Black History Month 2023 17/10/2023

As the autumn leaves begin to fall, a special time of year approaches, one that calls for reflection, recognition, and celebration. Black History Month, which take place in October, provides us with a unique opportunity to delve into the rich tapestry of African and African American history, culture, and achievements. This month is not only a time to honour the legacies of trailblazers who have paved the way for change but also a moment to amplify the voices and stories that continue to inspire and educate.

In this blog we will be taking a look at Black celebrities of the West Midlands, and look at their achievements and challenges they’ve faced.

Sir Lenny Henry

Born in Dudley in 1958, Sir Lenny Henry was the fifth of seven children. His remarkable career began early, as he honed his talents impersonating celebrities in working men’s clubs. Notably, a significant portion of his early impersonations featured white characters. His television debut occurred at the young age of 16 when he won the talent show “New Faces.”

From that point on, Lenny’s television career took flight, with appearances in a diverse range of shows, spanning from children’s programs to adult comedy. Soon after, he made his mark in the world of film. While Lenny initially took on roles that both parodied and celebrated African Caribbean culture, he later expressed regret for participating in shows that mocked these cultures.

Lenny’s career has evolved to encompass more serious acting, including stage performances in Shakespearean works. Beyond his acting career, he co-founded Comic Relief during the Ethiopian famine crisis. He has also penned several books, some of which delve into his personal experiences with racism during his school years.

As a vocal advocate for increased representation on television, Lenny has critiqued the lack of ethnic diversity in the industry. He is a passionate proponent of celebrating diverse cultures. His dedication to positive change has been recognised with honours, including a knighthood in 2015 and the role of Chancellor at the University of Birmingham in 2016. Sir Lenny Henry’s career and contributions are a testament to his enduring commitment to both the entertainment industry and important social causes.

Beverley Knight MBE

Born in Wolverhampton in 1973 to Jamaican parents, Beverley Knight’s remarkable journey in the world of music and beyond is a testament to her talent and resilience. Raised in a deeply religious household, she regularly attended a Pentecostal church, where her passion for singing first took root.

Her musical journey began early, as she wrote her first song at the age of 13 and started performing locally by the time she was 17. She was signed to a record label at the age of 19, but she remained dedicated to her education, attending university to ensure she had a solid foundation to fall back on should her musical career not pan out.

Over the years, Beverley Knight has released nine albums, amassing an impressive collection of eight awards. Her versatility also extends to the theater, where she has dazzled audiences with her performances in various musicals, including standouts like “Sister Act,” “Drifter Girls,” and “Bodyguard.”

Throughout her life, Beverley has been vocal about the influence of fellow Black artists such as Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke. She attributes the diversity of Wolverhampton to the broad spectrum of musical styles she has explored, ranging from Gospel to Soul to RnB.

Most recently, she portrayed Emmeline Pankhurst in the West End musical “Sylvia.” This casting choice drew controversy, with some voices opposing her portrayal as Pankhurst was not Black. However, Beverley has consistently championed equality, driven by her own experiences of navigating a society that was less inclusive in the past.

Despite the challenges, Beverley Knight’s impact has transcended borders, earning her global recognition. She has received honors from the University of Wolverhampton and was bestowed the Freedom of the City by the Mayor of Wolverhampton for her exceptional contributions and dedication to her community and the arts. Her story is not just one of musical success, but a testament to her unwavering commitment to breaking barriers and championing equality.

Dame Denise Lewis

Hailing from West Bromwich and raised in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, Denise Lewis had a lifelong dream of becoming an Olympian, which she voiced as early as seven years old. Her determined mother took her seriously, enrolling her in the Wolverhampton and Bilston Athletics Club. During her teenage years, Denise transitioned to a larger club in Birmingham, where she explored a wide range of athletic disciplines. It was here that she discovered what she was best at —the Heptathlon.

At just 21 years of age, she participated in her first Commonwealth Games and clinched a gold medal in the Heptathlon. This marked the beginning of a remarkable journey that saw her competing in subsequent Commonwealth Games, the European Cup, European Championships, and World Championships. In the 1996 Olympics, she secured a bronze medal, followed by a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics. Post-retirement, she has become a respected pundit, sharing her valuable opinions and insights during major athletic tournaments.

Denise has also courageously addressed the issue of racism in athletics, discussing how stereotypes can unfairly label Black athletes as “too aggressive.” She’s emphasised that passion and determination should not be misconstrued as aggression, particularly in the context of Black athletes.

Fortunately, athletes like the Williams sisters and fellow UK competitors, such as Jessica Ennis Hill and Mo Farah, have been breaking down stereotypes and challenging racism in athletics through their remarkable achievements and their roles as inspiring figures for young aspiring athletes.

Denise’s exceptional contributions to sports have not gone unnoticed. In the 2023 Honours List, she was honoured as a Dame, solidifying her place in England’s Athletic Hall of Fame. She also received the Freedom of the City from the Mayor of Wolverhampton in recognition of her remarkable achievements and her dedication to athletics and her community. Denise Lewis’s story is not only one of sporting excellence but also one of unwavering determination and resilience.


Here are some resources where you can find out more about Black History Month:

Black History Month 2023



Creative Support

Mental Health resources

If you have experience discrimination in college, or are struggling with your mental health, you can speak with our safeguarding officers at You can also access the FIKA App through the college for more information.

Here are some mental health charities that you can use for resources or to contact if you need help:



Young Minds

Race Equality Foundation

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