Welcome diversity in birthday honours list

Harris Bokhari OBE
Harris Bokhari OBE

By Harris Bokhari

THE recent Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted the ongoing inequalities that are faced by black commu­nities across the UK.

Over the last four honour rounds we have seen the number of BAME recipients con­sistently decline, so the timing of the most eth­nically diverse honours list to date – with 13 per cent of recipients com­ing from an ethnic mi­nority background – cannot be better.

Recipients of CBEs this year are represent­ed by numerous BAME history makers.

Farmida Bi came to the UK from Pakistan aged six. She made history by becoming the first woman and ethnic minority to be elected chair of Norton Rose Fulbright LLP and the first Muslim woman to lead any of the “magic circle” firms.

She joins Blackburn’s Issa brothers, Mohsin and Zuber, who have brought the 71 year old Asda su­permarket chain back to British ownership after 21 years, as well as Kofi Adjepong-Boateng, the chair of the Economic Justice Programme, Open Society Foundations and leading philanthropist, in being awarded CBEs.

After four decades of successive prime ministers and governments ignoring the contributions made by our pioneering black headteachers, with none of them receiving a senior national honour, justice has finally been done by the awarding of a CBE to Yvonne Conelly.

Yvonne, a member of the Windrush generation, became the first black headmistress in 1969 and sadly the only surviving member of the original first black headteachers which included Tony O’Connor and Beryl Gilroy. At the start of Black History Month, the prime minister dedicated his video message to Yvonne and how “she inspired and mentored not only her young charges but also gen­erations of educators”.

The CBE award has gone a little way to correcting the decades of neglect and sacrifices that our first BAME headteachers made, not only in breaking the glass ceiling but also facing abuse and death threats from the far right for just doing their job.

The Queen’s birthday honours list 2020 is also the first to have 11 per cent of recipients under the age of 30, and no one represents this better than the Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur Josh Babarinde being awarded an OBE. One of the UK’s leading social entrepreneurs, Josh has helped rebuild the lives of hundreds of young ex-offenders from a life of crime to one of employment.

But what makes this list so different from previ­ous years is the inclusion of more than 400 Cov­id-19 hero recipients – from an OBE for 101-year-old Dabirul Islam Choudhury who raised several thousand pounds for charity by walking while fast­ing during Ramadan, to Rajinder Singh Harzall, ‘the Skipping Skih’, receiving a MBE for encouraging elderly people to stay active in lockdown.

With a record number of BAME recipients, there has never a better time to put forward someone for an honour. The UK government sets out very clear guidelines on how to nominate someone at gov.uk/ honours. All you need to do is fill out an online form, describing in no more than 500 words why your nominee is deserving of an award – it may be because of the amounts of money they have raised or the number of people they have helped.

Remember, you must highlight the impact the nominee has had in their community – not just how nice they are. You also need two supporting letters of reference. Now is the best time for us to boost the diversity in the honours system, so nominate some­one today.

Harris Bokhari is a board member of the Princes’ Trust Mosaic Initiative and founder of the Patchwork Foundation and the Naz Legacy Foundation charities.