October is Black History Month (BHM), an annual celebration of the contributions of Black people to British society. To celebrate, we asked our members what Black History Month means to them. In this interview, we speak to Senior Press Officer, Alan Jones.
What is your ethnic background and how do you celebrate it?
My parents came to the UK from Dominica and Antigua in the 1950s and settled in Notting Hill, West London before moving to Wandsworth, South West London.
Many of my mother’s siblings came too so we had quite a large family on my maternal side.
Cricket, music and food typified my childhood and it’s a tradition I have tried to continue with my own children who are of mixed heritage.
My parents, and other elders in my family, were keen for me to know more about our family’s Black African and Caribbean history which was not taught in English schools. I try to do the same for my children. Through this, I am trying to help them to overcome certain stereotypes that exist about Black people.
What does Black History Month (BHM) mean to you and why is it important to celebrate BHM?
It is an acknowledgement of the contribution Black people have made to society and to celebrate the sheer perseverance and determination of that first major generation of Black African Caribbean immigrants that came to the UK in the 50s.
BHM rightly acknowledges this history of struggle, challenge and ultimately in many, the overcoming of obstacles that society has put in their way.
This year’s BHM theme is ‘proud to be’. What does ‘proud to be’ means to you?
I am proud to be a product of my parents’ hard work despite facing racism and prejudice when they came to this country.
I am proud to be a father to mixed heritage children.
I am proud of my heritage as a Black British man.
Thinking back to the events of 2020, with the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) uprising, what is the one thing you learned during this time?
It reminded me to talk openly and honestly to my children about the challenges they will face. It is something Black parents should never have to do but the reality is that you have to talk to your children about how some people in power will use racism as a weapon against us.
I learned that although we have made some progress the challenge is ever-present.
The general societal response to the killing of George Floyd and wider BLM protests showed that there is a significant number of people regardless of race, colour, religion or gender who want a positive change now and no more so than in younger generations.
What do you hope colleagues will take away from this year’s BHM celebrations?
That the relevance and importance of Black history is not just consigned to a month. The CPS Inclusion and Community Engagement strategy very much places inclusion, diversity, equality, respect and dignity at the heart of the organisation’s prosecution and policy work and expectation of staff.
Being a Black leader in the civil service, what challenges have you faced on your career journey, and how have you overcome these?
In terms of my careers as a child of immigrants in 1970s London, I was taught to not draw attention to myself and to keep my head down. This may well have stopped me from applying for jobs that would push me to the forefront. In retrospect, now older I have learned not to be afraid of asserting my views, having a meaningful debate and being seen.
There are jobs that I did not succeed in getting but kept learning and taking all the opportunities given to me. There are many mentoring schemes available at CPS and would encourage you to take advantage of them.
Which Black person from history or today inspires you?
There are so many figures from the past and present in Black history to choose from so almost impossible to pick one out but at the moment I think often of James Baldwin, an American author and activist. He wrote powerfully and beautifully about the intersection of race, sexuality and class.