Category Archives: Careers

Challenges and ambitions for career progression that supports diversity.

Women in STEMM: Ana-Madalina Ion

Earlier this week, the University joined WISE’s #1ofTheMillion Day campaign to celebrate over 1 million women working in STEMM roles in the UK for the first time ever. On our Twitter we shared insights from some women in the Faculty about working in STEMM, including from PhD student Ana-Madalina Ion. Ana wrote this blog about a special woman who inspired her to pursue a career in STEMM…

Hello! My name is Ana Madalina Ion (on the right) and I am a final year PhD student in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Mitochondria Research Group. I come from Romania. I have a bachelors in Biochemistry from the University of Bucharest, and a masters of research from Radboud University, Nijmegen (Molecular Mechanisms of Disease). I did my master thesis in Bordeaux as an Erasmus student, on mitochondria protein degradation, and I liked mitochondria so much that I decided to pursue a PhD in this area.
I would like to introduce you to my inspiring woman in STEMM.

This photo was taken last year in the city of Suceava, Romania. Behind us is the Romanian flag and the statue of our 16th century king Stephan the Great.

The STEMM woman who has inspired me the most and has always encouraged me when I was feeling down is my mother (on the left). Her name is Carmen Angela Ion and she is an aeronautical engineer. She graduated from the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, the Faculty of Aeronautical Engineering, the specialization engines. She graduated in 1986, at a time when my country was still communist, and when the number of graduates was strictly correlated with the number of open positions. People were not allowed to go abroad and there were no private companies where to find jobs, so one could only work in the public sector. Therefore, each year, only a small number of students were accepted in a faculty, a number approximately equal to the number of opening positions. So, not many students were accepted at a faculty each year, and even fewer of them graduated.

My mother was one of them. She went for a ”men-oriented” university, and chose an even more ”men-oriented” specialization: engines. She recalls how when she would go to classes, she would count how many women she could see. My mother always loved maths, so when she went to the university, people advised her to go study mathematics and become a teacher. They would say that teaching is a more female-friendly job, that gives you more time for kids and a family; engineering was too tough for a woman. 

My mum didn’t care. I wish I could say I am proud of her, but as I have no contribution to her graduation, I can only say I am happy she did. It was tough, very tough, but she made it. She didn’t give up, she graduated, and now she works as an aeronautic inspector at the Romanian Civil Aeronautic Authority from Bucharest.

She did take a break to raise me and my sister. She started working again when I was 15. Being a mum at home was another fight for her, because everyone was expecting that she start working immediately after her maternity leave was over. She was judged for not giving me to be raised by my grandparents, for deciding to have another baby even if she didn’t have a salary. She didn’t care.

She was also praised by some intellectual women, which did not help me. One teacher from secondary school told me how grateful I should be to my mum, because she sacrificed her career for me and my sister. My teacher’s words haunted me a long while, because it implied that a woman can only choose one of the two: career or children. Growing up, I struggled understanding that women can have both. And when I grew up enough to talk to my mum about her choice, she told me that she simply didn’t want to miss us growing up. It was never a sacrifice, she never regretted it. She became a full-time mum for 15 years because she decided to.

My mum didn’t follow patterns that others have created for her. She did not give up when she was judged.  And that is very inspiring.  

As a funny ending, I would like to share with you a story. My mum has a female friend from the university, an aeronautical engineer in another city. One night, her friend was called in at her home because one of the passenger planes had a fault and she and her team had to go repair it. When she arrived close to the plane, the flight attendant lady, seeing a woman, asked her, “Oh, are you the catering?” (apparently the flight attendant had ordered some food). “No, madam”, my mum’s friend replied amused, “I am the aeronautical engineer. I came to repair your plane.”

I hope this made you smile. Women in STEMM are strong, smart and stubborn. Very, very stubborn. Thank you for reading.

Thank you to Ana for sharing her wonderful story with us – if you have a story to tell about an inspirational person in your life, we’d love to share it! Get in touch at fms.diversity@newcastle.ac.uk.

FMS EDI WEEK PROGRAMME: 24th-28TH febrUARY 2020

It’s back – FMS is holding its second Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Week, and we hope to see you there!

After last year’s success including the celebration of our Athena SWAN Silver Award, we are holding the Faculty’s second EDI Week for staff and students! We have a range of events lined up and listed below so that you can hear about the progress and ongoing work around EDI, and learn more about current issues that might be relevant to you.

Don’t miss out – take a look at what we’ve got lined up and book yourself in! We hope to see you at one of our events!

#FMSEDIWeek2020


Monday 24th February:

  • The EDI Strategy & Our Day-to-day Roles – 10-11.30am, FMS Boardroom
    To launch the week we’ll be hearing from a number of panellists within the Faculty and beyond, talking about how they would like to interpret and translate our EDI strategy in their day-to-day roles. Read more and register.
  • Multicultural Event – 12:30-2pm, David Shaw Foyer
    Organised by the Dental School, this event aims to celebrate our staff/student community by sharing presentations about the various cultures, faiths, traditions and foods within FMS. All are welcome to attend!

Tuesday 25th February:

  • Imposter Syndrome with Rachel Tobbell – 12-2pm, Leech L2.4
    This interactive workshop will explore the experiences of ‘Imposter Syndrome’: how it affects us, how societal pressures can exacerbate the problem, how such internal doubts impact on our lives and what we can do to manage those feelings. Read more and register.

Wednesday 26th February:

  • LGBT Lives – 12-2pm, Ridley Building 2, Room 1.58
    As part of celebrations for LGBTQ+ History month as well as EDI Week, come along and listen to a panel discussion with members of the Rainbow LGBTQ+ staff network as they delve into the day-to-day experiences of working and being LGBTQ+ at Newcastle and in HE. Read more and register.

Thursday 27th February:

  • Breakfast with Athene Donald – 9.30-10.30am, FMS Boardroom
    Join the Master of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, Athene Donald for this session, aimed primarily at ECRs and Fellows, in which you can discuss reconciling the risks of a contract-based research career with a long term vision of making a difference in academia. Breakfast included! Read more and register here.
  • Plenary with Athene Donald: The Art of Survival – 12.30-2.00pm, David Shaw Lecture Theatre
    As a longstanding champion of women in academia, Athene Donald will talk about her experiences and strategies developed during her career to help her succeed, and the value of passing on such knowledge to help others survive within institutions. Read more and register here.

Friday 28th February:

  • Personal Resilience: A taster session, with Lisa Rippingale – 12-2pm, Leech L2.4
    This workshop aims to provide participants with a range of tools and techniques to develop their personal resilience. Read more and register here.

Demystifying Leadership: Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies (Ruth Valentine)

Our previous student intern, Georgia Spencer, interviewed Dr Ruth Valentine as part of our Demystifying Leadership blog series to learn all about what the role of Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies entails.

What are your main responsibilities in your role?

I’m the Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies, meaning I support the Dean of Undergraduate Studies in shaping, developing, and enhancing the Undergraduate programme in FMS.

The most important part of my job is quality assurance, meaning I must ensure the programmes that we deliver are of the standard that they should be. A large part of my role is also strategic; developing new programmes, making decisions, and leading projects, so I often need to approach tasks with a business head. I also work with the learning and teaching staff to ensure a culture in which they feel fully supported and recognised.

The Deputy Dean position is my second role, and has been somewhat of an add on to my other job within the School of Dental Science. There, my research is in nutrient gene interactions, with a specific focus on zinc and fluoride.

What does an average day look like for you?

As I’m sure many others in roles such as these have said, there just isn’t an average day. As I essentially have two roles, my days are a mix of both, which has been difficult. I try to do two days a week in the Faculty Office, but I’m often juggling my commitments in each area.

Since stepping into the role, I’ve dropped some of my research, and officially I now just do teaching and scholarships, I’ve found that my responsibilities as Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies fit better with teaching than research. However, I do still feel like I do research, as my role is often like market research; investigating how to develop a great program through methods such as student surveys and reviews.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I love this role as it allows me to have influence at a University level, not just in Dentistry. I’m very passionate about widening participation and inspiring the next generation, and as Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies, I have been able to push for this across the whole Faculty. For example, considering how take home exams will work for those without internet access at home, and how the University can help to fund trips. I feel very proud of this and our widening participation numbers.

I also like that I’m able to check everything and be very thorough. I can look across the whole Faculty and see how certain areas can be improved. I can make sure I’m questioning everything, and asking the right questions, such as why we’re assessing students in a certain way, or if they like it. I find this really interesting, as I can be inquisitive about everything. The job also gives me a real sense of satisfaction when new programmes I’ve helped design are rolled out to students.

What do you feel you get out of your role?

Firstly, I feel like it gives me a platform to fight for the students and ensure that they’re being prioritised. I love that we can support them through schemes such as the Intu Scheme, for students who aren’t quite ready. This means we never have to compromise the quality of our degree programmes, and can be proud that they’re really good, but we can still give extra support to the students who need it to make sure everything is still fair.

What do you think is your biggest achievement in your role?

In the long term, I feel that championing widening participation and helping to eradicate the elitist attitude that has existed in Universities historically has been my biggest achievement, simply because I feel so strongly that this is very important. My role has given me a bigger arena to make a difference, which is such a special position to be in.

I’ve also loved introducing a new program, Dietetics, which starts in 2020. I feel that I got it through the Faculty and got it to the place where the DPD can create a fantastic course. It will be in the new building, with new kitchens and sensory booths, which is just great.

What made you want to apply for the role?

When I applied, I was doing an Associate Postgraduate Taught role and really wanted to learn more about Undergraduate, as well as expanding my influence to create change. Really, I just saw this role as a progression from my Postgraduate Taught role. As Deputy Undergraduate Dean, I still look after the quality assurance of Postgraduate Taught, so I continue have elements of my old job incorporated into this one.

Before I applied, I chatted informally with the Dean of Undergraduate Studies about the role and how it would impact my career development, which gave me a clearer view of whether the position was right for me. I was also helped to apply by my close colleagues. They encouraged me, supported me, and gave me the confidence to put my name forward.

Have you had any prior leadership roles or training opportunities that helped prepare you for this role?

I did the Leadership Foundation Programme for the Directors of Excellence in Learning and Teaching, where I found out a lot more about leadership. I was then put forward for the Academic Leaders Programme by the Faculty, which was a programme run in cooperation between Durham and Newcastle. I found this programme really helpful; especially elements such as the 360 feedback, and the small leadership sessions on coaching, which was a really useful technique that I’ve used since. I also was able to make valuable links with people in other Faculties and at Durham, including more senior people who were able to advise me. I also had mentorship from NU Women when I first took on my prior role.

In my interview for my previous role, I had to do a five-minute presentation about my vision for the role. No prompts. No PowerPoint. But I’d say this was a great learning experience, as it helped to show me that I can speak up and champion causes.

What have you learnt since starting your role?

I think a key thing its taught me is that I’m more of a strategy person and I don’t want to manage people so much. This has helped to confirm for me that I’m in the right role and on the right path. I’ve also reduced my research, which I never would’ve seen myself doing three or four years ago. This has really helped shape the direction of my career.

My position has also given me a lot of insight into the wider University as a whole. I never realised when I applied that I’d be involved with Kings Gate, for example. It’s allowed me to branch out and make a difference both across other Faculties, as well as externally at a national level.

What have you found more challenging in your role?

I’ve found time management difficult, because I’ve tried to do it all. But I’ve learnt from this that you simply can’t. Something has to give; you can’t do it all. But I feel like I’ve got the balance right now. I’ve accepted my own capabilities and I let go of my previous admissions responsibilities, which has given me more time. I’ve gained more confidence in saying no and have learnt to delegate.

I initially dreaded working on appeals. But I’ve learnt that I’m not that bad at them, and I’m proud that I’ve shown others and myself that I can do it.

How do you balance the role with your other commitments?

With two small children, it’s been important to have a really good attitude towards work-life balance. Even though no academic role is 9-5, really good time management during the day, as well as delegating to others, has helped give me my evenings with my family. I’m also very strict on not checking emails during holidays and there’s very little travel involved in my role, other than the occasional conference in London.

My line manager has also been very aware and very understanding of my family commitments. For example, with the University Education Committee which starts at 8am, she’s very understanding if I’m not able to get there for it. Sometimes, you just have to decide you’re spending time with your family.

When it comes to my family, my husband is very supportive, and we share everything completely. I’d like to be a good role model to my daughter by being successful in my career while balancing it with my outside commitments.

Thank you to Ruth Valentine for taking the time to speak to us about her role! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the roles and responsibilities involved in being Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies (and a special thank you to Georgia for giving us such a wonderful series!).

Personal Histories: Adetunji Otemade

October was Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating black people in the UK. Through this Personal Histories blog series we hoped to honour our own staff and students at Newcastle by speaking to them about their interests, likes and dislikes and aspects of their culture, to learn more about their stories and histories.

For our fourth and final blog in the series, we had a very interesting chat with Dental Sciences Teaching Fellow, Adetunji Otemade to find out more about his interests, perspectives and career.

How did you end up in Newcastle?

When I saw the job application I was in the process of relocating to New Zealand actually, to work in New Zealand and well… things changed! I’ve always wanted to go into academia and obviously how I applied was a last minute thing, but I got the interview, got the job and it’s been great since then. I’ve always been around in the North East because I did my bachelor’s degree at Teesside University and went on to do my masters at Teesside as well, so I would consider myself a Northerner.

How did you become involved in your role?

I trained as a Dental Hygienist and Therapist and after my first degree I worked in practice for a while, then worked within communities. I’ve always felt a keen interest and a spark when it comes to research, so I went ahead and did a master’s in Public Health. When I finished my master’s degree I worked down south in London with an NHS Trust where I  was involved with various dental outreach projects which include dental care for the elderly in care homes, dental care for the homeless and primary school visits. After my master’s degree I wanted to do a PhD which was a reason why I was looking to go abroad, but then this job came up and I just feel it’s a perfect fit.

When it comes to pursuing a PhD degree or research in general, in our profession as Dental Hygienists and Therapists, we don’t necessarily have lots of people going ahead and doing PhDs – we do have a couple staff around here that have got their PhD and it’s actually following their footsteps and doing something worthwhile, but at the same time doing something that you enjoy and contributing to the profession as a whole. So yeah, it’s been a long journey; I actually started as a dental nurse back in 2007 which was when I moved up to the UK from Nigeria.

What are your main hobbies and interests outside of your role?

I love photography, and I do a blog – a men’s style, men’s fashion blog, just taking photos and writing about how to dress and stuff. Hopefully it’s still working because I can’t remember the last time I posted, with my workload and trying to balance that. I enjoy photography as well, grabbing my camera, going out and taking shots and pictures. But yeah, my main hobby outside of the University is basically fashion photography and blogging.

I love music as well and I’m trying to combine my love for music with the kind of research that I’m doing in terms of music therapy, or how music affects our brains when it comes to managing anxiety in patients.

What would you regard as your proudest achievement?

On a professional level I would say getting to where I am today; it’s been a long journey considering the background that I came from. I’ve always been in an academic environment as my dad taught at a higher institution before he retired, and my mum as a primary school teacher and eventually as a head teacher before she retired. However, it’s not been an easy journey. I had to leave university during the first year of my animal science degree back then. My reason for leaving was because I was young and dumb; however, the constant university strike that was rampant in the country back then did not really help either. I was lucky to have my aunty who happened to come over to Nigeria from the UK on a visit and thought the environment was not really ideal or working for me and made plans for me to come over, all of which only took about 4 months. So finding myself in this environment from somewhere where you’ve struggled in the past and it’s taken you loads to actually get to know yourself, to get to a place where you have a master’s degree and hopefully start your PhD… It’s a great achievement.

Aside from my work and academics I would say it’s having a family, having my kids.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced?

It’s a difficult one, you know. In terms of challenges I would say looking back it’s been very difficult to climb the career ladder, so to speak, and I think it depends on the level that you are, for example if you’re starting from scratch.

In terms of my profession, being a dental nurse back in the day used to be mainly dominated by females so I’ve experienced sort of, like, discrimination along the lines. Things are changing now but we still have a long way to go in the UK and the world generally when it comes to making things equal for men, women, people from different races and backgrounds, sexual orientation and everything. Sometimes it’s very difficult to cope with the fact that you’ve lectured, you’ve taught students here, you’ve mixed with lots of people, and on your way home you still get racially abused. In 2019. So yeah, so that’s a very big challenge.

What inspires you?

Life. Knowledge. And self. I just see life as a journey, and I feel we need to appreciate knowledge and cherish it. Once you’re knowledgeable – well, you can’t know everything – but once you’re more knowledgeable it makes you much more informed and when you know your rights and you know what’s right for you then that can be moved through life, knowing that you know. And in terms of life, as we all live on this planet, we are all human beings regardless of where you’re from, your sexual orientation, religion and everything and as long as other people are happy then you can be happy. So that’s what inspires me, and seeing everyone achieving their full potential is something that I cherish a lot. I think that that’s what brought me to this role because you want to inspire knowledge and inspire the next generation of young kids who will go ahead and do greater things.

Can you give me a selection of your favourite things from your culture, favourite music, films, food, literature etc?

Food! Being a Nigerian man, we don’t joke with our food. So local food, I know lots of people talk about jollof rice and stuff like that, but personally for me, a food called iyan which is yam flour meal, pounded yam, or you have eba (made from cassava). I think they now call those types of food swallow – that was something I heard recently – I went to Nigeria last year but it’s been a while and things have changed since moving over here, emergence of these new things. So swallow is any food that is made like maize meal, cassava meal, those types of foods and you eat them with spicy sauce, vegetables and stuff with meat, fish; that’s a big thing. So food is very important and special. Then it’s just the culture, the music and swag; I don’t know if people are aware of it but African music is poppin’ right now. The likes of Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid, Runtown, just to mention a few, are popular at the moment. So yeah, definitely the food and the music.

What do you think about when you hear “Black History Month”?

Obviously because my early education is not from the UK I don’t really know much about Black History Month, whereas if you ask my son or my children they will know as they’ve been taught. But having lived in the UK for quite a while now I understand that from a Western perspective Black History Month is basically to celebrate the achievements of black people in the UK, to look back and see how far they’ve come, the struggles and how far they still need to go as a community.

In terms of the context of Black History Month here it’s all about the achievements of black people through the Windrush and I think that’s the lens that we normally use. But as Africans, or western Africans we have a different history even compared to the Caribbean and everything. For example, as far as I’m aware in my family we’ve had great great grandparents or family members who migrated to the UK around the 1920s and there is little that we know about it – what I’m trying to say is that there’s lots of different ‘black’ history and I don’t know… To try and pull everything together and celebrate a month, I don’t think that works. But having said that, if that’s something we need to do for the purpose of equality which includes every race, then we just have to do it and keep working with it.

As a Nigerian I would say I don’t see myself as black and I have never seen myself as a black man until arriving in the UK. I am a human being who is fortunate to be born in the part of the world I was born. I just feel I’m now in an environment where we have these labels and systems. However, this is where we are now and in order to make a change and spread the message that we are all human then I need to make my voice heard. We have blacks, Caucasians – we’re all human beings. I think I’m at that stage where I’m still trying to understand why we have to have this month – what about people of Chinese origin, Asian origin – are we going to have history for everyone? But this is what we’ve got now so we’ve got to work with it.

Thank you so much to Adetunji for doing this interview with us – we are so grateful, and really enjoyed hearing his perspectives. And the music recommendations have not gone unappreciated!

That’s one of the best parts about celebrating one another and sharing our stories or ideas with others – you never know what you might learn, or the impact that a fresh perspective could have. We hope that you’ve enjoyed our Personal Histories blog series, and we would encourage you to get involved

If you would like to speak to us about yourself, a topic you’re interested in or maybe even an event you’re involved with, we would be more than happy to share it on our blog. The more interactive the better, so don’t hesitate to contact us.

Personal Histories: Sara Elkhawad

This October is Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK. To honour our staff and students here at Newcastle, we’re continuing our Personal Histories blog series to learn more about them and their stories.

In this blog, we spoke to Sara Elkhawad, the current NUSU Equality and Welfare Officer, to learn more about her interests, aspects of her culture, and what she thinks of Black History Month. Sara has been working extremely hard this month running her campaign, Black Is Gold; so far it has included a culture-filled fashion show, a panel discussion in collaboration with the Great Debate Tour, campaign series to educate on the impact of racism, and the finale this evening with a closing party run by student DJs. For more details about these amazing events, click here.

How did you end up in Newcastle?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a while – I didn’t have that kind of vocational dream of doing medicine or whatever, so I chose to do English literature at Newcastle quite last minute. But then I went to the visit day and actually really liked it, so I put it first. My mum was really happy because she was an alumni so she was like, ‘Wow my life is now being recreated through my daughter!’ But I really love it here so it was probably the best decision I ever made, even though it was a last minute decision.

How did you become involved in your role?

I studied English literature at university and it’s something that I thought about a lot during my third year, so I applied last year really hoping that I’d get in. I guess Welfare and Equality Officer’s always been something that I’ve been interested in because of the charitable aspect, the mental health aspect of it and I love doing events and stuff so the campaigns aspect too. Also, being the first black woman that had ever gone for this role and the second person of colour that had been on the team was a big motivation of mine because I felt like I could represent the voices that I related to. So I applied, and since then I’ve realised that it has been the perfect job for me because I get to do lots of stuff to do with wellbeing and mental health which is something that is close to my heart, but also campaigning for people that are underrepresented. Not just black people, but people of marginalised genders, LGBT+, disabled people, etc. It’s been really, really eye opening for me and even showed me where a lot of my strengths and weaknesses are, so I’ve learnt a lot as well.

What are your main hobbies and interests outside of your role?

I like writing poetry – I actually haven’t recently because I’ve been so busy, but yeah, I write a lot of poetry. For my dissertation, instead of doing a dissertation I did a creative portfolio so I did poetry for that. I do spoken word as well as written poetry, I guess it’s to do with finding an emotional release sometimes. I’m not a good singer or anything so I like to kind of rap through written words instead.

What would you regard as your proudest achievement?

I guess Black History Month. Obviously I haven’t been in this job for that long, since June, but it’s been really successful – on our opening night, 200 people turned up which was amazing! Any event at the Students’ Union that gets that kind of turnout is incredible, and since then we had a really good turnout at the debate that we had. We’ve had really good feedback from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and high up in the university which has been amazing. Lots of students have got really involved as well as the local community so that for me has been really amazing because it’s something that I’ve put a lot of time and effort into. It’s also kind of controversial; with it being called Black is Gold and focusing on black achievements and black excellence, I think some people who aren’t within that ethnic group feel a little bit triggered by it, or have their own opinions about it, so I’ve obviously had some controversial comments too but in general it’s been a very positive campaign so I’m really happy.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

Being the only person of my background and sitting in a room where everyone else is white and predominantly male; you don’t have that set of privileges, and sometimes you feel not as confident to use your voice and you come across natural barriers to stuff. Not everyone agrees with your way of thinking or agrees with the same issues because they haven’t been through the same things that I’ve been through, so when I try and articulate what black people need or what black people want, it hasn’t necessarily always had the immediate response that I would expect from someone that was black. So it’s the kind of feeling that I’m the only one that will ever fit my shoes in this university realm and in the union as well.

I guess just adjusting to the role in general, too – there’s so much to do. Being a trustee of the union which is essentially like chairing a charity, making sure that the union is well governed… there’s so many aspects that I didn’t realise I’d have to do so I’m maturing a lot!

What inspires you?

The people around me inspire me a lot. I think the liberation officers (the people who voluntarily represent marginalised groups) like the Racial Equality officer, LGBT officer, are amazing because they’re the kind of people who are standing up directly for those voices. They make me learn a lot about my own knowledge and privileges which is great. In terms of other people, probably people like Akala who’s an inspirational speaker and rapper and understands the ins and outs of blackness, and the myths about it as well.

I think also my environment; the fact that I’ve grown up in quite a diverse area in London meeting people who generally have the same political outlooks on life, but also the same kind of music and cultural interests as me. Coming to a city that is a little bit less diverse has been quite eye opening in a negative and positive way, because obviously I have felt discriminated against and had prejudice against me but also I’ve been able to use my race as a platform to make sure we improve as a university in terms of that kind of stuff. That’s been interesting because I think when I came to university I didn’t really have the same racial consciousness that I have gained now from being at Newcastle, so that’s been quite inspiring.

Can you give me a selection of your favourite things from your culture?

I am half East African, so half from Sudan. It’s quite a different environment from what other people understand as Africa; a lot of people understand ‘black’ as West Africa and the Caribbean. One of my favourite bits is the sense of family and community, it’s like no one ever leaves you alone! Which is hard because Britain is such an isolated culture in comparison, people like their downtime and like just spending time by themselves but you don’t get that in Sudan. There’s a lot of eating together; you have this big round plate that everyone spins and eats from, and there’s about a million weddings so you’re always seeing people which is really lovely.

Falafel is quite a big part of my diet – obviously I don’t eat falafel on a daily basis, but my family have created this sort of secret family recipe from it, so that’s a big part of my East African culture. We’ve got beautiful pyramids in Sudan – everyone thinks that Egypt have all the pyramids but Sudan actually has like three times the amount and no one ever goes there. When I went to go see them, there was literally no one there apart from the people who were leading us and the camels, so that’s pretty cool.

What do you think about when you hear Black History Month?

I think what other people think they hear Black History Month is that they automatically think of slavery and civil rights, so when black people were slaves and how black people got over slavery. Especially within that, African American history so we’ve got people like Martin Luther King who fought for civil rights and did an amazing job, but again it’s not British black history.

So now when I think of Black History and what this campaign Black Is Gold is meant to do, I sort of want to draw away from slavery and unearth narratives that like have been silenced by slavery. Before slavery and since slavery, black people were kings and queens and are kings and queens; we have Meghan Markle for example, who is literally in the royal family in the UK. Or within the Roman era, you had Nubian empires with black East African kings and queens. So I guess for me it’s about black excellence and beauty, rather than black colonialism and slavery, and yes black British history in the past but also now. The people that are paving the way, like Stormzy, or singers like Jorja Smith and Akala are really important black figures that are informing British culture and making history, even though we don’t really see it like that.

Thank you so much to Sara for taking the time to speak to us during this busy time! The work she has been doing this month is admirable, and we hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about her story and perspective. #BlackIsGold

If you would be interested in talking to us about yourself as part of this series, or know someone else who would, we would love to hear from you! To take part, please contact Claire Bailie.