Cllr Ketan Sheth
Black History Month creates a moment when we can step back and reflect together, as well as individually, on the immense contribution of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities whose rich history, culture, and experiences, have shaped Brent and beyond.
The NW London Joint Health Scrutiny Committee comprises 8 NW London boroughs. As Chair, I know we simply could not function without the dedication, the skills, and above all, the compassion that thousands of people from our diverse communities contribute to the NHS, day in and day out.
The difference this makes to all our lives, is immeasurable. Black History Month affords us an opportunity to acknowledge and thank them for the important work they do: their continuing contribution to the care, the culture, the shaping, and well-being of Brent.
The colour of someone’s skin should not determine how they are perceived, considered, and treated – positively or negatively – but the impact of the pandemic has highlighted many disturbing features of inequality in our communities. Many of these problems are not new. They have existed for far too long.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are more likely to be affected by life-changing diseases like diabetes, prostate cancer, and sickle cell than people from other backgrounds. Living in less-affluent areas, they are more greatly affected by poor housing as well as poor air quality from the busy urban roads that run through their neighbourhoods. There is a big gap in life expectancy between richer and poorer areas irrespective of race, but these communities are disproportionately affected.
To tackle these inequalities, the North West London Integrated Care System is launching a joint initiative between the local NHS and NW London boroughs, which will seek to build real understanding of what matters to our residents, how we can work with them to remove barriers to health equality to deliver healthier neighbourhoods and better outcomes.
This initiative is the first tangible benefit I have seen emerge from the new Integrated Care System, which has health services and local authorities coming together to address many of the challenges that impact our well-being. That is, health and care services, employment, education, housing, and the environment we live in.
We might perhaps reflect for a moment on the work of the great poet, James Berry OBE, who never avoided the difficult issues of injustice in history, or in the present, but always sought for mutual understanding. His poem, “Benediction,” stresses the need for us truly to hear one another, and truly to see, and through so doing, to understand. He said:
Thanks to the ear that someone may hear
Thanks to seeing
that someone may see
Thanks to feeling
that someone may feel
Thanks to touch
that one may be touched…
Black History Month is a reminder to us to truly hear and see one another, to celebrate our heroes and tell the stories that, for so long, have been hidden or forgotten. It is also a reminder that the evils of the past have resonance today, reflected in the impact of poverty and institutional racism that many in our communities experience as part of their daily lives. Ultimately, it is an opportunity to continue to learn, understand and come together to pull down these barriers and build healthier and fairer neighbourhoods.
Cllr Ketan Sheth is Chair of Brent Council’s Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee