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On the last week of September, it was National Inclusion Week – a week to recognise and celebrate inclusion in the workplace and education settings and this year’s theme was unity. As we also mark the start of Black History Month and Jed Khaliq, a teaching and learning tutor in our Sheffield education centre, wrote about unity in our workplace, identity and how Nacro has been leading the way in inclusion. As well as a personal reflection on his own journey to finding inclusion.

Nacro making unified steps

Nacro has probably been one of the best employer’s that I’ve worked for with regards to inclusivity. Because of our service users, the type of work we do and what we stand for, I think we need to have a certain level of understanding and empathy.

Just after what happened to George Floyd, I thought it was a massive gesture of commitment when our CEO Campbell sent a request asking everyone for their views and sought representation from staff, which evolved into the EDI committee, which I am a member of today. The formation of this group has already made a huge impact and difference in our learner’s lives too.

After attending an EDI training session in August 2021, it culminated in to a national ‘Unity in the Workplace’ workshop to four of our centres by a guest speaker, Ellie Lowther, a trans-aware specialist from Essential Learning Curve.

 

This was done as part of Inclusivity Week and in conjunction with our Employment, Enrichment and Pastoral programme. Learners who participated in this workshop had the unique opportunity to learn about transgender history and what it means to be transgender in the workplace. Early feedback indicates that it was a success amongst our transgender learners.

My managers also provide an open-door policy where we can express views openly and regardless of the query, are never too busy to take a call and advise with sensitive issues or provide advice of which I am really grateful for. There are regular provisions for useful training and development opportunities to improve my professional skills.

The themed information, advice and guidance that is celebrated by the communications team such as Inclusivity Week, Black History Month, Eid etc. are all positive engagement strategies and goes a long way to feel part of something bigger. I’m deeply appreciative of being able to have all of the above facilitations to assist making me feel like a valued and inclusive employee at Nacro.

Unity amongst our learners

Unity is important because it provides a sense of wellbeing and welfare, whether you’re a young person or a tutor. It is an extremely important value (and tool) to adopt to be successful in gaining a qualification or sustaining a job. One of the greatest aspects I love about my job is working with young learners who provide a wonderful insight of how they perceive the world. Their imagination is not bound by the limitations of bureaucracy and political correctness.

This inevitably means that opposing views are put forward in the classroom, but at times, I am pleasantly surprised to see the cohesive level of harmony between their views and thinking. Even though learners might experience cultural, social and religious differences in their day-to-day lives, a single event or person can bring their opinions together and I love it when that happens.

Over the last year, there was a plethora of events that brought us together, but none more so greater than the tragic George Floyd incident. This single issue massively raised the profile of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest that was started in 2013.  Although there were conflicting narratives with the All-Lives Matter vs BLM argument, after we celebrated the Black History Month topic in the classroom, my learners eventually came as one and respected each other’s views.

There was also the sudden passing of Chadwick Boseman, who played Marvel’s superhero, Black Panther. A lot of our learners have grown up with the Marvel Universe and zealously know the characters’ background and plotlines.

They have been massively influenced by these movies so when it was announced that ‘Black Panther’ had departed, I recall having the same conversation in so many different classes with everyone being affected in some way or another. Some even requested a minute’s silence!

Finally, a huge success was that despite all the difficulties faced in the last year, we had a lot of learners who successfully achieved their qualifications. The perseverance and dedication displayed in attending classes when public transport was reduced to an absolute minimum and completing portfolios/classwork is highly commendable.

For some learners, it was a combined effort, because tutors constantly supported and encouraged them to achieve. We were working with parents, support workers and carers in ensuring the very best outcome for the learner and I’m proud to say that by working together, we all managed to accomplish that goal. It really was a time of unified achievement.

My early learnings of being excluded

I have felt included until I became aware of a higher level of inclusivity which then made me realise that I was actually excluded right from the outset.

When I was younger, I thought myself as only British. I didn’t really see myself as any different to anybody else as we all looked the same. Growing up in Lancashire, it was embarrassingly all about football, British Bulldog and American wrestling. It’s what my friends and I used to play and talk about in the playground. I also thought it was normal to hear “I hate Pakis” and “Paki-shop” amongst other offensive slurs.

I also thought it was normal to have gangs of skinheads, thugs and hooligans pour petrol through letterboxes because it was happening to everybody in the area I lived. It was just everyday life growing up in the 80’s.

But strangely I never felt excluded or different to anybody else as we were brought up to accept it as part of life and move forward.

However, the first time I felt a real sense of exclusion was a few weeks after the devastatingly, tragic, 9/11 incident in 2001. It was during my University years and I was in the ‘famous’ Dicken’s Inn Pub at Middlesbrough on a busy night. Having my hands full with a full round of drinks and navigating through the hectic crowd, I politely asked a young lady over the booming music to make way so I could get to the table I was sat at.

Confusingly, she started screaming racist obscenities at me! Everyone who could hear the screeching shrill of her voice was looking directly at me through eyes of disgust and I had never experienced that before. Bewildered and ashamed of my skin colour, I turned around and made the long way round back to the table and never discussed the incident with the group of all-white friends who I was with at the time, but deep down I was shocked for days.

9/11 was a catastrophic event but I was absolutely oblivious to the extent of hurt that was being felt by people until my family and friends started sharing similar stories like the above incident.

 

I was being ‘included’ because I was being tarred with the same brush as the 9/11 perpetrators yet simultaneously, I was excluded out of my normal way of life. 

I couldn’t understand why people were directing their resentment at me and others like me because I too, shared their sentiments of disgust, shock and horror. In hindsight, it was my naivety that I thought we all share the same values and view the world through the same lens.

A few months after that incident, just before Christmas, I was invited to a house-warming party and a similar incident occurred amongst another group of ‘friends’.

After answering a seemingly innocent question, “Do you go to the mosque or not?” and earnestly replying that I probably do three or four times a year for the big events such as Eid. Within a few minutes, the entire room had openly started their own conversation on the merits of whether I could be a potential terrorist or not as if I wasn’t even in the room. Feeling angry, hurt and rejected, I strongly gave them a piece of my mind and calmly walked out.

I had known this social group for about two years, I felt annoyed at the rejection of our friendship just because I was a Muslim and had stupidly answered with a truthful answer, but I had nothing to hide.

Today, I identify as a Muslim, British, Pakistani and in no particular order (regardless of whatever label others may want to place on me.) However, it can be a double-edged sword to have mixed cultures.

There’s still a long way to make lot of inclusion in-roads but I believe it’s heading in the right direction. Since becoming aware of a higher level of inclusivity, I volunteer to sit on boards in the Voluntary, Community and Faith (VCF) sectors to assist with policy making and influencing change on a local and reginal level – so we can all feel more included than ever.

Covid helped strengthen our unity

There’s a saying by Eric Walters, a Canadian author that goes something like,

“Crisis doesn’t change you – it reveals who you really are!”.

Similarly, when Covid happened, it revealed who we really are as an organisation. There was a genuine sense of camaraderie between us all and I’m proud to have been working for Nacro during that time, especially with the team at Sheffield.

I remember being exceptionally impressed and grateful for the regular updates, bulletins and advice that was coming through. With the uncertainty of the climate at the time, it was reassuring to know that we were being given clear guidance, support and leadership by our managers and executive team – a real sign of unity.

We were working through a business change programme and a pandemic, yet it felt like we were all pulling together as part of a large corporate family.

It’s a great feeling to know, that we all played our individual roles in coming together and we kept delivering the very best support for people across Nacro.