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Angelina Osborne on an Inspiring Quartet of Great Black Britons

Posted on 30th September 2020 by Anna Orhanen
As timely as it is groundbreaking, 100 Great Black Britons celebrates the lives, stories and achiemements of the British of African and Caribbean descent. Born out of the eponymous campaign founded and run by Patrick Vernon OBE and Dr Angelina Osborne, this vital and long-overdue book explores the role Black Britons have played in the island’s history over the past thousand years – from Roman times to the present day. 
To mark Black History Month, we are delighted to have Angelina Osborne discussing four of the remarkable figures featured in 100 Great Black Britons: Baron Victor Adebowale, a leading figure in health and social care policy and one of the first 'people's peers'; fashion model and activist Naomi Campbell; Britain's first Black High Court judge, Dame Linda Dobbs; and Lenford Garrison, a historian, academic and community activist whose life's work was to catalogue the development of the black British identity and its history.

Victor Adebowale, Baron Adebowale

CBE, the Chair of NHS Confederation and the former Chief Executive of Turning Point

Described as one of the most dynamic figures in health and social care, Victor Adebowale is a leading defender of the rights of people impacted by health and social inequalities in Britain today. As the chair of the social care charity Turning Point, Adebowale oversaw an increase in the number of people the charity serves. The charity currently employs over 4,000 doctors, social workers, psychiatrists and counsellors delivering services to over 80,000 people annually. 

Adebowale is a principle mover behind health and social care policy, and as a crossbench peer has advised successive governments on learning disabilities, mental health, social care, inclusion and housing. 

Hailing from Wakefield in Yorkshire, Adebowale’s interest in health, social care and inclusion was inspired by his mother, an NHS nurse. A friendship with a young woman with a learning disability helped to inform his sensibilities around the importance of prioritising their health and welfare needs.  Adebowale began his career in local authority estate management and went on to work in the housing association industry, rising through the ranks to become regional director of the largest black-led housing association, Ujima.

One of Adebowale’s concerns is that there is ‘a striking absence of diversity’ within the leadership of health and social care charities, who serve people of colour disproportionately, with a large white leadership making decisions about their needs. Minority groups, he argues, don’t have access to the networks that make them visible to head-hunters, which means little has changed. How talent is defined needs a radical rethink, says Adebowale, where to find it and how to encourage it.

Naomi Campbell

Fashion Model and Activist 

As one of the most prominent and recognisable faces in the fashion industry, Naomi’s Campbell’s career spans an impressive 35 years. Since appearing on the cover of Elle just before her sixteenth birthday, Campbell has attained a fame equal to the designers she has worked with. Her accomplishments boast a litany of firsts: the first Black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue; the first to appear on American Vogue’s coveted September issue, widely regarded as the most significant fashion publication of the year. She has consistently broken down barriers in the fashion industry, making the path for the next generation of black models, many of whom she supports and mentors, a little easier than the path she has had to forge for herself.

Hailing from Streatham, south London, Campbell attended stage schools from the age of five and was spotted by a modelling scout while out shopping in Covent Garden when she was fifteen. 

Although Campbell is one of the most famous models in the world, she has had to battle racial discrimination within her industry for most of her career. As a dark skinned woman, she disrupts traditional (European) perceptions of beauty. She has been outspoken about racial bias in the fashion industry and created, alongside fellow models Iman and Bethann Hardison The Diversity 

Coalition to increase the use of Black models on runway shows. Her interventions have encouraged fashion houses to employ more Black models for their campaigns. Campbell continues to advocate for the greater use of Black models in fashion campaigns and to critique the industry over its racism and exclusion.

Dame Linda Dobbs

Britain’s First Black High Court Judge

In 2004 Linda Dobbs became the first Black woman appointed to the high court in the country when she joined the Queen’s Bench division, a role she held for nearly ten years. 

Dame Linda was born in Sierra Leone, where her father was a high court judge. Determined not to follow in his footsteps, she chose to study music at Edinburgh University. She quickly realised that she did not have the talent to be a serious musician and she ended up taking a degree in Russian with law at the University of Surrey. She only came around to the idea of the law as a career after completing a doctorate in law. Called to the Bar in 1981, being a Black woman working in chambers could be a challenge. On one occasion She learned that her clerk was removing her name from the diary with Tippex and giving the briefs to the male barristers, preventing her from receiving any briefs.  Clients, preferring male (and white) barristers made it clear they did not want to be represented by her – Dame Linda recalled these incidents as damaging to her self esteem as a barrister, but she was determined to work hard to prove her worth. 

She became a specialist in fraud and regulatory work – including banking, utilities investors, and communication, among others and became Queen’s Counsel in 1998. As chair of the Criminal Bar Association she set up its first equality and diversity sub-committee in 2003. When the then Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer told her he wanted her to become one of Her Majesty’s judges, she felt she had a sense of duty to accept in the hope that her appointment would pave the way for other Black and Asian judges to follow. At the time of her appointment she insisted she wasn’t a standard bearer; rather, she was a practitioner following a career path.

Lenford Kwesi Garrison

Educationist, Historian and Activist 

Len Garrison dedicated his life to developing resources about the Black historical presence and its contributions to British and world history. He is best known for the establishment of the Black Cultural Archives, which is a legacy to his commitment to the importance to the production of knowledge as an instrument of community empowerment. In the 1970s and 80s he advocated for a culture based curriculum as a way to improve opportunities for young Black people. 

Born in Jamaica Garrison joined his parents in London in 1954. He trained as a specialist medical photographer and also worked as a journalist for the West India Gazette, a newspaper that reported on issues that affected African Caribbean people who had settled in Britain during the 1950s and 60s. In the 1970s Garrison was part of a political network that actively campaigned against the overrepresentation of Black pupils in educationally subnormal schools. In 1977 he launched the African and Caribbean Educational Resource Centre (ACER), which played an influential role in the development of multicultural educational resources.   

Garrison collected historical materials that formed the backbone of the Black Cultural Archives collection and steered the project for its establishment until his death in 2003. Today the Black Cultural Archives, located in the heart of Brixton is the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting and preserving the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain. 

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