During Black History Month, members of the Calderdale BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) Network have been writing their own personal reflections to celebrate how our diverse stories contribute to the richness of our work.
I was born and bred in Leeds and am a proud Yorkshire lass. I started working for Calderdale Council in May 2018, in the Chief Executive’s Office. I work in health and care supporting Robin Tuddenham and Cllr Swift in Calderdale and the regional space. I want to share how I used my heritage and experiences to help set up the Calderdale BAME Network and how this also contributed to the work I do across the Calderdale health and care system and West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership.
I’m not the first in my family to contribute to the success of our country or indeed our region. My folks came to Yorkshire in the 1960s and my parents worked as an engineer and home help for many years until recently retiring. My siblings and I grew up in a predominantly white area and we were the 5% ethnic minority in both primary and secondary schools. It really didn’t bother us one bit that we were a minority. I was the only brown girl at Brownies – the irony of it isn’t lost on me now!
It is the stories that we don’t always hear or learn about that remind us that many of us have family members and ancestors who have shaped our collective history. Only recently on my mum’s side, my family has come to learn about my great grandfather, Subedar Major Bawa Singh’s involvement in WWI, where 1.3 million Indian soldiers fought as part of the British Empire. He was stationed out in the Aden, Saudi Arabia, where the British Army were keen to take hold and fight the Ottoman Empire. This wasn’t the only historical event that was shaped by Britain’s past.
My mum’s side also crossed the India/Pakistan border during the 1947 partition – the largest forced migration in the 20th century. I encourage you to learn more about this bloody, deadly and traumatic journey many endured. I guess these stories and this history shape who I am today.
Five years ago, my mum became president of the local Sikh temple (the first woman in Yorkshire to take up this role – go Mum!) It wasn’t easy for her managing a large budget, dealing with jealousy from other women and operating in a man’s world, but I’m super proud. She introduced sending surplus food to the local food bank, connecting with the wider community around the Gurdwara and helping to provide people in need with access to healthier servings of food.
So what does that mean for me now? My folks came here with nothing but worked hard, and this has instilled in me an appreciation of what I have and have worked hard to achieve. My faith also adds to that, as the three pillars of Sikhism are to earn an honest living, share with those less fortunate and connect with God.
Education was really important to my folks, and my siblings and I all have degrees and are working and contributing to society. I’m a big Liverpool FC fan which has stemmed from my dad, who used to play in the local football team before he came to the UK. Whether you’re into football or not, it plays a huge role in shaping British society and it’s wonderful to see how everyone rallies around when England plays.
I hope my story shows that Black History Month isn’t just about recognising the work of figures from history – it is also about our own colleagues and their families as many have fascinating stories to tell. Stories shaped by pockets of tragedy, traumatic experiences and immense triumphs over adversity. These shape our view of the world, allowing us to bring fresh perspectives and ideas to decision making.