabled people, I was able to shape the Labour Party’s policies in key areas for us disabled people, as well as hold the government to account on their cruel and inhumane treatment of disabled people record on equalities issues. I am incredibly proud that during my time as Shadow Minister, Labour Party committed to the full implementation of the United Nations Convention on Disabled People (UNCRPD) which would enshrine our civil and human rights.
 

The third interviewee in our series is Marie Hanson MBE, UPF Ambassador for Peace (former Councillor for Queenstown Ward, Battersea) and Director Founder of S.T.O.R.M.  

Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are from?  

My name is Marie Hanson MBE and I am the CEO of my charity STORM Family Centre Ltd. We are based in Battersea, Wandsworth and have been operating for nearly 20 years, though I am originally from Basingstoke.   

Tell us about the work you are doing for the people of Wandsworth?  

STORM Family Centre is a domestic violence charity that also does extensive youth work. We provide counselling for people who have suffered trauma from any experience, and also provide activities to help with wellbeing such as volunteering, short courses for vocational pursuits, and employment help. Our youth work also focusses on young people’s wellbeing as well as youth activities like our youth club and seasonal events involving trips and special occasions.   

Who inspired you professionally and personally?  

My Grandmother. 

What does black history mean to you?  

Black History means history. I believe that Black History should be promoted at all times as other histories. All people really benefit when all heritages are shared with each other, as this makes for richer communities through the celebrating of different cultures. 

Can you share a quote or words of wisdom which have remained with you throughout your career and spurred you on to your success?  

Never let bad experiences define you. 

How have you overcome an adversity either professionally or personally?    

Through my faith, solid determination, and the support of trusted people around me. 

What’s one thing people don’t know about you?  

That I used to be an international make-up artist, I even had my make-up line in Harvey Nichols.  

Who inspired you professionally and personally?  

My Great Grandmother. 

What is your proudest achievement?  

Being honoured with my MBE, and winning a diversity award for Neurodiversity by Genius Within CIC. 

The 4th inspirational woman we spoke to was Cllr Juliana Annan, Mayor of Wandsworth.  

Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are from.

My name is Cllr Juliana Annan and I am the Mayor of  Wandsworth. I have been a council member for 16 months.   

I served on five committees last year, including Children and Education, Adult Health,  grants, licencing and SACRE. I am the founder of Agoe Empowerment Network supporting women and families from disadvantage background who have English as their second language 
and co-founder of the Support4Support Community project, which supports children with their homework, reading stories, arts and craft activities and holiday activities

Tell us about the work you are doing for the people of Wandsworth.

In my current position as a Mayor, my aim is to bring all of the community together. I am supporting three charities to raise funds to support their work and I also create awareness of the good and amazing work they are doing.
I serve my community by running a children’s club and by supporting women and families from disadvantaged backgrounds who have English as their second language.

What does black history mean to you?

Black History means a lot to me as a black woman. I think it should not only be celebrated for a month but it should be taught in schools as well as celebrated throughout the year.  

The contribution our ancestors made to the building up of our nation is invaluable. Their achievements over the years, over centuries across the field of medicine, religion culture, and traditional governance in politics has helped a lot to shape the current world we live in.

Can you share a quote or words of wisdom which have remained with you throughout your career and spurred you on to your success?

Prayer changes things. Whatever you admire you attract and can attain by focusing.

How have you overcome adversity either professionally or personally? 

Believing in your dream, be passionate about it and work towards it

What’s one thing people don’t know about you?

I am down to earth. I am a Christian and always take my faith seriously. I do lots of volunteering work to support families and organisation . 

The final inspirational woman we spoke to in our series of BHM interviews was Yvonne Stevenson, Head of filming

Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are from?

I was born in Reading, Berkshire and my family are from Barbados and Panama

Tell us about the work you are doing for the people of Wandsworth?

As Head of Filming for the borough of Wandsworth, I am very proud of the work I’ve done so far to put Wandsworth on the map as a destination for Feature Films. In my time running the film office, we have facilitated over 50 feature films through the borough and Hollywood A-listers who have filmed in Battersea Park include Channing Tatum; Salma Hayek; Tom Cruise; Emma Thompson; Idris Elba; Hugh Grant; Ezra Miller; Gal Gadot; Meryl Streep; Kingsley Ben Adir.. to name but a few… Feature films bring huge revenue into the borough and are some of our biggest donors. I negotiated a £20,000 donation from Warner Bros which enabled us to make sizeable donations to local charities including Wandsworth’s Hygiene Bank; Share Community; Regenerate; Tooting Community Kitchen; Carney’s Community and many others. I spend a lot of time with Peter Freeman researching charities, ensuring that our filming donations are distributed to those most in need, covering a cross section of the community. Just this week, I persuaded a Council Executive to give a free parking permit for a year to Tooting Community Kitchen, so that they can continue to collect additional donations; expand services that they provide and distribute food around the borough to communities in need.

What does black history mean to you?

For me, Black history means change. Barack Obama said: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” In my own way, I will always try to make change. I’m not a person to dwell on the past as you can’t change it, however, you can influence your future by learning from the past and I see this, as making change.

Can you share a quote or words of wisdom which have remained with you throughout your career and spurred you on to your success?

I will share with you my own words of wisdom.

Someone has to get the job. Why shouldn’t it be you? 

How have you overcome an adversity either professionally or personally?  

Very few paths in life run smoothly, however, I’ve always been determined; self-motivated and I don’t settle.

 What’s one thing people don’t know about you?

My Great Grandmother was from Panama.

Who inspired you professionally and personally?

Michelle Obama. The first Black FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) and AMAZING woman.

Personally, my sisters inspire me, as we are all high achievers.

What is your proudest achievement?

I have achieved many great things in my career professionally, however, I’m not sharing them here. Personally, I’ve been instrumental in raising my niece and have always encouraged her to achieve. Seeing the absolute joy on her face when she got into the University that her heart was set on – her smile alone made me feel very proud. I said to myself – ‘you did that’.  

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