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Black History Month – The importance of telling normal people’s stories, good and bad.

Project co-ordinator for the MiFriendly Cities project at RMC, Ray Simmonds role focuses on supporting the charity’s clients and other marginalised migrant communities to secure employment or further education opportunities across Birmingham, Walsall, Wolverhampton and the Black Country.

My main role at RMC is to support marginalised communities and people to get a job. Securing employment is one of the major steps in the integration process for people who have come to this country. However, there can be numerous barriers preventing those we support in achieving this.

The obvious one is not knowing the language, but individuals can also struggle to secure a job because they have a lack of UK based work experience or an overseas qualification not being recognised. Sometimes, employers simply don’t know that refugees and other migrants have the right to work in the UK.

That’s where my role under the MiFriendly Cities project comes in, helping job seekers, employers and other stakeholders in the employment process to get over these barriers.

A big benefit of the project is addressing the various skills shortages we have in this country and in the region; nursing being one such example. We’re working with people who have the skills and qualifications to fill some of these roles, but barriers in place often prevent this happening.

For example, recently we supported a French lady to begin working as a nurse in Wolverhampton. She spoke English and had all the right qualifications, but didn’t how to register with the correct UK systems to become a nurse. She also wasn’t getting interviews for jobs she was easily qualified to do.

With all nurses, they also require a DBS check to ensure people working in the health service don’t have a criminal record. However, if you’re a refugee and the place you come from is still at war, it can be incredibly difficult – and even dangerous – to secure this from a country of origin. So for individuals in this situation, we’ve worked with the NHS to ensure the correct checks are put in place whilst not putting people in danger.

Once people are in employment or education, it really helps with the integration process. Financially if you feel secure and earn an income, it prevents isolation. You can afford to go out and do things, to support your family and yourself instead of sitting at home. Working itself will also help you integrate through the people you meet, while helping to break down some of the prejudices or misconceptions some people can have about refugees and migrants.

For me, I’d say that is my biggest achievement or what I am most proud of. To see people that have come to this country achieve their goals, to move and progress forwards in their life long career. If they don’t succeed, neither do I and it’s through my own experiences of prejudice and other barriers why I am so passionate about this.

When I was awarded a scholarship to do my masters in migration, super diversity and public policy at Birmingham University, I was told I was the first black person to secure a scholarship. Of course it was nice to be recognised, but more importantly for me was the fact that this shouldn’t be a stand out achievement. I’d feel much better if this was considered normal, because at the end of the day we’re all sisters and brothers, regardless of skin colour. However, problems do persist in society with racism and other prejudices. It’s here perhaps where my work on the MiFriendly Cities project and Black History Month share something in common.

While Black History Month is a good opportunity to recognise the contribution of black people, I think it is important for it to have a much wider remit than that. It should not only be about celebrating the achievements of and lauding high profile black people, but also focus on telling the full story of ordinary people; be it their successes and achievements alongside their negative experiences and struggles.

Education is key to overcoming the prejudices and racism in society. By telling the stories and experiences – good and bad – of normal people, it can go some way to overcoming this.

Black History Month in the UK takes place from the 1st to 31st October. This national celebration aims to promote and celebrate black contributions to British society, and to foster an understanding of black history in general.

Over the next week, we will be sharing the stories, experiences and successes from members of staff and volunteers at the charity to coincide with the end of Black History Month.

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