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Celebrating London’s inspiring Black leaders (part 1)

BlackLeadersAwarenessDay banner
BlackLeadersAwarenessDay banner

This July, we celebrated Black Leaders Awareness Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of Black leaders, and inspiring generations to come. London is home to many outstanding Black leaders. Here we speak to some of those we work with about the background's that shaped them, their inspiration and their approach to leadership.

Pamela Robotham (Greenwich Housing Rights)

Pamela is the Director of Greenwich Housing Rights, a charity specialising in housing advice and casework. She is also the chair of the Windrush Justice Clinic, which helps people claiming compensation for the atrocities committed to them, and Vice President of the South London Law Centre.

Tell us a bit about your background and how it’s shaped you into the leader you are today.

My parents came to the UK in the 1960s. They worked hard and blended their four Jamaica born children with the three that they had here (of which I am the first) into a formidable force that faced the external world as one. My parents highly valued education and endeavour. They believed that we should not add our own internal obstacles, like self-doubt and insecurity, to the numerous external ones we already faced, including racism and low expectations of female, working class and black people. This allowed me to focus on my own abilities, understand the obstacles I faced and work out the path to overcoming them to achieve my academic and professional goals. I continue to use this approach to instill confidence and belief in staff to understand their challenges and work out ways to overcome them.

What does leadership mean to you?

I apply the principles and values of my Jamaican upbringing, which served me so well, to leadership. I lead by example and foster the importance of hard work, commitment, endeavour, collaboration, pride and integrity. I loudly celebrate staff victories and privately commiserate losses. I seek (and take seriously) staff views on all aspects of the organisation’s work so that we are all committed to the whole and each other. I encourage agency and autonomy so that staff are able to take pride in their work.

I believe in fostering staff development and ensuring that the group reflects the wider community and client group. For me, no ambition is too great or beyond anyone. Many of the people I have managed were not as lucky as me in having siblings, family and friends to support my goals. I consider it a crucial leadership role to illuminate the path to success, and to mentor and support staff to get there.

The main “trick” to leadership is understanding that everyone has a role to play in running the organisation. I also reject received wisdom as to what intelligence looks like or is measured and seek staff from as wide a group as I can find.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would tell my younger self that the path set by my family is the correct one – have confidence and stick to it.

Charlet Wilson (Merton CIL)

Charlet is the joint CEO of Merton CIL, a user-led Deaf and Disabled people’s organisation based in The London Borough of Merton.

Tell us a bit about your background and how it’s shaped you into the leader you are today.

I joined Merton CIL because I wanted to contribute towards work aiming to challenge some the societal structures that were negatively impacting those close to me. I was also passionate about pushing to make the community that I grew up in more inclusive for all.

My experiences around race, gender, and class, as well as their intersection with disability, have shaped the leader that I am today. They pushed me to place an importance on leading with compassion and centring lived experience in decision making.

What does leadership mean to you?

To me, leadership is the responsibility to support those around you to actively learn, develop ideas and share their perspectives in the aim to make a vision for a better society, reality.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Your difference is your power!

Jerry During (Money A+E)

Jerry is the CEO & co-founder of Money A+E, a social enterprise that gives debt advice to people from disadvantaged groups.

Please tell us a bit about your background and how has helped make you the leader you are today

I grew up in Newham, east London, and when I was 16 I had my first encounter with a money issue. My father was made redundant and amassed large amounts of debt on credit cards to cover the household bills. There was lots stress and tension in my family, my parents talked about separating and there was a looming threat of the bank repossessing our home.

My father says two things got him through that time: support from his family, and support from an expert charity that provided debt support and a strategy to resolve his issues.

As I grew into adulthood I had my own experiences with debt, and also with racism and exclusion as a young black male. All of this had a massive influence on me, and I decided to go into money advice so that I could help others with similar issues.

It was when working as a debt adviser, that my colleague Gregory Ashby and I noticed that Diverse Ethnic Communities were facing multiple barriers to accessing quality debt advice. In response, we set up Money A+E; today, 80% of Money A+E’s advice clients are non-white British, and we supported people to manage £2.4 million in debt and be over £737,000 better off in 2022.

I think that lived experience leadership is key to creating sustainable impact. It motivates you to make change, it makes you empathetic to the struggles of others, and it informs effective solutions. It is central to our approach at Money A+E.

What does leadership mean to you?

For me, leadership means Servant Leadership: that is, your purpose is to serve others around you and your team. I draw on my Christian faith for that, but it’s an idea that can be universal.

I think that a good leader is a role model, and I strive to be the best version of myself that I can be, both in and outside of work. It can certainly be hard to overcome bad habits, but reflecting on your impact makes doing the work easier.

One area that I am very proud of is being brave enough to innovate and try new things, new solutions to big social challenges. I think that the new Racial Justice network (co-led by Money A+E), is a good example. We're aiming to overcome the barriers to equal economic participation faced by Diverse Ethnic Communities; to achieve this we’re bringing together the banking sector and those with lived experience, to co-design products and services and increase diversity in the sector.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say to my younger self: Be brave, be persistent. Once you've found a path you believe in, don’t let others sway you from it. There will always be people who don’t ‘get’ what you do straight away – and that’s ok, it’s just a necessary part of innovating and creating impact.

And finally I would like to say, to myself and any young people reading: Enjoy the journey! It’s going to be the best thing getting to see how your life and your calling unfolds.

Chrisann Jarrett MBE (We Belong)

Chrisann is the CEO and co-founder of We Belong, a youth migrants led charity.

Tell us a bit about your background and how it’s shaped you into the leader you are today?

My Jamaican parents were the epitome of hard-working individuals who set a precedence in our family encouraging us all to strive for better. Having a good academic record was a steppingstone to further success. I took my education seriously but was also keen to find my voice in society and use it in a purposeful way, focusing on building relationships and dialogues with those who are different to me. This has helped me to be the leader I am today.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership means making contributions to improving the status quo, inspiring and investing in others along the way.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would tell my younger self that you can’t plan every detail of your life and that I should be willing to embrace uncertainty.

Read part two