Black History Month: How history informs our systematic approach to tackling health inequalities in north east London

Our Chair Marie Gabriel, CBE, talks about Black History Month and her passion and commitment to reducing inequalities in health and care. 

What does Black History Month mean to you?

“I am old enough to remember when Black History Month was first established, it may seem ordinary now, but at the time it was huge, a real step forward in ensuring our history was reclaimed by us and recognised by wider society. There was a real focus on acknowledgement and honouring our contribution, which had been ignored or purposefully hidden. I believe as a month it has gone a long way to ensuring a much deeper understanding and has also enabled deeper roots for individuals and communities, because without a sense of your history how do you know who you are and where you need to go.

“This sense of history informing the future means, that how we view Black History Month has changed over time. It is right that we now expect that Black history, and its contribution is recognised every day, but it is also right that we recognise that history is being created now, and so we need to be thoughtful about how future generations will view our current actions, or indeed inaction. I do think it is still critical to have a designated month though, a time to stop and reflect and to celebrate. The celebration is so important, to have real joy and pride in all that we accomplish, every day, against some huge odds. 

What changes are you passionate about seeing for Black people in health and care in particular?

“That is a really difficult question as there is so much to improve on across access, experience and outcomes, and for both the communities we serve and the staff we employ. So, I think the change I am most passionate about begins with an understanding of, a commitment to, and clear plan of action to progress towards true equity.

“For true equity, you need an understanding of history.”

How history has led to structural inequality and discrimination so that you can identify and counteract how the history of the Black people is completely tied into the success of public service so that we can recognise and reward that contribution with fairness and justice and how history demands that we do better now. I am therefore passionate about a systemic approach that recognises how we must undertake action across the four aims of the integrated care system, in population health, in tackling health inequalities, in ensuring productivity, and in tackling wider determinants. And to take this action alongside our partners including our local communities. This is one of the reasons why I am so looking forward to our health and care System Wide Anti-Racist Workshop on 31 October, where we can take stock of how far we have come and what more we must do to serve and lead all of our people all of the time.”

Who has inspired you from history, and more recent history?

“Another question that challenges me as there as so many. I find that I am inspired so regularly by people who do amazing things as part of their every day. Recognising women, is the theme of Black History Month this year and so just thinking about that, I am inspired by one of my close friends who has made it her life’s work to support young women in care, I am inspired by the women I learnt so much from when growing up, I am inspired by colleagues who have and continue to support other Black women to succeed, I am inspired by those women who set up community responses to the challenges we face and I am inspired by women throughout history who have spoken out when it is difficult to do so, particularly those whose stories are not known…” 

Do you have any artists, musicians, writers or poets you’d recommend to help people expand their understanding of Black history?

“Keeping within this year’s theme I will focus on Black British women writers, and would recommend, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Zadie Smith, Bernardine Evaristo, Irenosen Okoje, Andrea Levy, Patience Agbabi, and a sister to read with your daughters, Malorie Blackman.”

Marie Gabriel CBE, is one of the leading NHS figures in London. She is chair of NHS North East London and North East London Health and Care Partnership, and is also the first chair of the NHS Race and Health Observatory as well as chair of NHS North East London, co-chair of the London People Board and a member of the Mayor of London’s Health Board.

Find out more about what we’re doing to tackle health inequality in north east London.