Liverpool is an amazing place. One of those places you need to visit again and again to get the real feel of the place. It is full of culture, history and vibrancy. But why were we there? We were there, of course, to attend the National Diversity Awards. The National Diversity Awards is a prestigious black-tie event that recognises, honours and celebrates roles models, charities, organisations and entrepreneurs that are dedicated to enhancing diversity, equality and inclusion.
And I was amongst them…
I was honoured to have been nominated, let alone shortlisted from 22’000 applicants, to receive an Award for “Entrepreneur of Excellence.” Although I did not win, it was amazing to have been recognised and I appreciate all those that voted.
My partner Dean and I jumped in a taxi with a couple we heard were going to the same place as us. We immediately clicked. As we got talking, it was clear that we were sitting amongst two very special people. James Sutliff told us that he suffered from dystonia, a rare disorder that affects the neurological system as the body suffers from abnormal and repetitive spasms. This means speaking and eating can be a real challenge for James. It’s an invisible disorder. He said he just woke up one day feeling unwell. After he took a nap, he woke up and realised that his speech was slurred and severely distorted. He has been living with it for seven years.
His wife Sam is a phenomenal woman and never have I met a couple so in sync. The intuitive connection they both have was quite moving. Although we could understand most of what James was saying, Sam seamlessly filled in the gaps and interpreted. James told us in the car that he was nervous and that he hadn’t planned a speech. He had been nominated for Role Model for Disability.
Having an understanding of what it is like to live with a disability or disorder, James knows what it is like to feel marginalized. He is now a Disability Fitness Coach and model who coaches those who have severe autism, suffer from low self-esteem and have disabilities. He works on their physical fitness as well as their confidence at an emotional level and he achieve results! He is on a crusade to raise awareness about dystonia. By the time we left the car, we wanted James to win and were excited to have met such a down to earth and incredible couple.
On entering the cathedral, we were greeted with champagne and canapes. It was a glamourous affair and it was refreshing to be amongst movers, shakers and change-makers. I have to give kudos and respect to Paul Sesay, The Founder, for having the vision to create this event to celebrate so many people making a difference in the world. We took a few photos and I practiced my pose on the cathedral stairs (still working on it) before we made our way to our table. Table 37!
Now, I have to say, I think we had the chattiest table in the whole cathedral. What I loved the most was that it truly was diverse. Each and every one had a story and a cause that was important to them and the support and cheers from the table were particularly touching. We had only known each other for the space of a few hours but were rooting for each other to win.
Here are a few of our table buddies who were up for nomination
- Faye Waddams – Positive Role Model Award for Disability (her blog is here).
- Revd. Andrew Foreshaw-Cain – Positive Role Model Award for Race, Faith and Religion
- Kerri Swindells – Community Organisation Award for LGBT (National Ugly Mugs)
- Gary Pollard – Community Organisation Award for Gender (Men Tell Health)
–(taken from Gary Pollard’s blog Men- Tell Health) Read here: Gary’s blog
Other table mates were Kieran Bohan, Dell from Ugly Mugs, Luke Levine and Jacqueline Pollard (Gary’s lovely wife.) It was also great to finally meet my Facebook friend Sarah Lovatt-Ellis from Hyper-Fusion Theatre Company in the flesh who had also been nominated for an Award as well as the lovely Leanne Armitage, a young woman with a huge vision.
Two hours in, and we were ecstatic that Gary won it for Table 37…er I mean..all the fantastic work he has been doing. On a serious note, his organisation, “Men Tell Health is a male-focused mental health Community Interest Company. Their aim is to reduce male suicide and to help men understand, manage and accept their own mental well-being. They do this differently to almost everyone else. They do it in the way they talk about mental health, initially by using humour to destigmatise and to engage. This extraordinary organisation is the brainchild of Gary Pollard who lives with PTSD, depression and acute anxiety. What started out as a blog expanded to fill a major gap for men struggling and looking for help, creating a site that talked to people like a friend would, not like parents or Doctors. Men Tell Health are now the only men-specific mental health organisation in the region of Teesside, running three different types of men-only groups including SpeakEasy, PopStart, and ReBoot. Their life changing work has not gone unnoticed.”- NDA website.
Gary is a legend and truly deserves this Award and I know he will go on to help many more men. Men need outlets just as much, if not more so than women, as they are often taught to “suffer in silence” or grow up with the notion that “Big Boys Don’t Cry” or told to “Man up.” My belief is it is this very conditioning that suppresses a man from expressing himself and therefore leading to expressing himself in a much more harmful way further on down the line. What I love about Gary’s work is that he offers men a safe space to share their story and anxieties without judgement and with humour.
Another highlight was seeing my good friend Robyn Smart. I first met Robyn when I interviewed her on my Periscope Show, “Book Journey Mentor Uncut” on WOWTV. See interview here Interview Part I Interview Part II Prior to that, I remember spotting her at The Mind, Body and Spirit Festival quite a while ago now and being impressed with her plight to empower young children who were going through and overcoming an illness. I also loved her mission to empower young girls of Black Caribbean and African Heritage by creating strong protagonists, celebrating their culture and putting them on the map of Children’s Fiction in the literary world! She too had been nominated for an Award and was up for Positive Role Model for Gender. Ten minutes before the second half of the Award ceremony, Robyn was saying she did not think she would win…
Screams exuded from our table when her name was announced as the winner! Well done Robyn. Well deserved!
Taking the opportunity to explore Liverpool, we visited the sites, one of which was Slave Museum. Having visited many similar museums and exhibitions before, I wondered what would be new. What struck me most was not the horrific abuse my ancestors faced but that the long-lasting effects of slavery still hang in the air. Reading the accounts of some of Liverpool’s residents (1940s-1970s) was heartbreaking. The overriding thought at the end of it all was, how much has really changed? In school we are taught that slavery was “abolished” in 1807, however, slavery in British Colonies was only brought to an end in 1838 and 1865 in the USA, 1869 in Portugal and 1888 in Brazil. The ending of the slave trade did not end slavery itself. I look at the world today and wonder how free are our minds? Although the physical chains and shackles were removed, racial prejudice and systemic racism are very much alive and kicking today.
What this reinforced to me, is that we still have a long way to go in terms of equality but it is up to us to put ourselves out there, break the mould and make a change. If our image cannot be found in mainstream books, if there are no Black literary heroes, if we are not celebrated and portrayed positively in mainstream media, then it is absolutely up to us to not sit back, to not complain about the way things are, but to make a real change and break barriers in a space of unity and strength through collaboration and with the spirit of “umoja” (Swahili for togetherness/unity). As Martin Luther King said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.“~ Martin Luther King, 1963
What was reinforced to me was the importance of the journey. It was great to have been nominated and it would have been amazing to have won, but my appreciation and gratitude are rooted in the steps that it took to get there. Conscious Dreams Publishing started off as a seed, an idea sprung from meeting so many women with powerful messages and stories that went unheard as well as a desire to place the unseen and unheard in the spotlight so that we can become our own storytellers, game-changers and change-makers. It started with a dream and the dream is coming true. Three years ago, I published my first book looking for validation from mainstream publishers and getting “Nos.” I knew nothing of the industry but my determination to share my message with the world was stronger than my desire to stop. Stopping would have meant that 25 valuable stories and books would not have been published.
Journeys in our lives count. It’s easy to stop when the journey gets tough, but we mustn’t. No matter what we are going through, push on. Meeting James was a humbling reminder that, no matter what we face in our lives, we can turn it into a positive; we can turn it into a way to lead the way for others. Meeting James reminded us to never take anything for granted and to appreciate every step of the journey for tomorrow, as we desire it, is not granted.
And, as he graced the stage to accept his Award, Dean and I knew that our night was complete. Our cab companion we met at the start of our journey, who was so nervous about getting up on stage and speaking, won the Role Model Award for Disability, and as we cheered him on, I couldn’t think of a more deserving winner!