October is Black History Month, and I am delighted that the theme for 2023 is “Saluting Our Sisters”. The event provides us an invaluable opportunity to reflect upon and pay homage to the remarkable contributions of black women who have shattered glass ceilings, defied odds, and left an indelible mark on the world.
It’s important to acknowledge that, as well as the historical and public figures we can all look up to, there are black women in our lives, and working alongside us here at Cygnet, who provide inspiration every single day. I see Black History Month as a vital opportunity to shine a light on the exceptional black women in our team.
Out of the 7,769 Cygnet staff who have disclosed their ethnicity, we know there are 1,290 colleagues who identify as female with black heritage. That’s 16.6% of our workforce, and they make a huge impact on the care we deliver.
I qualified as a nurse in 2005 and joined Cygnet ten years later, in 2015. I became a nurse because I wanted to help people, and to make a difference. I have progressed a lot in my career as a nurse in general, but mostly in my time at Cygnet. I joined Cygnet Hospital Stevenage as an Agency Nurse in 2015, progressed to Clinical Team Leader at the end of that year, was a Ward Manager from 2016 until 2018, Clinical Manager in 2019 and then Registered Manager in 2020. I currently hold both roles.
When Cygnet started setting up a Women’s Network last year, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it – to help raise the voices of our female colleagues across the organisation, champion our rights, celebrate our achievements and what we are capable of. I wanted to be a voice for women but most of all, black women.
I am extremely proud to be co-chair of the Women’s Network, representing my colleagues and supporting the role the Network plays at Cygnet. As an immigrant myself, I believe I stand as an example for most of the nurses we have recruited from overseas. Leaving one’s country is very scary. Adopting a new culture and way of life is even more challenging. However, I believe supportive systems and seeing each other’s struggles as women, help us thrive in our existence.
I was born in Zimbabwe to parents of Zambian and Malawian heritage. My culture has always been important to me; it is a vital part of my identity, who I am, inspires my values and how I live my life. I feel exceptionally lucky that I get to experience three cultures in my family life. This enables me to have wider interactions with my colleagues and people around me. My culture empowers me to build good relationships and encourage those around me.
My first black female role model was my grandmother, or dear mama. She looked after me since I was six months old when my mother went back to school. She is a strong woman, courageous, beautiful inside and out. Full of wisdom and love.
She taught me to be kind, to be welcoming to give without expectation. In my family home, we never had less than twelve people at a time. She took people in and supported them through their tough times. She taught me to share and to be caring.
I admire her ability to smile through the most difficult times; she always finds the right words to make things feel better. I will never forget her words that “with love and willingness you can conquer anything”.
In my time at Cygnet, I have been privileged to work with some exceptional black women. I want to take this opportunity to salute my sisters.
I am saluting my sisters who have travelled from far and wide leaving their families to come and share their experience and knowledge as nurses. We see you sisters all across our organisation.
Joy Wilson – Practice Development Nurse at Cygnet Hospital Stevenage
Joy, you have worked for Cygnet Hospital Stevenage for the last 13 years. I admire your strength, commitment and dedication to our team. I am exceptionally proud of how you have selflessly dedicated your time in learning the whole OSCE process and prepare our overseas nurses for their exams. You have the patience of a saint.
I have been blessed to experience and learn the diversity in our cultures through music, stories, cooking (my favourite) and just day to day interactions. I salute you for going out of your way to allow our service users to embrace and know different ways of life.
Role Models for Us All
In Britain, many of us know the story of Mary Seacole, a courageous black woman who went beyond the call of duty to provide care to wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. Her perseverance in the face of discrimination and her innovative approach to medical care have solidified her place as a true health care trailblazer.
If you want to learn about Mary Seacole, you can find out more here.
I recently heard about Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu. Dame Elizabeth was only four years old when she was first inspired to become a nurse because, whilst she was in care, a ‘wonderful nursing nun’ treated her childhood eczema in an expert and sensitive manner. Born in Birmingham in 1947, she identifies herself as of Irish/Nigerian heritage and started work for the NHS as a school nurse assistant in Wolverhampton at the age of 16.
Her journey from being a sickly child to becoming a ground breaking nurse and advocate for sickle cell patients is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Her tireless efforts in addressing health disparities and raising awareness about sickle cell disease have not only changed lives but have also reshaped health care policies.
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair is another role model for us all. As the first black woman to be appointed as Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, she is a beacon of hope for aspiring leaders in health care. Her accomplishments highlight the importance of representation in leadership roles and the ability to drive positive change from within.
This Black History Month, we all have the opportunity to Salute our Sisters.