People25th October 2021

Celebrating Black History Month

Black History Month
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Learn more about Caroline and Monty as we celebrate Black History Month:

I’m Caroline Sabiiti, a Junior Legal Counsel at ClearBank. If you were to ask me where I’m from, I would say North London via Uganda or Uganda via North London.

The benefit of growing up in London is that learning about different cultures did not have to take place in the classroom. Black History Month for me has always been an opportunity to learn about the history of the Black experience in the UK and beyond, the experiences of those who came before me. I have often found myself discussing certain events with my parents and hearing their perspective on these events when they were new to London, certainly adds colour. This month allows you to discover people’s stories and how they have shaped the society we live in today. Over time I have learnt about the likes of Baroness Scotland and Benjamin Zephaniah and I continue to be inspired by their stories and actions – from being the first black woman to be appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1991 to publicly rejecting an OBE from the Queen. Baroness Scotland’s career inspires me as a lawyer, it reminds me that there is nothing you cannot achieve. Benjamin Zephaniah inspires me because he is unapologetically himself which is a great reminder that you can challenge the status quo.

Pre-COVID I started to travel to Uganda more frequently to learn about where my parents and my extended family are from. Learning specifically about my Banyankole (Western Ugandan) culture has instilled a sense of pride in me and gives me a connection to my extended family. There is confidence to be gained where you learn about your roots. Being in Uganda, I also realised the significance of the different cultures that make up Uganda and how they shape the Ugandan identity, no different to the different cultures that shape my identity as a Black Brit. To me 'Proud To Be' means acknowledging all the different aspects of your background that make you uniquely you and being comfortable in your existence.

My name is Motunrayo Oluwatobi Bolajokό Onanuga, but go by Monty. I’m a very proud Nigerian British woman, working as a Senior Risk Manager at ClearBank.

This is a picture of my baby big sister and me – a collage that our mother proudly made. We’re dressed in traditional Yoruba Aso Ebi and Gelé. Yoruba is the Nigerian tribe we're from and also the language we speak. ‘Aso’ means clothes and ‘Ebi’ means family/my own. It is Yoruba tradition for families to wear the same material to a celebration as a sign of unity and solidarity – such as a wedding, birthday party or a funeral. We see funerals as a celebration of a colourful life so we don’t wear black. The Gelé is a traditional head dress that women wear, similar to wearing a crown. Although a statement piece set by Yoruba women, you’ll come across various styles of Gelé across Nigeria and other countries in Africa. From fashion to favourite Afrobeat artists, the trend is often set by Yoruba’s!

In this picture, we’re on our way to our cousin’s traditional wedding which was held in Lagos, Nigeria March 2020.

I’m very proud to say I’m an immigrant, a special blend of Nigerian and British culture. It’s an identity mix I’ve become more comfortable with as I’ve gotten older. Growing up in the UK I’ve come to know that Black History Month is a mark in the calendar for some. However, for me, it’s a way of life – an all year, every minute of every day celebration. In my youth, talking about race or showing pride in my heritage was often compounded with ‘having a chip on one’s shoulder’ so I’d shy away from having discussions about race and identity with non-black people. The pride of the community was an internal one that was often ignored or played down by wider society. The month for me is the acknowledgement of the highs and lows of Black British history. It’s the admiration that I have for the defiant Black British women who have taught me to not accept lesser treatment based on the colour of my skin. Some of my role models include Mrs Olabisi Onanuga, Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE, Diane Abbott MP, Michaela Cole, Denise Lewis, Kelechi Okafor and so many more.

In a society that demonises, criminalises, and sees blackness as a threat, I refer to literary influencers such as Bell Hooks who reminds me, I am not a threat, my blackness is joy, it is part of my identity, it is a whole vibe and an integral part of what makes me the awesome person I am today.

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