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Lenny Henry

Just before lunch, Lenny Henry spoke at the ChangeBoard future talent event. He brought the house down with a mixture of humour and passion, the like of which I’ve rarely seen and heard at a conference. Here are just a few snippets, notes I captured in between the laughter and the tears…

Lenny’s family came to the UK expecting streets paved with gold. What they got was factories, soot, and racial abuse. Lenny recalls his Mum being followed down the street while someone asked where her tail was.

During school, Lenny got into a daily fight with another kid named David Price. Eventually Lenny made a joke of it – something about instead of rolling around on the floor maybe we should just go out on a date – get married..? People laughed, the situation diffused, the fights stopped. There were several times in the talk where the power of humour was highlighted.

Lenny failed his 11+ exams. When he left school, took a factory job – driven to practice and rehearse his comedy to avoid the boredom repetition and smell and whine of machinery.

A winning appearance on New Faces brought Lenny to wider public attention, and he spoke about subsequently going go the BBC and seeing almost no other black faces.

Whilst on tour with Cannon and Ball, Lenny returned to further education, revising for O levels, studying world war poetry. Lenny found further education transformational. He felt fortunate that he could afford it, and now despairs for kids and the debts they incur to learn.

Can I do it? Play Othello? Yes – said the director, you can. Hard work produced a great performance and Lenny won the Evening Standard Outstanding Newcomer acting award….at the age of 50. The power of a yes.

Lenny called out the lack of racial diversity in the room. He told us of recent times in the media, where figures show that for every BAME person who lost their job, two white people were employed. This is partly why Lenny Henry continues his campaigning in the media for greater diversity, inclusion, and representation.

Diversity in the boardrooms – that’s where change starts.

If you think you can’t change it yourself? Apply pressure to those who can.

It’s easy to spot the places and people taking diversity, inclusion, and representation more seriously. They put real jobs, and money behind it!

ChangeBoard Conference : Mental Health, Inclusion and Good Work.

I’m spending the day at the ChangeBoard Future Talent event. The key themes for today are, the fourth industrial revolution (I confess I didn’t even know that was a thing), inclusion and mental health.

A few points which have resonated with me so far.

Mental Health

Sue Baker from Time to Change (TTC) talked about how mental health conversations are now much more commonplace at work. The Time to Change movement is big, and growing, currently 750 organisations are signed up. Sue spoke about how we need to think of mental and physical health as parts of the same whole, I like that. Here is a stark display of how far we’ve yet to go. Sue asked us, by way of a show of hands, how many people in the audience would discuss their mental health with extended family. Many many hands were raised. We were then asked would we discuss our mental health at a job interview. I didn’t see a single hand raised.

Inclusion

Deborah Frances-White spoke about inclusion. Her talk was very well delivered, very funny, and I’m conscious I was perhaps too busy laughing to make useful notes. Here are a few snippets I caught:

Children assume inclusion – we seem to lose that during our school/teenage years. Why?

In organisations we rarely discuss and contribute to change because we’re often only peripherally included. There’s a high risk our idea may go ‘wrong’ and we’ll get the blame for that, so we wait, stay silent or agree with others.

Women apply for jobs when they believe they can meet 100% of the stated requirements, men will settle for 50%. How about we all aim for around 80%? Leave room for growth, and discourage men from over including themselves?

When the door won’t open :  there are three typical responses to routine exclusion. We self exclude – this is the easiest choice. We get angry. We get persuasive, try to charm our way in.

Inclusion is about helping others feel better about themselves.

What Does Good Work Look Like?

Matthew Taylor suggests key things which will make work better. Social contract, wellbeing, productivity (being held back in part by poor quality of management), active citizenship – and this cannot stop at the office/shop/warehouse/factory door. Tech – being positioned as an overwhelming force – get with it or get out of the way. We need to consider tech as an enabler of better things, stop positioning it as a threat.

Self employment v employed. Rights (and taxes). Precarious self employed and privileged self employed – the older white man as a freelancer is a growing workforce. Chancellor is onto this and busy picking apart the tax benefits, this will further take the shine off self employment. Another reason offered for a plateauing of self employment is simply that we like to work in organisations. We are motivated by authority, belonging, and ambition, and organisations can provide those things. The tricky bit is aligning them – MT suggests this action should be the core business of an organisation. A good workplace is a ‘creative community with a cause’. Sadly – many people who leave organisations say ‘they’re simply sick of it’.

More to follow…

Onwards, Upwards, Artwards : Not Giving Up

Rejection

Earlier this year, along with thousands of others, I submitted an entry to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Yesterday, March 15th 2018, this happened:

I’m disappointed by the decision. I wouldn’t have submitted the work if I didn’t think it was worthy of inclusion, and it isn’t, and that’s OK. I’m pushing my artistic practice pretty hard right now – making more works live in front of audiences, making larger works, experimenting. To some extent, the goal of submitting to the RA is part of what drives me on. The Gathering remains a piece I am proud of – it was exciting to make, and having it freed up by the RA means I can now offer it elsewhere. This rejection is just another step on the adventure. Congratulations to Anne McCrossan, a lovely friend who did make the short list, I’m delighted for you.

Acceptance

Yesterday morning, I dropped ‘Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again’ off at the London headquarters of AECOM, where it will be on display until the end of April.

You can read the background to this piece here, and hopefully you’ll see why this is a great place for this art work to reside for a while. The timing of this particular art drop was a great antidote to the letter I received earlier. Thank you to the people at AECOM who are making this possible.

Not Giving Up

Last night I played at the Project B open mic, hosted by Chloe Ray. I first met Chloe a little over a year ago when we collaborated on a joint art/music project called ‘Not Giving Up’. Not Giving Up is the title of the fourth track on Chloe’s Reprise EP, and it’s the title of this artwork, made to celebrate the 50th consecutive week of the free art project.

Serendipitously, Chloe performed Not Giving Up last night, what a joy it was to hear that song, and reflect on a day of rejection and acceptance. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do.