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!

Why Do I Do What I Do?

Today’s blog post is inspired by Julie Drybrough and Niall Gavin. Julie recently reminded me of a process called ‘wild writing’ where you just write. Don’t think any more than you have to, just get on with it. Julie describes this in more detail here. I took a look at her work and tweeted my appreciation. Niall then approached me and suggested I try it. I did so, and in the spirit of working out loud, of showing my work, here is what fell out of my brain onto my keyboard with in a minute or two last night.

Why Do I Do What I Do?

I don’t like answering this question. I have doubts about why I do what I do. It doesn’t pay as well as my old corporate life, and my work is packed full of uncertainty, but I often enjoy it. I get satisfaction from my work and from seeing people realise there are others ways to think feel and act. I’m drawn to difference, and I’m drawn to integrating difference, without losing it. I enjoy paradoxes, I enjoy sharing my vulnerability to demonstrate that when I do so, interesting curious things can happen. I do what I do because I get the opportunity to travel, and to develop and share my story. Part of my story is my art, and part of the story of my art is that you never know where your story will take you if you remain open to the possibilities. Try it, you might like it. What is it? I’m not always sure. I do what I do to test myself – to challenge myself, so that I might then challenge others. Maybe not challenge others, encourage is probably a better word. I’m anti ignorance, anti coercion. I get angry, happiness is over rated. I’m straying from the why do I do path, I like to wander. I don’t appreciate certainty – it binds and restricts us, so I do what I do to help people overcome the certainty epidemic. I am conscious of the power and privilege that being a white man affords me. I often see this power and privilege wielded with ugly ignorance, and even uglier intent. I do what I do in pursuit of inclusion, even though I exclude at times. I’m frequently conflicted – I believe most people are, and many are not willing to acknowledge this, which strikes me as another inhibitor. I do what I do because there is more to life than following orders, and doing what is expected of you. Do the unexpected sometimes. I am learning that you can proceed until apprehended and do so with kindness. This is my answer to the question, Why do I do what I do? I will have another go at answering this question tomorrow.

Discover Your Meaning

The 2015 Meaning Conference is just poking its perfectly formed nose over the horizon. 12th November still feels quite a way off but it will be here in no time. I’m going to the conference again – this will be my third consecutive year as a paying guest. It’s an enjoyable and useful experience, and if you like you can read about my visit to the 2014 conference here.

My attempt to capture a sense of Meaning 2014 -based on my own reflections and some tweets I spotted. I sketched this on the train on the way home.
My attempt to capture a sense of Meaning 2014 – based on my own reflections and some tweets I spotted during the event. I sketched this on the train on the way home.

I bought my ticket for 2014 as soon as I left the 2013 event, and I bought my ticket for this year, as I left the event in 2014, only this time, I did something a little different. This time I bought two tickets. My question for you today is simply this – would you like to discover the meaning of meaning for yourself? Or to put it another way, would you like a ticket to Meaning 2015?

For me a big part of my meaning is paying it forward, I simply enjoy giving. I’d like to give away my spare ticket for this event, and if you’d like a chance to receive it – all you have to do is ask. Leave a comment here on the blog post and I’ll put everyone who asks for the ticket into a hat and draw a name at random. This offer will also be in my newsletter and I may offer it in other places too. The draw will be on Thursday October 1st. Once I’ve drawn a name I’ll be in touch with that person and if it’s you – you will have 48 hours after I get in touch to claim the ticket or I’ll draw another name, and so on until we get a confirmed winner.

Do you want to discover the meaning of meaning for yourself? What are you waiting for – just ask.

Update: I’ve been informed by several people that they’re having difficulty commenting on the blog. Sorry. While I try and figure out why, feel free to contact me in any other way you want if you want to be in the draw for the ticket and I will collate all the requests. Cheers!

Boring small print alert! You’ll be responsible for all additional expenses including transport to and from the event which takes place in Brighton. This give away is for a free ticket – the rest is up to you.