It’s Black History Month — a time look forward to with eager anticipation and with a little trepidation. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate the rich history of the people in our communities and their contributions now and in the past. Amazing contributions from so many who inspire me — people like John Amaechi, Yvonne Coghill, Baroness Scotland, many of my colleagues at Southern and the wider NHS family and my wonderful Auntie Cissy — wonderful people and people I am proud to know and have met.

Why trepidation? We shouldn’t need a specific Black History Month if the UK, were as it should be; where equity was a given; racism wasn’t present; education was balanced; and where inclusivity was felt by all. But we do need it to celebrate, recognise the amazing contributions of people of colour now and throughout our past and put right the history books. This assertion will prompt some within our country to accuse us of rewriting history, of promoting “cancel culture”, of being “woke” and to ask “why no white history month?”. As a white, heterosexual male I am getting tired of this whole approach and rhetoric. It’s tedious, unnecessary and misses the point. I can only imagine how it must feel if you are a person of colour facing this rubbish every day — little wonder colleagues and friends talk about how exhausted they are by what we do as a society and an NHS.

I’m proud of the NHS and what it stands for and I’m proud to be an Ally.

I’m proud to work and call many people friends, people who are moving forward with improving social justice and equity, supporting colleagues from many different backgrounds to develop and progress and to make a difference for people now and in the future.

But I’m not proud of the huge disparities in employment opportunities in the NHS where 21% of the workforce is from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background and only 7% of Executive Teams are (to quote one of many similar disparity statistics).

I also feel accountable and responsible for making a difference now and for the next generation — to lay better foundations and enable people to really have a level playing field, to be the best selves they can and to fulfil their ambitions. As Allies we all have that responsibility. So my commitment is to be the best Ally I can possibly be — I will get it wrong sometimes but that won’t stop me striving to create a fairer environment in the NHS that is free from racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, discrimination against people who are differently abled and to recognise that we are all individuals. It is vital to empower and enable everyone’s voices to be heard and to listen and act. I genuinely believe that there are many Allies who want to help create this fair society for people of colour — I will also encourage and promote allyship across all of our organisations — they similarly need to be enabled and supported. As Allies, it is our responsibility to lead this change.

I am in a privileged position and I therefore make the commitment to hold others to account and to take responsibility through coaching, education and making sure expectations are clear so that they can be delivered. I will continue to open locked doors for black and brown colleagues, lead change and hold myself accountable for improving the experience of black and brown colleagues. We are doing this is through not just having robust, diverse recruitment panels but also conversations with panel chairs when people of colour are not successful to help understand why, to ensure that real feedback is provided and to help us to be really clear on the judgements we are making. We are will make diversity and inclusion training mandatory every year through real stories and the impact racism and other discrimination has on real people. I will also continue to support our growing Ally movement to enable them to lever and be the change. I also commit to be outspoken where necessary to call out discrimination and prejudice. These are just some of the ways we need to continue to improve.

We’re on this world once. We can make the difference. The time is now!

Southern Health provide community, specialist mental health and learning disability services for people across the south of England.