This month is Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. With this in mind we have chosen Ian Hancock as our Inspirational Diversity Champion for June.
Hancock was born in Britain of both British and Hungarian Romani descent and was raised according to Romani traditions. He experienced firsthand the prejudice, discrimination and alienation that so many centuries of Romanies before him had endured.
Although he dropped out of school to go to work, which was very common for Romani people, Ian went onto study at London University and became the first Romani in Britain to receive a Ph.D. He has since devoted most of his adult life to dispelling ignorance about his ethnic origins.
Since his London University days, Hancock has used his somewhat unique position as a Romani-born, university-educated scholar to speak for an oppressed population that has traditionally had no voice or representation, to preserve information about Romani customs and history and to fight for Romani political and civil rights.
He is the Chairman of the United Romani Educational Foundation Inc., the official ambassador to the United Nations and UNICEF for the world’s 15 million Romanies and the only Romani to have been appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.
Educating the public about Romani history and culture has been a colossal task for Hancock because most individuals do, unfortunately, have a graphic mental image of the “typical gypsy,” but they have formed their ideas from all the wrong information.
“They do not know that seventy percent of the Romani population of Nazi-occupied Europe were murdered during the Holocaust.”
“This ridiculous fictional image has taken on a life of its own,” says Hancock. “The cliché description of Romanies is so deeply rooted that it may never totally be eradicated. There are countless representations in films and books of Italians as Mafia members, but no one actually believes that all Italians are Mafia members. That is not true for my people”.
This month is Mental Health Awareness Month, being celebrated in England between 23 and 30 May. With this in mind we have chosen Stephen Fry as our Inspirational Diversity Champion of the Month.
Stephen is well known for his variety of talents including; being an actor, quiz show host, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter, film director, activist, and board member of Norwich City Football Club. However, what is less known about Stephen is that he suffers from Bipolar Disorder. He was finally diagnosed when he was 37 years old having experienced mental health problems for much of his life.
He has spoken publicly about his experience with bipolar disorder, which was also depicted in the documentary ‘Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive’. During the programme, he was dismayed to discover the extent of prejudice surrounding mental health problems;
“I want to speak out, to fight the public stigma and to give a clearer picture of mental illness that most people know little about.
“Once the understanding is there, we can all stand up and not be ashamed of ourselves, then it makes the rest of the population realise that we are just like them but with something extra.”
He is involved with the mental health charity Stand to Reason and is a celebrity supporter of the mental health charity ‘Time to Change’.
April is Autism Awareness month and with this in mind we have chosen Luke Jackson as our Inspirational Diversity Champion.
Luke Christopher Jackson is a British author who rose to fame at the age of 13, when he wrote a book from first-hand experience about his life with Asperger syndrome. In the book, entitled ‘Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence’, Luke writes about his younger autistic and ADHD brothers, providing amusing insights into the antics of his younger years and advice for parents, carers and teachers of children with Asperger’s.
Luke’s main reason for writing was because “so many books are written about us, but none are written directly to adolescents with Asperger Syndrome. I thought I would write one in the hope that we could all learn together”. The book created a sensation and greatly increased general awareness of the condition.
Luke left school at the age of 14 “after completely having had enough”. He has since been singing and playing in a band, has written two further books and has appeared in documentaries about Autism.
February is LBGT History Month and with this in mind we have chosen Ben Summerskill as our Inspirational Diversity Champion.
Ben Summerskill OBE is the Chief Executive of Stonewall – the largest gay equality organisation in Europe.
He has successfully expanded Stonewall’s work from parliamentary lobbying into other fields including, workplace equality and campaigning against homophobia in schools. He led successful campaigns for the repeal of anti-gay legislation, the introduction of Civil Partnerships and the introduction protections against discrimination in the provision of “goods and services”, covering areas from healthcare and housing, to hotels and holidays. Highlights of his achievements include leading a successful parliamentary campaign in 2007-2008 for the introduction of a criminal offence of incitement to homophobic hatred and a campaign in 2009-2010 to enable gay people to celebrate civil partnerships in religious premises.
Under his direction, Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, promoting good practice among major UK employers, has grown from 35 to 600 members, who employ 5.5 million people between them, ranging from IBM and Tesco to the armed services and MI5. Stonewall’s ‘Education for All’ programme, launched in 2005 to help tackle homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools, is supported by 70 major teaching and children’s organisations.
In 2006, he was appointed a Commissioner on Britain’s new Equality and Human Rights Commission. He was awarded an OBE in the 2009 New Year Honours list and was appointed to the committee of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2009. In 2010 he was a finalist as Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year and in 2011 he was shortlisted as Britain’s Most Admired Charity Chief Executive in the Third Sector Awards.