SFE YP Black History Month guest blog | Reframing Black Excellence

Honey Ajuwon has over 15 years of financial services experience with a background that includes Leveraged and Corporate Finance, Asset Based Lending, Working Capital Product Management, Change, Innovation and Technology.

She is currently Head of the Capital Markets Technology Platform at NatWest Markets and is also Global Co-Chair of the NatWest Group Black Professionals Network, and is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as leveraging technology to solve real business problems to bridge the traditional divide between ‘data’, ‘technology’ ‘the business’ and ‘the customer’.

Following our Elevate your Career event in collaboration with the NatWest group Black Professionals Network earlier this month, Honey shares her thoughts below on reframing Black Excellence.

Reframing Black Excellence

Black History month has always been poignant for me but also a little bittersweet. This is because on one hand, it is an annual acknowledgement of our Black superheroes, but on the other, we have such a long way to go in being a truly equitable society with regard to race.

In addition to these emotions, Black History Month 2020 created an immense sense of urgency in me due to the murder of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. This led me to become more vocal that I previously was on issues of racial equity and diversity and inclusion. Previously I felt I could only go so far but, with the fire inside me raging, I could not help but use my voice, my deeds and my capital towards ensuring a fairer society for all.

For Black History Month 2021 I felt a change of message was needed, especially since again the ugly face of racism reared its head publicly for UEFA Euro 2021, with the England team being booed for taking the knee and the onslaught of vitriol over missed penalties by the Black England players at the Final. With the loudest voices sharing the challenges of being Black, I wanted to acknowledge the challenges but also get us to celebrate the successes.

With the above in mind, the NatWest Group Black Professionals Network decided the focus of this year’s Black History Month would be Black Excellence.

Black Excellence is usually described as ‘someone that is Black and portrays great qualities and abilities that make the Black community proud.’ Instead of the term being used to celebrate just handful of high-profile careers, the Black Professionals Network wanted to use the term to commemorate all Black people who are striving to be the best version of themselves. It also reinforces the fact that a lack of representation of Black people in senior roles or in wider society is due to a lack of opportunity not a lack of Black talent or ambition, because when we do get these opportunities, we soar.

To the network celebrating Black Excellence was also seen as one of the ways to counteract the centuries of negative myths and stereotypes about Black people. A lot has been said over the years about not being able to be what you can’t see, however, in spite of centuries of negative stereotypes, there have been and continue to be exemplars of Black Excellence. They have not only set the bar high but have also broken records despite only being allowed in the game in the last few decades.

It is acknowledged that Black Excellence or exceptionalism is not a panacea for racism, it continues to provide hope and inspiration to the community which goes to the heart of the Black Excellence we are looking to celebrate; the STRIVERS looking to fulfil their potential.