article banner
Inclusion and diversity

'Proud to be'... celebrating Black History Month 2021

For Black History Month 2021, six of our people share their stories and tell us who they're proud to be...

Celebrating Black History Month is about acknowledging the achievements of Black culture throughout history, and honouring role models to look up to now and in the future.

It's part of our firm's journey towards building a more inclusive, respectful culture for all our people, and reminds us of why we need to keep striving for change.

The theme for Black History Month 2021 is 'proud to be'. We asked six of our colleagues to tell us about their own unique cultural heritage, and share what makes them proud: from family and food, to music and role models.

Want to work for Grant Thornton? Find out more about our opportunities
list item with text on the right

Octavia Tenga

"I’m Sierra Leonean born and bred. In my childhood, I explored rivers and spent lots of time visiting and learning from neighbours. Because of this, I’m very welcoming and trusting of people, which can be positive and negative!

I have some bad memories of school back home, as we were forced to speak English and punished if not. This meant that I spoke very little as a child and people used to assume I was a shy person.
After moving to the UK, I noticed how different the British sense of humour was, and that people didn’t seem to understand mine!

Sierra Leoneans love to throw a party for every situation, and what’s a party without food? People attend parties just for the food sometimes! The food that most reminds me most of home is peanuts, which were an essential part of every evening at my grandad’s house. My grandad and all of the adults would sit on the porch eating peanuts, chatting through the night, while I would move from lap to lap until I fell asleep.

One person I look up to from my country is Madam Yoko. She was a tribe leader in a time when women weren’t considered able to lead, but was well respected and managed to expand the tribe. She inspires me not to allow my physical appearance or others’ biases stop me from aiming high.

I recommend visiting Banana Island, which is one of Sierra Leone’s many small islands. I haven’t been back there since I left as a child, so would love to visit again as an adult to explore the nature and try some foods I haven’t had in years.

I’m proud to be Sierra Leonean because even though we are a small country with very few people, whenever I meet another Sierra Leonean, they become my family."

list item with text on the right

Jemima Ankuma

"I was born and raised in Ghana by my late grandmother and auntie in a home filled with love, security, and great memories. I left a sheltered upper-middle class life to join my family in the UK. From playing with kids in my street to listening to 'kweku ananse' stories from our neighbourhood elders, we had a sense of community, and everyone was welcome. I look up and aspire to be like my grandmother who was loving, caring, honest, and hardworking. She would give the clothes off her back to ensure no one went without. I remember a young man who she taught to read and write. She also funded his education. I was so proud.

Upon moving, I found that British people weren’t as welcoming as Ghanaians, who smile, greet people, and offer help as a norm. On several occasions here, my greetings, smiles and offers were met with hostilities! One time in London, I reached out to help to an elderly lady, but she struck me with her groceries… I learnt not to offer help again!

Ghanaians pride themselves on their authentic cuisines. My favourite Ghanaian dish is waakye (black eyed beans and rice). The famous jollof rice is made in several different countries, and it's still in contention over who makes it best. Nigeria and Ghana are at the forefront of the debate. What I miss most though about Ghana is the warm weather. Even at its hottest, it isn’t as humid as the UK. If you ever visit Ghana, go to Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle to learn about the slave trade and what people went through during those times. It’s an eye-opening experience that can’t be compared to any literature or movie.

Everyone enjoys a celebration: with food, drinks, music, and good company at the heart of any occasion. Most of my family are lay musicians, so our get-togethers usually feature praise and worship sessions. Our culture’s welcoming nature and sense of community are why Ghana is known as one of the most peaceful countries in Africa - I am so proud to be a part of this heritage."

list item with text on the right

Nicole Blake

"I’m half English and half Jamaican. Being mixed race allows me to construct my own cultural identity and sense of what it means to be English. Some assume English is ‘whiteness’, but for people like me, that isn’t true. To me, being English means Notting Hill Carnival, Windrush, the NHS, the Queen, Idris Elba, Marcus Rashford, gay bars in Dalston, Caribbean cook shops in Tottenham, the Spice Girls, Michaela Coel, vegan fried chicken in Hackney, Sunday roasts, pubs, the Pride march, the Bristol Bus Boycotts, BLM protests, and cockney and yardie accents. Despite a racist legacy that needs confronting, there is such beauty in this tapestry of different cultures.

Bob Marley had a huge impact on Jamaican culture. His music speaks about oppression, the Black diaspora, Black empowerment, freedom, Rastafarianism, spirituality, God, love, and unity. Through his music, he spoke out against political violence in 1970s Jamaica, and was revolutionary - he gave hope to many people. It was inspiring to visit his birthplace in Nine Miles and his former home on Hope Road, and learn more about his legacy, Rastafarianism, and the history of Jamaica.

Food is important to me as it connects me to my nans. Roast potatoes remind me of cooking with my Nanny Lowe, and fried dumplings remind me of going to Nanny Blake’s house in Tottenham. Every Christmas, my family comes together to enjoy a Jamaican breakfast: ackee, saltfish, and fried dumplings with chocolate tea. It's followed by a traditional roast for lunch with a Jamaican twist (think rice and peas with red snapper), and there's plenty of rum punch, Baileys, and Guinness punch all day.

When I was younger, people used to call me a ‘coconut’ and say I ‘talked or acted white’. Those people were wrong. Black identity is multi-layered, complex, and varies between different cultures and countries.

The Black women I look up to are my Nanny Blake and Beyoncé who, in different ways, show me what it means to be a strong Black woman. I’m proud of my Black heritage, I know where I came from, and who I am. I celebrate it every day."

list item with text on the right

Khaya Chiweshe

"I am Black African, specifically from Zimbabwe, and I’m of dual heritage - Shona on my father’s side, and Ndebele on my mother’s side.

Post-1980 Zimbabwean independence, there were some terrible tribal tensions, so it was an incredibly courageous decision for my parents to fall in love and have a family despite these conflicts. Courage seems to be the byword of my heritage.

When I came to the UK, I moved to what was then a small town called Hemel Hempstead, and my cousin, brother and I were the only Black students when we first started school. It was like we were such a novelty!

I’m most proud of my faith. Faith is the one thing that has got my family through some of the madness of life. It has been demonstrated to us by our grandmother and passed through the generations. The stories I could tell you would blow your mind!

An inspiring woman I look up to the most is my mum – an economic genius who raised three children by herself on a shoestring. Others I also look up to are Joshua Nkomo, Vice President of Zimbabwe in the 1990s, who founded and led the Zimbabwe African People's Union, and Josiah Magama Tongogara, who was a commander of the ZANLA guerrilla army in Rhodesia whose attendance at the Lancaster House conference led to Zimbabwe's independence and end of the white minority rule.

One place everyone should visit in Zimbabwe is Mount Nyangani - there is something inexplicably profound about this place. Victoria Falls is also a must and, of course, Hwange National Park.
What brings my family and my country together the most is food (lots of food), as well as laughter and singing. The food that reminds me most of home is Isitshwala lebhobola – look it up."

list item with text on the right

Doyin Badewa

"I am Nigerian and a Yoruba, one of the three main Nigerian tribes. I spent the first 10 years of my life in Nigeria, and I was raised with Nigerian values, which make up a big part of who I am today. After leaving Nigeria, I moved to a small town called Ennis, in Ireland, at a time when Ireland was not as diverse as the UK.

It was a huge culture shock for my family to be some of the few Black people in the town. Our names also stood out as different - I’d have to spell my name out to others multiple times only for them to say it back to me incorrectly. One of my sisters even adopted a new name to avoid this.

Despite the odds, and negative press that Nigerians face, I'm most proud of how hardworking, tenacious, and industrious we are. Nigerians in diaspora are making outstanding breakthroughs in education, music, and in the world of business. I’m always inspired being among a group of driven Nigerians who motivate me to do better and want more for myself.

There's a popular saying in Nigerian pidgin-English that says, “Naija no dey carry last”, which means Nigerians are never in last place. I think every one of us that was raised by Nigerian parents can testify that we had one job growing up: go to school and get good grades!

What brings my family together is food and music. When socialising, we dance, catch up on recent songs, and enjoy Nigerian food. My favourite Nigerian dish is jollof rice, which is a staple at every Nigerian party (if you can cook ‘party jollof’ properly, you have really made it in life!). I dare say I haven't met one person that does not like it - it’s a simple dish, but to do it well is an art to master over time. I love traditional foods (which we call ‘swallow') , such as pounded yam and egusi.

One person from my country I look up to is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer and feminist who has written novels, short stories, and non-fiction. One of my favourite books is 'Half of a Yellow Sun', and tells a story of the Biafran War. It opened my eyes to its effects on Nigeria today. I also love 'Americanah', a story of a Nigerian lady who moved to the US for university, which I find relatable despite living in different countries.

I haven’t explored Nigeria as much I’d like to. Interesting places on my radar are the Olumo Rock and Ushafa Crush Rock. The last time I visited, I saw the Nike Art Gallery in Lagos which holds 8,000 diverse artworks of Nigerian artists and is full of life and culture."

list item with text on the right

Adebimpe Toby

"I’m Nigerian and, like Doyin, I am from the Yoruba tribe in western Nigeria. Our culture is rich, colourful, and warm. We have a strong work ethic and strong family and community values. This all forms a huge part of who I am and challenges me to always try to do better. Outside of my faith, family is the most important thing to me.

When I moved to the UK, I noticed the difference in how people relate to each other. In Nigeria, people are warm and receptive and it’s common to chat to strangers in public settings. I remember a few instances of striking up friendly conversations with strangers here and receiving strange looks in return. I’ve now adapted to this, but never miss an opportunity to chat to someone if the chance presents itself!

Since being here, I’ve been asked why I travel across continents to celebrate small events, how I’m always happy hosting or never too tired to party. My husband always answers with, “She’s a Yoruba girl, this is what they do".

I’m proud that the Yoruba people are known for their focus on education. We also love to celebrate, and our parties are always big and colourful! The food from home I miss the most is suya (thinly sliced meat seasoned with spices cooked on a charcoal grill). I make it, but it’s not the same as at street stalls.

One person I look up to from my country is Obafemi Awolowo, who was a journalist, lawyer, and politician. He stood out from the crowd by putting the future first (children). He introduced free and compulsory primary education and healthcare for children in western Nigeria and encouraged others to do the same. Today, many people think Yoruba people are the most educated in Nigeria because of Awolowo’s policies and investments in education.

There’s so much outstanding, natural beauty in Nigeria: Ikogosi Springs, Obudu Mountain Resort, Olumo Rock and Mount Patti, where you can see Nigeria's two main rivers from the top. Football is the main sport that unites the country, no matter what tribe people are from.

While the three main tribes are Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa, Nigeria is made up of over 250 tribes with varying cultures, dialects, and traditions. Everyone is a unique blend of their heritage, shaped by their environment, experiences and family, and it's something to be celebrated. I love my unique blend and wouldn’t trade it for anything."

One of the most valuable contributions of our people throughout their Grant Thornton careers is the diverse perspectives that they bring to the firm. We proactively support inclusivity all year round, but Black History Month helps us remember why we celebrate it.

Valuing diversity through everyday inclusion