Black History Month

Black Pioneers

We are proud to support Black History Month, helping reclaim forgotten history and confronting injustice here and now. The theme for 2022 is 'Time for change: Action not words'.

In 2021 the theme was 'Proud to be…' and to mark that occasion our staff and students nominated black pioneers who have set an inspiring example of leadership in business, politics or society. 

Mo Ibrahim

Mo Ibrahim (Image by Mike Lawrence / Getty Images)

'Mo Ibrahim is an individual who found an opportunity where no one else did. As someone who was running a successful consulting firm, he could have decided to place his focus only on Sustaining or Efficiency Innovations within and outside of his industry. However, by creating a pan-African telecommunications network back when none existed, he instead chose a more impactful route to develop a Market-creating Innovation against all odds by providing affordable telecommunication services to Africans.'

'This innovation transformed the continent in the immediate-term and the long-term. Without his idea at the time and the sheer determination to turn his plans into action, Africa would have been further behind the rest of the world in economic and technological development. In addition to his entrepreneurial success, he created a foundation that has fellowship programmes designed to mentor future African leaders, and also has scholarships to support and develop the talent of young Africans.'

Nominated by Ishaq Bolarinwa, Oxford MBA 2021-22

Watch Mo discuss 'Putting governance at the centre of Africa's development' with Peter Tufano

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Image by Stephane Cardinale/ Getty Images)

“If I were not African, I wonder whether it would be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limp gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond. I wonder whether I would realize that while African nations have a failure of leadership, they also have dynamic people with agency and voices.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

'Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award winning Nigerian writer, who I nominate for having courage to speak her truth and being an authentic leader.'

Nominated by Nonye David, Oxford MBA 2021-22

Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe ( Image by Eamonn / Getty Images)

'He embodied the African proverb: "Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.'

'His work, Things Fall Apart, is the most widely translated and read book by an African. In his books, he deftly tackled issues such as identity, cultural change and socio-political disruptions with candour and conviction.'

'Through reading his work, I have come to accept that whether I fail or succeed, whether I am happy or sad, whether I am weak or strong, I am the star of my own story.'

Nominated by Nnamdi Moh, Oxford MBA 2020-2021

Yaa Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa ( Image of statue / Pinterest)

'Yaa Asantewaa was a Queen Mother of the Ashanti ethnic group in Ghana, my family’s heritage country, and is best known for her role in the successful defence of the Golden Stool, the symbol of power in Ashanti Kingdom since the 17th century, that British colonials demanded be passed over to them.'

'She inspires me because she was an incredible, resolute leader for her people, and an assertive, black woman; the first and only female war leader in Asante history. She came up against gender and racial prejudice and discrimination from British colonialists. Yaa took the unprecedented decision, to go against the male dominated leadership of her own ethnic group, to stand strong and lead an army to battle for not just what she believed in but what was right, the protection of her people’s freedom.'

'Yaa may not be the first person one thinks of when considering black pioneers that have inspired careers and leadership; but, as a Ghanaian-British, black female leader, a finance professional of the global energy and international development sectors, all dominated by white males, Yaa Asantewaa’s legacy inspires, encourages and strengthens me to challenge the status quo for change and progression, particularly in the UK.'

Nominated by Mavis Oti Addo Boateng, Oxford Social Finance Programme, 2019

Sanaa and Hafsa Zayyan

Sanaa Zayyan and Hafsa Zayyan

'I would like to nominate two inspirational black leaders, Sanaa Zayyan and Hafsa Zayyan, who are sisters.'

'I met Sanaa and Hafsa at sixth form in Stratford-upon-Avon, and instantly warmed to their energy and enthusiasm. They oozed positivity and sincerity. Sanaa and Hafsa are half-Pakistani and half-Nigerian. Attending an extremely white school in a town with very little diversity, Sanaa and Hafsa are extremely proud of and openly celebrated their heritage at our school. In the face of exclusion and discrimination, they both continually showed great determination to achieve their impressive goals in their lives and careers and became inspirational black role models to those around them.'

'Sanaa is a Doctor in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where she has led a team of doctors and midwives in an under-resourced and extremely challenging environment. Sanaa has contributed to ground-breaking work on the effect of Covid on pregnant mothers and infants. Sanaa has navigated all of this through the pandemic with a never faltering commitment, and I cannot share enough words of admiration to do justice to the wonderful impact she has on those around her.'

'Hafsa is a writer and a dispute resolution lawyer, having studied Law at the University of Cambridge and a masters’ degree at the University of Oxford. Hafsa won the inaugural Merky Books New Writers' Prize in 2019. Her debut novel, 'We are all Birds of Uganda', is highly acclaimed, and an immersive look in to race and belonging. Hafsa most recently contributed to 'Of This Our Country', a series of essays from 24 Nigerian writers, weaving together a living portrait of Nigerian culture and identity.'

'Sanaa and Hafsa inspire me greatly as black leaders. I’m so proud and honoured to call them my friends, and wholeheartedly believe I’m a better person for having them in my lives.'

Nominated by Alice Louka, Map the System Programme Manager

James Baldwin

James Baldwin (Image by Anthony Barboza / Getty Images)

'James Baldwin's words and ideas demonstrate both integrity and thinking power far beyond the norm.'

'We were allowed to go watch the Arena programme, and his insights not only opened our minds and widened our perspective, they also demonstrated how to think more clearly - that thinking ability was even a thing, and a thing of value. He was an exemplary critical thinker and his courage in questioning societal norms (whose norms?), demonstrated to me that one could blast apart arguments perpetuating oppression with the ability to think through to the truth, and the ability to articulate the truth, in a way that could not be contradicted.'

'In other words, Baldwin's ideas have great importance at face value, but are also transferable, rippling outwards, causing anyone listening to relate to the problems he was identifying, and see their own obstacles more clearly as well.'

Nominated by Ruth Shaw, Alumni Database Officer and Co-Chair of Saïd READI, the School's anti-racism ERG.

Karen Blackett OBE

Karen Blackett

'Karen Blackett has had a stellar career in media. In 2018 she became the first UK Country Manager for WPP, the world’s largest communication network. In addition, she is CEO of GroupM UK, a world-leading media investment company. In 2019 Karen was appointed a Non-Executive Director of the UK Cabinet Office. She also has the accolade of featuring as one of the Top 100 Great Black Britons.' 

'As a Black woman in the media, Karen Blackett inspires me because she has overcome barriers to shine at the highest levels. She has also taken the time to lift others, through community projects. The latest is the Visible Start initiative, offering women over 45 a free 8-week online course to teach the basics of digital media. Women who complete the programme will be employed in entry level jobs at WPP media agencies by the end of 2021.' 

Nominated by Pauline Brandt, Media Relations Executive

Mikaela Loach

Mikaela Loach (Image by Mikaela Loach / Instagram)

'Aged 23, Loach inspires me with her leadership in the climate justice space. She has grown a large following online and uses her platforms to hold corporations and government to account and encourage us all to do better. Her work is centred around justice and inclusion and I continue to learn so much from the brilliant content she creates. Not only does she educate but she also inspires meaningful action, taking the lead with campaigns such as Paid to Pollute, which is much needed if we are to address the social and environmental sustainability crises we are facing as a global community.'

Nominated by Heather Saunders, MBA Marketing Manager and Co-Chair of Oxford Saïd Green Impact

Madam CJ Walker

Madam C.J. Walker ( Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

'Walker was the first recorded female American self-made millionaire of any race. Through her company she empowered nearly 20,000 women by not just employing them, but teaching them to run their own businesses and be financially independent.'

'She spent the rest of her life supporting and actively campaigning for women and the Black community at large.'

Nominated by Gisela Collins, Senior Adviser, MBA Recruitment and Admissions

Leroy Logan

Leroy Logan (Image by Mark Harrison / Black History Month)

'For me, I've been hugely touched and inspired by the story of Leroy Logan. A superintended, Founder of the National Black Police Association and the organisation's Chair for 30 years.'

'His story was recently portrayed by John Boyega in Steve McQueen's Small Axe series - a highly recommended watch that gives you a real picture of Leroy's struggles in racism when he first joined the Met Police. I'm inspired by his resilience, his perseverance for positive change, his integrity, and his ability to focus on what is right (no matter how challenging).'

Nominated by Pritha Bardhan, CRM Campaigns Manager

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris (Image by Noah Berger / Getty Images)

'I'm inspired by Kamala Harris, I don’t like to put her into “boxes” or labels, but it does help to give some context and an idea of all the challenges and obstacles I imagine she will have faced to get where she is today -

That she has Jamaican and South Asian lineage and grew up in the USA in the 60s/70s against the backdrop of systemic racism in the USA (and everywhere else). Kamala is a woman working in law and politics, which are both very male dominated worlds. She came from a family who immigrated to the USA when she was little, is the first black and South Asian female Vice President, and the first female Vice President in the USA. Also the first female district attorney of San Francisco, and the first female attorney general of California.

'Kamala Harris has achieved so much, so many firsts, defying and pushing through barriers and is still relatively young. She is a powerful and visible role model to young black and South Asian girls and more generally all young girls and women, everywhere.'

Nominated by Charlotte Courtney, Alumni Engagement and Events Manager

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara

Thomas Sankara (Getty Images)

'The first President of Burkina Faso, had a vision: a vision to take his nation away from the clutches of post-colonialism and place it in to the hands of its people. To create a country where hunger, preventable disease, corruption, and gender inequality were part of its history and not its present, and to build a future that could be shared by its neighbours and wider community. 

In his four years as President, Thomas Sankara showed the world what could be done and how life could be improved if the interests of the many were put at the centre of policy, with launching vaccination programmes and literacy drives, to building railways and planting millions of trees, are just some results from his time in office. His assassination in 1987 brutally cut short what could have been a turning point in modern history, and while his legacy lives on in Burkina Faso, Africa, and beyond, the vision of Sankara has yet to be fully realised. 

Whether in Ouagadougou, Oxford, Burkina Faso, or Brazil, the world needs more pioneers like Sankara to make life on earth better for all.'

Nominated by Patrick Cox, Learning Platform Support Officer


Events, lectures, resources and interviews

Saïd READI is an employee resource group which aims to ensure all staff at Oxford Saïd address race inequalities at work. READI stands for representation, equity, awareness, diversity and inclusion.

In support of Black History Month, Saïd READI has curated a variety of opportunities to learn, engage, and be inspired online and further afield if you are able to travel. Re-watch the events:

Staffordshire Libraries: The Horrors of Slavery

Short animation. Staffordshire Libraries: The Horrors of Slavery. No whitewashing! Get to grips with the shameful facts. Recommended for those who have been sleepily imagining that enslaved people were mostly treated like servants. Watch via Facebook and Twitter.

Billy Ocean | New Theatre Oxford (George Street, OX1 2AG)

Billy Ocean is Britain’s most successful black recording star with over 30million record sales to date, and there’s a reason! Celebrate iconic hits like Caribbean Queen, and catch up with some new material. Book.

Decolonising Land | The Oxford Law Black Alumni Network

Decolonising Land. Organisers: The Oxford Law Black Alumni Network and the Law Faculty ED Team. Professor Elmien du Plessis (North-West University South Africa) and author Mr Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC (The Land is Ours) reflect on land title, restitution and reform. Re-watch the event.

University of Oxford BME Staff Network

The University of Oxford BME Staff Network holds various events throughout the year, both social and work-related. The Network has two main aims. To help the University identify areas where BME staff representation can be increased and to offer support to and enable professional success among BME staff at all levels.

The Chartist and William Sharpe

@StaffsLibraries Short animations from Staffordshire Libraries. The Chartist and William Sharpe who led Jamaica’s 1831 Christmas Rebellion. Watch via Facebook and Twitter by searching Staffordshire Libraries.

Black Academic Futures


Oxford announces expansion of graduate access programme

Black Academic Futures was created as a direct response to statistical evidence that Black UK graduate research students are particularly under-represented at Oxford (around 1.4% of all postgraduate research students compared with 4.2% across the UK sector).

Up to 30 full graduate scholarships will be available to Black and Mixed-Black UK students for the 2022-23 academic year. The awards are open to eligible students across all subject areas at all Oxford colleges, and will include taught Master’s courses as well as graduate research courses. Each scholarship covers all course fees in full and provides a grant for living costs.

Rhodes Trust

The School has put up a plaque outside the Rhodes Trust lecture theatre. It provides context about the history of Cecil Rhodes, the controversial imperialist whose commemoration has been the focus of protest worldwide.

News and insights