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Catch22 reflects on inspirational Black figures for Black History Month

Side-profile portrait of a Black woman.

Throughout the month of October, we will be looking at the accomplishments of a number of Black individuals who have inspired staff in our services and the work that they do. Black History Month is an annual observance, held from 1 October to 31 October every year, which honours the lives and achievements of Black people throughout history.

Kamal Chunchie

Born in Sri Lanka in 1886, Kamal Chunchie was a Methodist Minister who moved to London in 1918.

In 1926, he founded the Coloured Men’s Institute (CMI) in the Canning Town, Newham, for sailors, dock workers, and local residents in response to racism and discrimination against Asian and Black people. The CMI is believed to be the first community organisation of its kind.

Over the coming years, Chunchie worked tirelessly to raise funds to keep the centre open, and to challenge attitudes towards race. Although the CMI was demolished in 1930 as part of a road widening scheme, Chunchie continued the activities of the centre, from both a local church and his home, until his death in 1953.

Speaking about why they have been inspired by Kamal Chunchie, Community Links (which is based in Newham) said:

“We’re inspired by the way Kamal Chunchie stood up for what he believed in and paved the way for Newham becoming what is now one of the most multi-cultural and diverse boroughs in the UK.

We are delighted that the road leading to the new home of the Greater London Authority (GLA) has been renamed Kamal Chunchie Way in his honour!”

Dr Mark Prince OBE

Dr Mark Prince OBE founded the Kiyan Prince Foundation in 2008 in memory of his fifteen-year-old son, Kiyan. Kiyan was stabbed in 2006 whilst trying to break up a fight outside of his school.

The Kiyan Prince Foundation aims to support young people out of urban violence through motivational speeches, mentoring, life skills and training programmes, giving them purpose outside of gang culture and offending behaviour.

By equipping them with knowledge and skills, as well as a sense of self-worth and belonging, the Foundation aims to help prevent similar cases and support families affected by knife crime and other forms of youth violence.

Speaking about why they have been inspired by Dr Mark Prince OBE, the Camden Mediation Service said:

“We are inspired by Dr Mark Prince OBE’s passion and drive to empower and support young people in the community with the use of sports and coaching – as well as motivational speaking.

“We admire his persistence, drive and continued passion with young people and families, giving them options and choices, as well as being a role model to support and continue his son’s legacy.”

Lemn Sissay OBE

Lemn Sissay OBE is a British author, broadcaster, and chancellor of the University of Manchester.

After being fostered as a baby, Sissay was renamed Norman Mark Greenwood. His foster parents – upon having three children of their own – placed him into the children’s care system at the age of 12. Upon leaving care, Sissay was given his birth certificate and a letter written by his birth mother. It was thanks to these documents that he learned and reclaimed his legal name.

Sissay published his first poetry collection at the age of 21. By 24, he was writing full-time, and performing his works across the world – including as official poet of the London Olympics in 2012. He has drawn on his childhood experiences extensively in his work.

From his position as chancellor of the University of Manchester, Sissay also launched a bursary at the university in 2017, with the aim of increasing the number of Black men taking up careers in law and criminal justice.

Speaking about why they have been inspired by Lemn Sissay, our Young People and Families team said:

“I am inspired by Lemn Sissay OBE – a Care Experienced Champion who reclaimed his name. Poet, Author and Chancellor of the University of Manchester: I was privileged to share a stage with him at the Care Leavers Awards ceremony a few years ago.”

Yvonne Conolly

Yvonne Conolly was born in Jamaica in 1939. Following three years of teacher training, she travelled to Britain aged 24 as part of the Windrush generation, with the aim of studying for a degree in Education. Six years later, she took a post at Ring Cross Primary School as Britain’s first Black, Female headteacher.

It was in this role that the severity of racial tensions in Britain’s schooling system was exposed. Conolly became subject to repeated racial abuse and discrimination, even receiving hate mail to her door. Despite this hostility, she remained teaching at Ring Cross for 7 years, during which she gained recognition, becoming an advocate for young Black men and women to join the education system as teachers. Later in her career, she helped set up the Caribbean Teaching Association and worked as an inspector for Ofsted.

Yvonne Conolly’s career in education spanned over 40 years. In 2020 – the year before she passed away – she was awarded the Honorary Fellow of Education award at The Naz Legacy Foundation by HRH Prince Charles, who stated:

“I cannot begin to imagine the character and determination she must have shown to lead the way for Black educators fifty years ago.”

Speaking about why they have been inspired by Yvonne Conolly, our Education team said:

“Catch22 Education is built on the fundamental theory that everyone has a right to a good education, irrespective of their circumstances or background. It is this all-embracing nature that aligns Yvonne and Catch22’s approach to learning.

Not only was Yvonne a leader of the Windrush generation, she was also a pioneer for inclusivity in British schools and, for the children she taught and staff she led, a figurehead for achieving your goals. This is the spirit our schools try to channel, not just during Black History Month, but every month.”