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Black History Month - Week one Famous People

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Black History Month allows us to dedicate our own gratitude and recognition of achievements and contributions from our black communities across Britain and nationally. Read more about famous faces below and take part in the competition. 

  • Sislin Fay Allen
  • Baroness Valerie Amos
  • Chef Mariya Russell
  • Baroness Floella Benjamin

Sislin Fay Allen

Sislin Fay Allen

Britain's first black female police officer

While working as a nurse in south London, Sislin Fay Allen saw a job advert for the Metropolitan Police who were recruiting men and women. Excited at the prospect of starting a new career, Allen applied and secured an interview where she recalls being the only black person present.

She trained at Peel House and her first appointment was at Fell road Police Station in Croydon.

She made national news in 1968 as her appointment was announced, which sadly led to her receiving a barrage of hate mail. Undeterred, she embraced her new role and went on to serve in Croydon, near her family home, and then at Norbury Police Station before moving to the Caribbean with her Jamaican-born husband, where she joined the local police force.

Her appointment is historically significant as she became the first black female police officer in the UK, paving the way for many who followed in her footsteps afterwards.

In 2020 she received a lifetime achievement award from the Black Police Association (NBPA)

Sislin died in 2020 at her home in Ocho Rios Jamaica. Andy George, President of the NBPA said “ Her contribution to policing in the United Kingdom cannot be underestimated. The courage that trailblazers like her shows in joining the police service allowed others to follow a career in policing. We thought it was a fitting to name an annual award in her honour to showcase her contribution to policing and to ensure a long-lasting legacy is created in her name to recognise fellow trailblazers in policing today.”

Baroness Valerie Amos

Baroness Valerie Amos

Baroness Valerie Amos of Brondesbury was appointed a Labour life peer in 1997 and was the first black woman to serve as a Minister in the British cabinet and in the House of Lords.

She has consistently sustained an interest in, and a commitment to, development issues, and to equality and human rights. Valerie was an adviser to the Mandela Government on leadership and change management issues and was Chief Executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission between 1989 and 1994.

She has also held high office as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 2001 and 2003 and held the office of Secretary of State for International Development in 2003. After a further period in the Lords as spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office she became Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council between 2003 and 2007.

Valerie served as UK High Commissioner to Australia before joining the UN in 2010 as Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Her work in the voluntary and charity sector and in other non-governmental organisations has gone hand in hand with her policy and political work. Valerie has served as a Trustee for Voluntary Service Overseas, the Windsor Leadership Trust, Project Hope, and the Institute for Public Policy Research. She has also served as Deputy Chair of the Runnymede Trust.

In 2015 Valerie became the ninth Director of School of Oriental and African Studies. (SOAS)

Chef Mariya Russell

Chef Mariya Russell

The first black woman to earn a Michelin Star.

Russell is chef de cuisine at Kikkō, a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant in Chicago. In September, she became the first black woman to be awarded a Michelin star in the Michelin Guide's 93-year history.

Originally from Springfield, Ohio, Russell became interested in food from a young age and began by cooking soul food and Midwestern staples, like mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and casseroles.

She later moved to Chicago to attend The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. She and her husband went on to work together, eventually both joining Kikkō.

In an interview with Michelin Guide, she said, "Thinking about [being] the only Black woman doing this is really, still very much so, blowing my mind. Representation is really important in all kinds of things, but in an industry like this, I think it's really cool.

Baroness Floella Benjamin

Baroness Benjamin Flagella

Author, TV Presenter, Actress & Political Campaigner

Floella is best known to a generation as the presenter of the BBC's children's program Play School, alongside mute co-stars Humpty, Jemima, and Little Ted.

But now she runs her own production company and is also chairman of the film and television.

Born in Trinidad, she immigrated to the UK as a child in the early 1960s, where her family settled in the south London suburb of Beckenham.

She left with two A levels, eight O-levels, a talent for athletics, and a passion to become the first ever black woman bank manager.  Benjamin passed her part one banking diploma, but her love for acting won her over, and her first major role was in the hippy musical Hair.

But it was her love for children which shone through, and she has now been involved with children's television for 23 years.

She once said: "I love working with children. It's particularly gratifying because I feel I'm able to communicate with children of all kinds."

Benjamin lives in London with her husband Keith Taylor, who she met in the UK.

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For more information and to enter the competition please see the below PDF.