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Black History Month - Junior Hemans

Black History Month - Junior Hemans

Date of release: 1 October 2020

Latest News: Junior Hemans

Today marks the first day of Black History Month (BHM) 2020, and to launch the campaign we are sharing an important message from one of the Trust’s Non-Executive Directors - Junior Hemans.

Appointed in May 2015, Junior is a valued member of the Board of Directors and a keen supporter of the African and Caribbean communities in Wolverhampton - having been a founding member of the city’s African Caribbean Community Initiativeand a former treasurer to the West Midlands Caribbean Parents & Friends Association Both organisations aim to empower local people with learning and support with health and general wellbeing.

With a clear dedication to helping black communities across the region, we asked Junior to tell us about his own experiences and for his thoughts on the Black History Month campaign.

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your career?

"At 17-years-old I began training to be a motor mechanic, but quickly realised that I didn’t like the grease, or the cold, and decided to change direction. 

"In 1982 I secured a job as a retail assistant in the Wolverhampton Beatties, aged just 18, and was proud to be the first black man to ever work there. My colleagues were very supportive and told me to keep resilient and work hard. I enjoyed the role!

"Between 1985 and 1993 I studied and completed my degree - and master’s - in business studies and administration; since then my expertise has been in property and housing. I’ve been with the NHS for five years now and it has been great to have an active role in shaping healthcare for the people of Wolverhampton."

What does BHM mean to you and why is it so important?

"It is the recognition of the contribution of black individuals and communities, past and present, to British society and culture; it’s people who have otherwise been forgotten or overlooked in the history books.

"I hope it will encourage many African and Caribbean people - staff, patients and otherwise - to feel proud about their heritage.

"And while we are looking back at the past, I think it’s also an opportunity to raise awareness of unconscious bias happening today; meaning we can highlight what is and isn’t ok, and this will hopefully have a positive impact on people’s behaviour."

Have you ever been discriminated against because of your ethnicity?

What did you do to overcome it?

"I was born and bred in Wolverhampton so I am local boy, but even so, I have felt racism in many forms; some more subtle and hidden than others, but there nevertheless.  

"I had experience with teachers at school who often put me down as unintelligent despite my coursework demonstrating that I was on track to do well. One teacher even said: “Hemans you’ll never amount of to anything” and it always stuck with me as being because of the colour of my skin as opposed to my ability. 

"At university, I was alerted to a lecturer who had a history of failing BAME students; he failed me on a particular module and would not tell me where I’d gone wrong, and so I refused to resit the final exam paper. 

"It was only when I, and a number of others, raised serious concerns about discrimination, that we had our work remarked; thankfully I then passed the module. It was a relief to know we were capable of passing but it was extremely frustrating that this person’s prejudices had almost stopped us!

"I think it just shows that you need to go with your gut and challenge discrimination as you see it."

Have things changed over the years do you think? Do you think we’re getting to a positive place or is there more work to be done?

"Things are improving and opportunities for BAME people are on the increase – however there are still people with discriminatory mind-sets who need to be challenged, and in that sense it’s not just racism we are fighting against, it is prejudices regarding gender, sexuality and age.

"Ultimately we are all one race - the human race. We all recognise that there is work to be done, both in and outside of the NHS, to ensure we are inclusive and supportive of all people, despite their colour or creed.

"I hope Black History Month will encourage people to stop for a moment and start open conversations with their peers; it’s only by listening to one another, and by sharing stories, that we will be able to appreciate different attitudes and cultures."

With black history in mind, does anyone stand out for you in terms of a key figure or role model?

"I actually met one of my heroes - professional boxer Muhammmed Ali. 

"He was in Wolverhampton to speak at an event, he’d retired from boxing but it was before he fell ill with Parkinson’s. I attended the event and was stood on the front row listening to him recalling his story and professional career. Towards the end of his talk he pointed to me and he said ‘You look like Joe Frazier’ - another famous boxer - and he started throwing some pretend punches my way. He then started laughing. 

"It was before the days of mobile phones, so not photos I’m afraid, but it’s always been a stand-out moment for me. 

"I’ve always admired him for his eloquence and the way he stood up for himself and for his beliefs, including his religion. I think he’s a really important example of a black person being proud of who they are and of their contributions. He was, and still is, inspiring."

A Teaching Trust of the University of Birmingham