LifeSearch & Diversity
15 Jan 2021
At LifeSearch we're proud to launch our new Diversity Squad to ensure we truly deliver on our value of Tolerance. The Squad will lead a new programme of discussion and education so LifeSearch can recruit, develop and communicate with a rigorous and transparent commitment to diversity.
The Squad will meet fortnightly and their insights reports will be delivered straight to our Chiefs (the board). Going forward, the Squad will be represented at Chiefs’ meetings, to have a voice and ensure initiatives progress.
The Squad will explore schemes such as Mentoring and Reverse Mentoring, giving LifeSearchers the chance to shadow, connect and learn from colleagues with different backgrounds and life experiences. We will also examine how LifeSearch can do more to give back through charity partnerships and work in the community.
Last October, our Squad members’ shared some stories on our internal intranet during Black History Month. Some of these were inspiring, some eye-opening, some thought-provoking - so we'd love to reshare a couple with you now:
Melvyn Nwajei BA (Hons) 46
I’m a black British African. I was moved to the UK in 1980 in search of education, a better life and to flee the politics of a country that had endured coup after coup. A place where life could be snuffed out in an instant.
Late in my career, in April 2015, I found LifeSearch. I have been in three different departments in that time, learning, evolving and striking up great friendships as I go. Despite 20 years’ experience in management prior to joining, I feel I’ve come a long way as a ‘Searcher.
Alongside my current role in support, where I’m a conduit between our clients and our insurers, I’m also part of the Fairness and Diversity Squad.
As it does, my life has served up challenges. In the last 18 months alone I’ve lost family members and become proud dad to an amazing little boy. LifeSearch have helped me celebrate the good … and had my back though the bad.
LifeSearch is an inclusive company that strives to help people become the best version of themselves. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to represent you.
As Maximilien Robespierre said, history is written by the victors. With that, official narratives rarely tell us whole truth. For that we have to educate ourselves. For example, did you know that by the end of World War II, India’s was the largest volunteer army in history? From 200,000 in 1939, they numbered over 2.5 million by August 1945.
India’s volunteers were among the many souls that died for our freedoms. As the UK withdraws from the European collective, a movement powered in part by the rise in xenophobic sentiment, it’s worth remembering that our fallen heroes were not a homogenous group. We owe a debt of gratitude to many unknown foreigners. The next time you hear someone say, “go back to your own country” remember that we’re free now because foreigners’ dads, grandads, grandmothers, great granddads and great grandmothers died for said freedom.
From 1939, hundreds of thousands of West African soldiers were sent to the front in Europe. Countless more men from the British colonies had to serve in other non-combat roles too. These are facts often glossed over in history books and films - it was a World war after all. The allies weren’t just Brits and American.
For real change to start, we must understand and teach history’s truths. Ignorance is not bliss. Unless we remain open to learning – and keeping ourselves and others properly informed – we're destined to perpetuate ignorance. We’re liable to program inaccurate and damaging beliefs and memories into future generations.
This may feel like an indelicate way to put it right now, but ignorance is a virus.
“It’s just my opinion,” “It’s just banter,” “I have a right to free speech.”
Indeed you do. But how will you choose to wield the weapons of freedom that people of all backgrounds fought and died for you to have:
To maintain, to condone, or to conquer ignorance?
Hannah Khan 27
I’m a proud British Pakistani female who’s proud to have achieved many things in my seven years at LifeSearch, Having said that, I couldn’t have progressed here without being given opportunities to do so.
From being an advisor, support, team Co-ordinator to now Leader of TI world, I’ve learned that at LifeSearch you can do anything you want … if you put your mind to it.
Here I’ve built relationships and friendships, and up alongside my gratitude for working during a pandemic, I’m grateful to be a part the Fairness and Diversity Squad. I see it as the beginning of a journey all of us are going on as we create awareness and positive change.
For now, I’d like to talk about two wonderful women; one you know and one you probably don’t.
Rosa Louise Parks is sometimes known as the mother of the freedom movement. She’s almost universally known as the woman on the bus. She’s the African American woman who took a stand – by remaining seated – on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.
If Rosa was the woman on the bus, Claudette Colvin was the girl on the bus. Aged 15, she also refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger, also in Montgomery, Alabama and also in 1955. Nine months before Rosa Parks, in fact.
But we’ll get to that.
It sounds unfathomably brutal, offensive, abhorrent by today’s standards. But going back even a few decades, most southern American states had racial segregation laws of one kind of another.
In Montgomery, Alabama, a city ordinance was passed to segregate bus passengers by race. A little-known fact - there was no legal requirement for passengers of one race (black) to move seat or make way for passengers of another race (white). It was instead enforced by bus drivers who, as per Montgomery’s City Code, had police powers over their passengers.
“People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
In December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to make way for a white passenger. She was arrested. In the aftermath, the Rev Martin Luther King Jr – then a relatively unknown local minister – was among those who organised the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Because three in four city bus passengers were black, the city felt the drop in revenue. They certainly felt the sting of publicity and living in a state of unrest. Yet the boycott lasted over a year – through legal challenges and appeals – before the Supreme Court, found that racial segregation on buses was unconstitutional.
That victory lit the torch under the Civil Rights Movement.
But what’s interesting to me is the Claudette Colvin story. At just 15 years old, her bus protest predates Rosa Park’s. She was arrested and she also made the news. But budding Civil Rights Leaders made a conscious decision to reject Claudette as a pin-up for their cause. From a PR point of view, she wasn’t the right fit.
Claudette was 15 and pregnant; the father reportedly a married man. Rosa Parks, it was decided, was a more viable “test case” because she was an adult, had a job, and had a middle-class appearance. The movement’s PR machine felt Rosa was the way to go.
About Claudette Colvin – who’s still alive at 81 after a long nursing career in New York – Rosa Parks said: "the white press … would have [had] a field day. They'd call her a bad girl, and her case wouldn't have [had] a chance.”
D’you want to know the real punchline? There were three more Claudettes before there was a Rosa Parks.
Three other African American women refused to move seats on Montgomery buses between Claudette’s pioneering first protest and Rosa’s in December. Their names: Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald and Mary Louise Smith.
It’s only in the last decade that the official story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott has begun to include, at least marginally, Claudette and co. In 2019 a statue of Rosa Parks was unveiled in Montgomery, Alabama, with four granite markers nearby honouring the other brave ladies you’ve met in this article.
I’d never take anything away from Rosa Parks, she’s an icon and an institution. She’s a hero. My point is that history isn’t ever as simple as it reads. As Claudette Colvin said in an interview in later life: "Young people think Rosa Parks just sat down on a bus and ended segregation, but that wasn't the case at all."
So many of us, myself included until I read a little deeper, know only the simplest version of history and we’re happy with that. This is an important piece of Black History, but I didn’t know it until researching this article.
I think it’s so true for all of us. We know headlines, we know basics. Maybe it’s time we appreciate the full story, and the full history.
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