If you have been following me on social media you may have spotted that I was nominated in the The National Diversity Awards on International Women’s Day 2017. I had the great pleasure of attending the awards ceremony at the majestic Liverpool Anglian Cathedral last Friday and the night was aptly named in jest; ‘Donald Trump’s worst nightmare’ by comedian and National Diversity award-winner Adam Hill – quite fitting really! Boy do I have a run down for you.
Founded by Paul Sesay, with a focus on equality and inclusion, The National Diversity Awards celebrates the excellent achievements of grass- roots communities that tackle the issues in today’s society, giving them recognition for their dedication and hard work. This years awards the sixth instalment was the biggest yet with over 22,000 nominations. Wow.
I had proudly been nominated as a Positive Role Model for Race, for the work I’ve been doing to bring diversity and race equality into the mainstream media and wedding industry. It’s incredibly humbling to be amongst thousands of movers and shakers in the UK who are doing such meaningful things to push forward equality, a powerful and authentic camaraderie up until Friday I had not experienced.
As a diversity consultant and founder of Nu Bride; (a wedding website that encourages, celebrates and showcases diversity; what love look likes beyond the stereotypical one-dimensional view the UK wedding industry regurgitates), I spend a lot of my time defending diversity, justifying why diversity matters.
Championing for diversity, going ‘against the grain’, against the mainstream media and popular culture, where success and desirability has a bias on white, heterosexual, male and able-bodied, is no easy feat. It is isolating and it is tough.
Frequently challenged by the majority, by those who perhaps have become accustomed to privilege, by those who feel like strides towards equality can feel like ‘less than’ for the majority…
Well what about us? That’s not fair? All lives matter right?
Of course all lives matter. What I have learned is that not only is diversity important to give an accurate reflection of what life is, celebrating diversity is imperative in educating and challenging the discourse, giving a platform for minorities, groups of people who simply because of their genetic make up have not been afforded the same opportunities to that of their peers, because of a bias that has been conditioned and hard-wired into our brains. A narrative that perpetuates our own subconscious bias, one that continuously tells us that disabled is less than, that women are less than, that homosexuality is less than, that black and ethnic minority groups are less than.
Aside from being remarkably elegant hosts, what The National Diversity Awards did beautifully, was to celebrate every aspect of diversity in a inclusive way. Which in my opinion is key, not segregating, not disempowering but coming together, to shine a spotlight on those who are often assumed by our own subconscious bias as less than, but instead as incredible. As inspiring. As mind-blowing. As remarkable human beings.
There are so many more winners and nominees worthy of mention, some award-winners that stood out to me were, former actress and founder of Road Casting, Coralie Rose who won Entrepreneur Award of Excellence, for her commitment to casting real and underrepresented people in commercials, TV and film, inspired after not seeing people like herself or her family represented on TV and beyond. She was also responsible for casting the first Muslim girl wearing a hijab for H&M.
Another stand out winner was Community Organisation Award-Winner for Gender: Men Tell Health, a mental heath charity dedicated to helping men talk about their mental health and reduce male suicide.
Life Time Achievement award-winner Avril Hitman reduced me to tears, founder of Magpie Dance since 1985 an inclusive dance company for people with learning disabilities to express themselves through the power of dance her popularity was palpable. Positive Role Model for Disability winner and favourite James Sutliff – diagnosed with neurological disorder Dystonia which can cause muscle wastage, speech loss and lack of mobility. Defying all odds, James is a force to be reckoned with and was awarded for the impact he is making in the fitness industry as an extremely successful bodybuilder, personal trainer and disability coach.
And then there was the very talented and delightfully confident 12-year-old child prodigy; Joshua Beckford, who is diagnosed with Autism and exceeds exceptional expectations in academia, thought to be one of the smartest children in the world, who won the award for Positive Role Model for Age and brought the house down with an inspiring speech to follow your dreams.
Hosted by The Scissor Sisters co lead vocalist, Ana Matroinc and Brian Dowling, with a goose bump inducing finale by delicious singer Mo Adeniran, winner of The Voice 2017, who blew the house down and got everyone on their feet with an impromptu jamming session with colleague Misha B – one of my favourite moments.
The awards had a refreshing focus on individuals, not just organisations and celebrities, but the grass-roots of communities across the UK following their passion and purpose to bring about positive change. Some overcoming incredible odds, others paving their own strident way to being the change they want to see in the world.
After the residue and visible growing intolerance that our current sociopolitical climate has left, I departed The National Diversity Awards feeling inspired. Feeling less lonely, knowing there is a tribe of support, thousands if not more, also taking action to help society and our communities evolve.
Faith in humanity restored.
Striving for diversity is not the lonely road I once thought it was. I personally didn’t make the finalist shortlist – but somehow my own journey in The National Diversity Awards seemed irrelevant, I was inspired beyond belief by the camaraderie, by the inclusive tribe of equality seekers (or modern-day freedom riders as I like to call them) Not simply falling in line and accepting what is, is. But having the courage to be vulnerable, striving for more, recognising their part, their power and privilege in creating more for generations to come.
Celebrating diversity and being an inclusive business owner and advocate goes beyond the tick box exercise – the ‘I’ve done it once’ badge of honour. Do it again and again and again. Not so it’s tokenism, not so it’s a badge of honour, but because it’s a true reflection of the remarkable souls who make up the United Kingdom.
Only when we consistently see different versions of intelligence, success, power, desirability, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our schools, in lecture halls, in our boardrooms in magazines, on TV, in films, on catwalks, that go beyond the pre-conditioned stereotype, will we truly start to accept each other as equals and evolve.
Be the change.
Unless otherwise stated Photography kindly provide by Sara Porter Photography