Black History Month in Yorkshire: Eight inspiring people in sports, business, healthcare, the arts and social care

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It’s Black History Month - so we had a chat with a number of people from Yorkshire who are making a difference to communities in a variety of career sectors.

Black History Month is observed in October every year here in the UK to highlight and celebrate the stories, achievements and historical significance of Black communities from African and Caribbean backgrounds.

A variety of events are held over October to commemorate the awareness month. The events also offer a chance for Black communities to come together and to educate younger generations of all cultures and ethnicities.

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In honour of Black History Month, the Yorkshire Post has talked to eight individuals who, through their careers and passions, have positively impacted the people of Yorkshire.

Clockwise from left to right: Moreen Siziba, Gail Waterman, Sienna Reid and Elychia Watson. (Pictures supplied)Clockwise from left to right: Moreen Siziba, Gail Waterman, Sienna Reid and Elychia Watson. (Pictures supplied)
Clockwise from left to right: Moreen Siziba, Gail Waterman, Sienna Reid and Elychia Watson. (Pictures supplied)

Moreen Siziba, owner of Arch Healthcare

Moreen, 42, moved to Bradford in 2002 from Zimbabwe where she trained as a nurse at university whilst also working part time as a carer and raising a family.

Throughout her career she felt, as a black woman, she had to work twice as hard to be accepted as part of a team, despite being fully qualified.

Regardless of her passion and being outspoken, her ideas were never implemented.

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Bolu Fagborun.Bolu Fagborun.
Bolu Fagborun.

This motivated her to quit her job and set up her own company that would allow her to provide care she was so passionate about. She opened her own practice, Arch Healthcare in Leeds, and now employs 25 people.

“I’m proud to make a difference,” Moreen said.

“We have continuously provided outstanding care with lovely reviews and to top it all, I have been nominated for the registered manager of the year award in Leeds.”

Moreen’s advice to young black people is: “Be the difference. We need more young black entrepreneurs and there are quite a few black business mentors willing to support young black entrepreneurs.

Dr Joy Ogbemudia.Dr Joy Ogbemudia.
Dr Joy Ogbemudia.

“Young people should be mindful that their network is their net worth; surround yourselves with like-minded people and of course - never give up.”

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When asked what Black History month means to her, Moreen said: “I see it as an opportunity to be understood and also for black excellence to be celebrated.

“I see it as a time for organisations to check their inclusion policies and what steps they could take to eradicate some challenges for black people and this could be as simple as creating programmes for young black people.”

Sienna Reid, peer support facilitator at Leeds Mind

Joy pictured with her book. (Pic credit: Dr Joy Ogbemudia)Joy pictured with her book. (Pic credit: Dr Joy Ogbemudia)
Joy pictured with her book. (Pic credit: Dr Joy Ogbemudia)

Sienna, 32, is Muslim and of African and Caribbean descent. She was born in Leeds and comes from a predominantly Christian family background.

Through virtually connecting with her extended family in Jamaica and America she has learned more about her heritage and this has piqued her interest in her ancestry.

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After studying at Bradford University, she interned for charities inspiring her to pursue a career in mental health.

Her journey was not an easy one. During second year of university, Sienna was diagnosed with Catamenial Epilepsy, a type of epilepsy where seizures intensify during hormonal changes and stress.

Over the years, Sienna has learned to appreciate her challenges as they have made her more resilient.

“As a person of colour with a hidden disability (my epilepsy). There have been times in my life where there were limited services freely available for support or feeling like I was misunderstood,” she said.

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Gail and Matt (centre) along with the Watermans team receiving The Queen Award. (Pic credit: Gail Waterman)Gail and Matt (centre) along with the Watermans team receiving The Queen Award. (Pic credit: Gail Waterman)
Gail and Matt (centre) along with the Watermans team receiving The Queen Award. (Pic credit: Gail Waterman)

“Mental health is an area that most ethnic minority communities don’t talk about or it is spoken about negatively. This allows me to be a positive representation for those who have been affected.”

Sienna’s advice for young people is: “A famous phrase that I like to remember is an African proverb: ‘Each One Teach One’. It originated during slavery when Africans were denied an education,” she said.

“When someone learned how to read or write, it became their responsibility to teach someone else.

“This is a phrase that is easy to remember, can be understood by all ages and represents cultural empowerment.”

Bolu Fagborun, former professional rugby league player

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Bolu, 36, was 18 years old when he made his professional debut, playing for Huddersfield Giants against Bradford Bulls.

He also played for Rochdale, Batley Bulldogs and Sheffield Eagles, however, he had to retire at 25 when he had a serious tendon injury. Following eight years of recovery, he was inspired to get into good shape again.

He came back out of retirement at the age of 33 when he flew to Nigeria to play and win the 2019 Mea rugby tournament in Lagos, despite concerns from doctors.

After this tournament, his goals slowly drifted away from the field and he began to see value in coaching and leadership.

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At the beginning of the first lockdown in 2020, Bolu set up his own one-to-one coaching sessions with individuals and leadership executives to help them combat obstacles and improve their leadership skills.

“I was inspired by the fact that people have unlimited potential and often it’s just the case that they don’t have access to people who can see it for them and help them unlock that potential by building trust, rapport and working through their goals and ambitions,” Bolu said.

“I’ve always had the heart of a coach and I think that leadership changes the world.”

Bolu has also set up a girls’ rugby league team for Birkenshaw Bluedogs which expanded from just two girls to 50 in a month. Matches have been attended by Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin.

Jasmine Comrie, nurse

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Natalie Comrie shared her mother’s story with The Yorkshire Post.

Jasmine moved to Leeds with her family when she was just nine years old from Jamaica in the 1950s.

She was a passionate woman who loved to help people and started working as a nurse in the early 60s.

“[My mum] experienced lots of racism but that didn’t stop her pursuing her career,” Natalie said.

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“She worked tirelessly to support the homeless and those in need, providing dinners, food and warm clothing and she advocated for her black students.”

She worked her way up to become a lecturer at Bradford University in nursing and pharmacology. At the same time, she studied her masters whilst raising her children alone.

Jasmine was also instrumental in the development of the Sickle Cell Society in the UK and Leeds.

“My mum was an inspiration; her [message] for me and all of those who she came into contact with was that education was the key to freedom,” Natalie said.

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“She believed wholeheartedly that gaining knowledge was something [no one could] take away from you.

“She was always an advocate for me at school. She told me to reach for the stars and that I could be anything that I wanted to be.”

When asked what Black History Month meant to her mum, Natalie, who works in the learning and development sector, said: “Black History Month was something my mum was proud of because it’s something that she didn’t have when she was young.”

Jasmine passed away last year from Covid-19.

Dr Joy Ogbemudia, university lecturer and PHD graduate

Joy migrated to the UK in 2007 under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme after six years of teaching English in Nigeria.

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In spite of her credentials, she struggled to find skilled jobs she was interested in and was only offered menial jobs.

She was encouraged by peers, friends and family to accept the menial jobs, but she never gave up.

Joy applied to do a postgraduate programme as soon as she completed her masters but was still not offered the jobs she was qualified for.

“I was told that I was either overqualified for entry level jobs or underqualified due to a lack of UK work experience. Either way, I was stuck,” she said.

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Through her frustrations, she wrote a proposal to research the experiences of professional Nigerian women in the UK and this birthed her PhD programme at University of York.

Through her thesis, she published a book this year titled, ‘The Migration of Professional Women from Nigeria to the UK: Narratives of Work, Family Life and Adaptation’.

With the support of her peers, Joy rose to senior lecturer in 2022 after four years of lecturing experience at university level.

“Believe in yourself and stay focussed. There will be challenges, no doubt, but let your goal be big enough and your vision clear enough to keep you focussed,” she said.

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“You can dare to dream and watch your dream become your reality not through wishful thinking but hard work and resilience. You may think you will sink, but what if you fly? You never know until you try.”

Gail Waterman, co-owner of Watermans

Gail and her husband, Matt, live in Rotherham where they have set up their own hair product business Watermans in 2014.

When she was pregnant with her first son, Gail noticed her hair falling out. At the same time, her husband was also suffering from receding hairline, so Gail and Matt, both decided to create a product that would help them and other people too.

“I’ve got over 32 years of experience working with hair and I understand a lot of people and some of my clients were coming in with hair loss problems as well,” Gail said.

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“Me and my husband also donate to chemo hospitals around the UK, so we’re just really all about giving back and helping other people.”

Staff at Watermans recently welcomed Lord Lieutenant to their headquarters to celebrate receiving a Queen’s Award.

His Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant Dame Hilary presented the award to Gail and Matt and the award was won in 2022 for Enterprise, International Trade.

To celebrate achieving this award after eight years in business, the team at Watermans held an event where they were presented with a trophy and an official stroll by King Charles III’s representative.

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“[The award] really helps our business and it’s such a prestigious award to win. We’re very proud of what we achieved,” Gail said.

“As someone of mixed heritage, it’s important to me to celebrate my black side, it’s important to celebrate black people doing amazing things and it’s also great to celebrate what Yorkshire people are achieving. I’m just really glad to celebrate with other black people as well.”

Kenneth Barker, creative producer

Kenneth is based in Leeds but is originally from Suffolk. He moved to Leeds in the mid-90s, where he attended film school.

He writes, produces, directs and edits films, but his journey getting here wasn’t without its challenges.

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“Possibly the single greatest obstacle to any film-maker outside the established film production channels is securing money to produce films,” he said.

“The whole industry is a ‘closed shop’ and quite elitist, so persuading backers to take on your project is a herculean task. Ever improving technology and ready access to the internet has created a raft of opportunities for the film entrepreneur.

“Being savvy about social media to build a following - and thus the film’s core audience - means you can conceivably produce a commercially successful film from a bedroom.

“I love to network with other film-makers and business people, but more importantly I am driven to tell the stories which personally inspire.

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“I am pretty confident I have been rejected based on my skin colour but I will never know how many times; I overcame this by knowing to look elsewhere and to bolster my inner strength.”

Kenneth’s advice to young black children is: “Some people will see a black person and others will genuinely be colour blind and see you as a talent looking for an opportunity.

“Learn to deal with that but never allow that to stop you. Put yourself in a position where you can begin creating. Overall, you must try because you cannot afford to look back and know you did not give it your best shot.”

Elychia Watson, Leeds Rhinos Ladies rugby player

Elychia, 25, grew up in Armley and went to Roudhay High School before she moved to Leeds city centre.

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She joined the army at the age of 17 and eight years later she was deployed all over the world on overseas tours.

Before she joined the army, she had already started playing rugby for Stanningley Rugby League at the age of 15 and returned to the sport when she was approached by the army rugby league team.

Elychia has since played for a super league team, the Leeds Rhino Ladies team and represented the Jamaican rugby team in the Bahamas.

“It was by far one of the proudest moments of my life. The support I received from family and friends was amazing. I could do it all again. It was amazing and I’m really proud I got to represent my family playing rugby,” she said.

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Through her work, she has represented inspirational women and women of colour at speaking events and was a speaker at the Inspiration Business Woman of the Year awards. She attended schools, colleges and community groups to represent women in sports.

When asked what challenges she faced along the way and how she overcame them, Elychia said: “The biggest challenge I faced was fitting in. Growing up in a white dominated area, I struggled to fit in at times and it really used to get to me, but nevertheless, I kept pushing myself to be the best person I could be.

“If I was to give any advice for any young teenagers starting out, I say believe in yourself and never give up.

“Give 100 per cent in everything you do regardless of any setbacks. Believe you can and you will.”

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