Black History Month: Voices from the Faculty
Black History Month (BHM) has been widely celebrated from 1st - 31st October each year. It is a time to mark the contributions, culture, history and achievements of black people in the UK and the diaspora.
To mark BHM, we asked some of our students and staff in the Faculty, to explain why it matters and why it is important to them.
Black History Month originated in the United States of America, where it is celebrated in February each year. It started in 1926 when Carter G Woodson, editor for thirty years of the Journal of Negro History, established African Caribbean celebrations in America. Its purpose in America was to celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of African Americans in keeping alive their heritage, traditions and histories.
In Britain, Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987 as part of African Jubilee Year.
Contribution to Biomedicine at Guy's - Frederic Akbar Mahomed
In 1867, Frederic Akbar Mahomed aged 18, began to study medicine at the Sussex County Hospital, Brighton. Two years later in October 1869 he entered Guy’s Hospital, London as a medical student. He was an outstanding student and in 1871 he won the student Pupils' Physical Society prize for his work on the sphygmograph (a mechanical device used to measure blood pressure), having been runner-up the previous year. He qualified as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1872. Following qualification, he worked at numerous London hospitals before returning to Guy’s Hospital as a Registrar in 1877. In 1881, he was appointed Assistant Physician and a year later as a Demonstrator in Morbid Anatomy. He is remembered for making important contributions to the measurement of pulse pressure, its interpretation and its relationship to disease.
Voices from the Faculty: Why Black History Month matters
Makeda Bent, Professional Programmes Officer, Academic Centre
Black History is important to me because it is a time when we are given the opportunity to learn about many of our contributions and accomplishments. One of my inspirations from history is Harriet Tubman who was born into slavery and escaped to Philadelphia. Harriet also helped other slaves to escape and put her life in danger never forgetting to help others when she was free.
Michelle Robinson, Faculty Health & Wellbeing Lead
BHM is important for me as a time-sensitive observation of our past, present, and future profiles in a rapidly evolving time of change. Our past reported his-tory is littered with less than celebratory events which document our mass global movements and few improvements. There have been positive role models highlighted in the history of nursing (Mary Seacole), business and transportation (Harriet Tubman) but we would be hard pressed to mention few others after Malcom X, Martin Luther King, and Marcus Garvey who became political activists. In the worlds of science and technology we have Lewis Latimer who invited the carbon filament for the lightbulb or Gerald. A. Lawson who invented the modern Home Video Game Console. Save for the recently celebrated sporting, athletic, and musical heroes there are countless other giants of black origin who are not celebrated.
As obvious as it sounds the need to celebrate BHM will exist as long as the presence and impact of the great are denied. A living legend is Patricia Bath who created the laser which removes cataract lenses – her invention has changed vision worldwide and continues to do so. BHM matters most of all because the change I want to see does not have to be large-scale and mountainous. Changes that matter to me can be a number of small actions which become widespread successes that are celebrated daily not annually. I would like to see more black academics on King's walls all year round – we have enough black academics here to make that small change – black students and staff in the King's community seeing reflections of themselves on the walls on every campus should not be an unattainable aspiration.
Spencer Duvwiama, third year Biomedical Science BSc; Diversity & Inclusion Student Ambassador; Vice-President of Welfare, Bioscience Students' Association 2016/17
From a young age I have always been familiar with the celebration of Black History Month. I have always been accustomed to the idea of celebrating BHM, with my parents taking me to community centres where a wide range of activities and talks take place, all towards celebrating our culture and history.
However, growing up in London, I have been taught plenty of negative stereotypes about black people from my environment, whether it be from the media, or from the attitudes reflected by my classmates from my time in school. Black History Month has taught me to not accept these negative stereotypes, that there are plenty of positive contributions to society from black people.
My mum and dad are my inspiration and together with BHM, have reminded me that I should never be made to feel out of place, when striving to achieve the best for myself and by doing so, hopefully contributing positively to my society.
James Frater, second year Medicine; Publicity Officer for the African & Caribbean Society
Growing up in Jamaica, everyday felt like Black History Month (BHM) to me. The school curriculum was rich in black history and we were always taught to be proud of our history. At home, my great grandparents would tell me about our independence, our emancipation and their perspective on things I had learnt at school.
BHM is one of the most important and exciting times of the year. It has been so easy, living in a Western society to: completely forget about where you came from, have your culture watered down or have the stories of your ancestors be told from a skewed Western perspective. BHM gives you the opportunity to appreciate the culture and history that you have.
For me, it is a time of celebration – to look back at all the hardships that we have endured and be grateful for how hard our people have worked to ensure a better future. It also gives me an opportunity to reflect on what we can do to continue the work of the generations before us …for the generations after us.
Kawal Rhode, Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Black History Month for me is an opportunity to remember the struggle of peoples that have suffered in their right to basic liberties due to domination. When we see this in modern society, it is inspirational that the past teaches us how to overcome these injustices. Being of Black and Minority Ethnic origin, I look for inspiration to the stories of the struggle of independence of the Indian people from British rule, the struggle of the Black right to vote in America and the dissolution of the apartheid regime in South Africa. BHM is an opportunity to remember such stories and to learn how to find solutions for the ongoing struggles in our modern society.
Barbara Falana, second year, Medicine; Member of the African & Caribbean Society (ACS) committee, working as a publicity officer for marketing and Head Blogger for the ACS Society
Black History Month is important for many reasons. Firstly, it is a time where we can specifically celebrate the past achievements of black pioneers and innovators. This can range from the very famous i.e. the Martin Luther King’s of the world, all the way to the not-so-famous (sometimes understated) black individuals, who also have a direct impact on our lives i.e. the mothers, teachers and such. In this fabulous month of October, we can reflect on the many struggles and sacrifices made by these people in their inexorable strive for equality.
And still, in spite of all of these achievements, we mustn’t simply rest on our laurels.
Really and truly, Black History Month can be used as a platform for growth.
In this month, it is particularly important that we encourage and inspire those within the black community. Because it is the next generation of black individuals who will continue to break down more doors and revolutionise the way ‘being black’ is seen today. All in all, Black History Month can be whatever you, as an individual, take from it. You may feel shocked, optimistic or even bemused. But the most important thing is that Black History Month will always make you reflect and feel something.
And this, along with some hard work and dedication, can see YOU next on the list of black pioneers and innovators too.