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Black History Month 2020 – Celebrating black icons and unsung heroes

Introduction by Rosalyn Mloyi, Regional Nurse Director (South) and Chair of Cygnet’s BAME steering group

The month of October marks UK’s Black History Month. It is as much about showcasing black history as it is about celebrating black excellence. It is a time for remembering, recognising and cementing the nations long-standing and under-represented black history, a time to honour the role and achievements of black people.

When it comes to pioneers in black history, some are pioneering heroes known to all for their great works – Dr Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Mohammad Ali; many more shaped our history but were are unsung heroes. Do you know about Claudette Colvin, Harold Moody, Philip Downing or Phillis Wheatley? If these names do not immediately ring a bell, you are not alone. History taught in schools and talked about the most is Eurocentric so their great works received and continue to receive little or no recognition.

In honour of Black History Month 2020, We are shining a long overdue light on the hidden figures who deserve to be celebrated for their contribution to the world as we know it today. Their selfless tireless actions and accomplishments transformed the world in their time and beyond. For that we should know their names, know their stories, know how they contributed to solving societal challenges and recognise the esteemed place they hold in not only black history, but history, just history.

Celebrating black icons and unsung heroes

By Agnes Tutani, Clinical Commissioning Nurse Assessor

Some wonder why we celebrate Black History month, others feel it is not necessary while others think it is insignificant. However when you look at the world today, the social prejudice, inequalities misinformation and stereotype attitudes and approach towards people of colour it is clear to see why there is a need to stop, reflect and correct the wrong narrative that has been purported about us.

Every day I wake up and go about my duties as a nurse, I am reminded of those that have gone ahead of me. I remember when I started out in this profession, one of my first tasks was learning how to take blood pressure manually using a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope. Every time I carried out this activity I celebrated Thomas A. Carrington. He was a black inventor he invented the Range Oven and the Stethoscope. Thomas A. Carrington made the Stethoscope in 1882 and it was patented in the same year too. The stethoscope remains a vital tool in the medical field today.

Throughout my learning and various placements in the medical field I grew in confidence knowing that many other inventors paved a path for us and made significant discoveries we still benefit from today. These include the likes of:

Charles Richard Drew (June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950) who was an African-American surgeon and medical researcher. He researched in the field of blood transfusions, developing improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II. This allowed medics to save thousands of lives of the Allied forces. As the most prominent African American in the field, Drew protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood, as it lacked scientific foundation, and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until 1950.

Drew started what would be later known as bloodmobiles, which were trucks containing refrigerators of stored blood; this allowed for greater mobility in terms of transportation as well as prospective donations.

Drew created a central location for the blood collection process where donors could go to give blood. He made sure all blood plasma was tested before it was shipped out. He ensured that only skilled personnel handled blood plasma to avoid the possibility of contamination. The Blood for Britain project operated successfully, with total collections of almost 15,000 people donating blood, and with over 5,500 vials of blood plasma. Blood for Britain aided British soldiers and civilians by giving U.S. blood to the United Kingdom during WW II. As a result, the Blood Transfusion Betterment Association applauded Drew for his work. Today his methods are still applied in blood collection and storage.

I often wonder what the world would be like without the social prejudices and disparities we see today. How many more strides would humanity make, how many more inventions would be enjoyed by the world over if we were all valued equally despite our differences.

Listed below are a few other inventors and pioneers who have inspired me and made me bold to step out into unchartered waters. This is why I choose to celebrate history, not only in the month of October but in my everyday life.

Thomas Elkins (1818 – August 10, 1900) was an African-American dentist, abolitionist, surgeon, pharmacist, and inventor. His notable inventions include patented improvements to the chamber commode and refrigerator. Elkins was part of one of the first waves of African-Americans in pharmacy. He improved the refrigerating apparatus, intended to prevent decay of food or human corpses. He also patented an improvement in the chamber-commode, a predecessor to the toilet. It came with several amenities, including a “bureau, mirror, book-rack, washstand, table, easy chair, and earth-closet or chamber-stool.” Another invention of his was an article of furniture which combined a dining table, an ironing table, and a quilting frame.

Frantz Fanon (20 July 1925 – 6 December 1961) was educated in Lyon, France where he studied Psychiatry as well as literature, drama and philosophy. After qualifying as a psychiatrist in 1951, Fanon did a residency under the radical Catalan psychiatrist François Tosquelles, who invigorated Fanon’s thinking by emphasising the role of culture in psychopathology.

Fanon wrote and published his first book, Black Skin, White Masks in 1952, an analysis of the negative psychological effects of colonial subjugation upon black people. Originally, the manuscript was the doctoral dissertation, submitted at Lyon, entitled “Essay on the Disalienation of the Black”, which was a response to the racism that Fanon experienced while studying psychiatry and medicine at university in Lyon; the rejection of the dissertation prompted Fanon to publish it as a book.

In the book, Fanon described the unfair treatment of black people in France and how they were disapproved of by white people. Black people also had a sense of inferiority when facing white people. Fanon believed that even though they could speak French, they could not fully integrate into the life and environment of white people.

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