15 October 2020
Throughout October, we’ll be showcasing a series of blogs to mark Black History Month, giving a range of perspectives from the London Youth team and our board.
Black History Month for me has never been a time for tokenistic celebrations of Black history nor a time to remind myself of the racial inequalities that exist globally. Instead, Black History Month is one of the few times of the year that I get to celebrate Black excellence and refocus on my goals and aspirations.
In recent months it feels like we have been forced to look differently at both the world and ourselves. It’s interesting to see how we each respond to change, conflict and crisis. I have always thought of myself as quite fearless, but, when faced with a global pandemic it was very easy to allow fear to creep in and inhibit my creativity. My goals and aspirations were on hold.
Last month, I stumbled across an old vision board and saw a caption “a mile in my shoes”. It made me think of the journey I have taken, where I am now, and all the inspirational people, moments and places I have encountered that enabled me to get here, in my office writing a blog that I hope will inspire others.
Growing up as a young Black woman in South London, it wasn’t easy to look around and see people or places that inspired me. If I wanted to see someone who looked like me on television I had to look to the US, watching shows like the Oprah, Sister Sister or Moesha (now I’m showing my age).
I was very fortunate to be able to attend a youth centre that was committed to broadening the horizons of young people. It was run by a confident, caring, passionate Black woman who was committed to ensuring all young people that came through the doors were given the support and challenges they needed to reach their full potential. The team fundraised tirelessly so that they could take young people on global expeditions around the world, including India, the Caribbean and the US.
It was on an expedition to Atlanta, Georgia, where I was truly able to see and experience Black excellence. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could see what life could be like without a glass ceiling. I met young people whose beliefs were not limited because they are exposed daily to seeing success in all races. It was common to see Black CEOs, city officials, heads of State, teachers, doctors and all other positions in between.
There was no glass ceiling in their eyes.
One of the most impactful moments of the trip was meeting people who encouraged us to push for greatness and always go beyond our perceived limits; to set goals and always aspire to be the best version of ourselves. Without realising it, our youth workers set us on a path to excellence and to aspire to be and do more. In all that I do, I seek to be excellent because I now know that excellence comes in all colours, shapes and sizes.
These are the principles and values I like to focus on this month. Reminding all of the young people that we support to look beyond the boundaries of their estates, neighbourhoods and cities and strive for excellence. In spite of the inequalities that exist, seek to see the opportunities and potential that is out there.
For many, the journey to excellence will be a bumpy and sometimes tumultuous one. But those are the steps to being the best version of you, not comparing yourself to others, because if you had to walk a mile in their shoes you may find it harder than they made it look.
Charline has worked in youth work for 20 years, previously for the local authority and now in the voluntary sector at Rathbone Society, a London Youth members. Rathbone runs an integrated offer for its members. Charline is an expert in this area and brings a wealth of valuable experience relating to the changing structure of youth services and the impact this has on youth workers. As a trustee of London Youth, Charline is currently leading on our commitment to anti-racism alongside members of our Senior Team.