In this interview, we ask Anthony Uchenna Agwagah, the leader of the Igbo community of Nigeria in Dorset what good community leadership is and how can diverse communities cultivate their heritage cultural and language background.
I’ve always loved New Year’s Eves. This thrill of having a new hope and the feeling that you could start your life all over again. From now on everything is going to be different. It’s going to be better. I’m going to change. I won’t make those stupid mistakes ever again. I’ll be good. I’ll lose all those surplus kilograms (or, pounds, mind you, I’m writing from England). I’ll have more quality time with my family. I’ll eat healthier. I’ll work less. I’ll work more. I’ll be more organised. I’ll be less stressed. And so on…
2020 has reminded us all that we can promise ourselves whatever we want to, we can make plans as big or as small as we want to, and it doesn’t really matter because things not always depend on us. 2020 was not the year we managed to get everything we wanted. At the same time, it was a year when many of us have managed to see and appreciate what we already had. In the constant run to earn more money, to get more power, to look better, to buy more things or bigger things, or nicer things, we were reminded that the human beings are just a part of this machinery called The World. And the biggest money doesn’t matter if you are ill, the most luxurious cars don’t matter if you cannot drive them to be close to your dear one who is dying, lonely and without any hope for help.
2020 has been extremely difficult, with the worldwide pandemic, extreme weather, record of unemployment, social injustices, forest fires, and closer to the place where I live – Brexit. Enough of that. I beg you. No more talking. Instead, let’s focus on what’s good. And, there were some good things that happened.
1. Teachers and public health and social care workers finally got the public recognition they deserve. They were joined by other undervalued heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic: delivery drivers, cleaners, and supermarket workers.
2. Kindness has spread around the world and people came together many times and on different occasions: neighbours organised socially distanced parties and concerts, people bought supplies for their shielding or elderly neighbours, prepared meals for strangers, reached out to friends, family members or neighbours who were experiencing loneliness or isolation, children wrote letters to the elderly to curb loneliness, and fundraising has reached the new levels.
3. Birthdays and other special occasions became less about presents and more about connecting with loved ones.
4. Diversity and inclusion became more important than ever: Black Lives Matter became the biggest mass movement in history. Kamala Harris became the first female, first Black, first South Asian US Vice President.
5. Careers were reassessed and horizons broadened as a work-from-home revolution started.
6. Our priorities were re-established: health, family, relationships, compassion, bringing diverse people together, fostering communities, food waste and recovery, natural environment.
7. We avoided a Great Depression (for now, anyway).
8. Africa was declared free of polio.
9. Pollution has dropped. Because we are all “staying in”, levels of air pollutants are almost 50% down compared to 2019.
10. A Covid-19 vaccine was approved for use, giving us hope for the better 2021.
Anna Hamilton is Polish who lives in Dorset, UK with her British husband and their four children who can fluently speak English, Polish, and Spanish. As part of the World of Love campaign, she shares her best tips and practical advice on how to raise bilingual and multilingual kids.
World of Love is a campaign to recognise the contributions made by the members of our culturally and linguistically diverse society and to introduce inspiring people from all paths of life from all over the world.
Everyone can be an inspiration: a community leader and a child who speaks two or more languages, an art creator who brings joy and hope to others and a company who sees diversity as a business opportunity. Regular people together with experts in medicine, business and sports personalities, artists alongside other professionals and experts will share their passion, knowledge, and skills to help us understand the different aspects of the diversity of the world.
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“There’s nothing we can’t do, if we do it together”, Joe Biden, 47th president of the USA appealed for national unity and he started his presidency with a barrier-breaking Kamala Harris, first woman of colour elected to vice-presidency. Daughter of a Jamaican who taught at Stanford University and a cancer researcher mother with an Indian heritage background, will stand for the millions of underrepresented people around the country. It happened while in the UK, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has launched Change the Race Ratio, a campaign to increase racial and ethnic diversity in British companies.
Everyone, regardless of their skin colour, language, culture, gender, or religion should be able to fulfil their potential. Everyone has something special to share with others. The world becomes more racially and ethnically diverse and less segregated, at the same time. The likelihood of working or living next door to someone with a different linguistic or cultural background has never been higher.
In the UK, in 2019 about 14,4% of the population was from an ethnic minority background, ranging from 2.2% in Northern Ireland to 16,1% in England. However, only 10% of Members of the House of Commons were from ethnic minority backgrounds. In March 2020, 6,3% of Members of the House of Lords were from ethnic minority groups. Considering the ratio, it is still not enough, nevertheless the present numbers show a fast acceleration over the last ten years, compared to just one in forty Members of Parliament a decade ago.
The world is excited about Kamala Harris becoming the first female vice-president in the USA. Until recently, it was Great Britain that’s had the most diverse parliament in the world. Historically, the country has had six Queens (some historians argue there were eight of them), with the Queen Elizabeth II ruling the country since 1952 to present day. The first woman who pioneered in the parliament as the Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher who first took on the role in 1979 and then consequently, in 1983 and 1987. Thirty years later, in 2017 Theresa May became the Prime Minister. There is also Nicola Sturgeon, serving the country as the First Minister of Scotland. In the United Kingdom then, female leaders are not uncommon.
The situation is a little bit different when it comes to being a woman with an ethnic minority background, although this is also slowly but steadily improving. In 1987, when Diane Abbott became the first black Member of Parliament, there were only four MPs from ethnic minorities (with Mrs Abbott being the only woman). Today, Priti Patel is the Home Secretary and Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, attends the Cabinet, both of them having diverse backgrounds. Altogether, there are 37 women from ethnic minorities in the House of Commons in the UK, out of 65 MPs from diverse backgrounds in total. A number that many countries can look up to.
Another country with a progressive approach to inclusivity in the Parliament is New Zealand. At the beginning of November, the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the appointment of Nanaia Mahuta, the nation’s first Indigenous woman to the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs. Female representation in Parliament hit 48 per cent, with New Zealand electing its first MPs of African and Latin American heritage.
These changes give hope. The hope for the future when one day, only the qualifications, experience, and our personality can matter, not the skin colour, gender, or the culture we come from. They send a message of unity, openness, and acceptance. No one knows what the future holds but in the uncertain times like these, being together, helping one another and seeing that we are all humans is what can help us get through. An African philosophy emphasises being human through other people. “I am because of who we all are.” We are all bound together, and we can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others. It is time for us to acknowledge that.