Black History Month: Sheila Leighton Q & A
Black History Month - Sheila Leighton Q & A
We spoke to our newly appointed Vice-Chair of our Inclusion Strategy Advisory Group, Sheila Leighton on her thoughts and feelings on Black History Month.
What is Black History Month, and why is it important to you?
Black history month where we show where black people have been instrumental in our society is important to me as I was born and raised in the UK. In my childhood, I struggled to see people like me of my colour in a country that I call home. In school, I was taught about Great Britain’s victories worldwide and its legacy, embedded in books on television and our school curriculum. But still, I could not see how black people contributed to this. But hidden away was our journey, some sad such as our enslavement but others positive, such as where we came from and how we contributed and continue to contribute throughout history. Therefore, Black History, like European history, is essential for all to know. ‘I need to know where I came from to know where I am going’, Maya Angelo. A great quote that I use throughout my work with children and families. We must be proud of our black history, which must be celebrated and embedded to show our positive impact on society.
Why is it important to discuss and celebrate the successes of Black players in our game?
I regularly see black people in the sporting world, which is excellent. However, it is still important to celebrate Black players' achievements in football and other areas of work. When we see Black players on the pitch playing football on television, it inspires young black children and young people, regardless of gender, to see they have role models who look like them and may come from similar backgrounds. It can give black youth hope, affirmation, and inspiration to know their goals are achievable. It can be done, not just by the odd black person; if you have a skill, it should be acknowledged and celebrated in whatever field you are in.
Why is it important for children to see successful black players and coaches in the men’s and women’s game?
Black children and young people need role models! Role models in every game aspect, whether, as a player, manager, on the side-lines coaching, or navigating the play as referees and presenters. Some already have these role models, but others do not and need to see the realisation of what can be achieved. Seeing people that look like them up on the big screen gives hope to so many, and this is now evident, as we also see a reduction in gender bias.
What would be your advice to clubs/leagues/organisations who want to develop a more diverse demographic within their club?
This is a tricky question, but my advice to clubs/leagues/organisations is to get into schools. Support schools to see our football players of the future. Leagues and organisations need to have a presence in youth clubs where children and young people spend time together in a safe environment, and if the clubs are not there, help set them up. In some of the most deprived areas of our community, funding is needed to support youth clubs and football clubs to raise their profile. Money is an issue, but also young people need to be taught and understand discipline and dedication to achieve; this is a great life skill. We need to make football accessible to all, not just those who know how great the game is. I was a football mum, and my husband was a football dad. We loved watching our son play but did not understand how to network; it needs to be clear for all to make the connections. The players are great role models but cannot do it all. Some work on the ground needs to be supported. Throughout all establishment levels, Racism from the side-lines must continue to be an ongoing purposeful challenge.
If we have talented players, we need to support them to achieve; we need a network of people around to help and guide them to be the best that they can be.
You can read more about Black History Month by clicking here.