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Be the change you want to see.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share my story at a global education summit. I spoke about my journey through education from Zimbabwe to Wales to Dudley Sixth form to Oxford University. Many of the adults in the audience were shocked to hear my thoughts and to understand the lack of academic support and encouragement I had received up to the point of applying to Oxford. More often than not, everyone assumes that all students have the same support and encouragement within their academic careers, which is not the case.

As a young black girl, I feel as though my aspirations were not raised during my earlier years. I feel as though I was not pushed to reach my full potential by some of the teachers around me (not all, just some). I remember approaching my teacher one day and asking her to help me apply for Oxford as I had the grades and the ambition, her face dropped, and she told me it wasn't for someone like me (black and working-class). That was the first day I felt the notions of real self-doubt and realised that the world around me, academically, was not fair. I ended up not applying to Oxford that academic year (I applied the following year) and choosing somewhere else that she felt was more suitable for 'someone like me'. To this day, I always wonder where I could have been had she believed me, encouraged me, and saw beyond the colour of my skin and my financial background.

A lot of what I came to do and the progress I made came from within and from a place of defiance - ‘I want to beat the system and show them I can do it.’ But I do not think that this is how every young person has to be in order of being seen or heard by society. I believe that we should give young people a platform and a chance from the beginning without them having to go above and beyond to be noticed, as I did. I wish my school had told me I could do more than just ‘pass’ and get by. I wish they had looked me in the eye and told me I had the potential, talent, and ability to do more and be more.

Now, as the season of work experience, interning and hiring comes along, I look to those in charge to be the change they want to see in the world. The recent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement (it has always existed, but now the world is paying attention) to the global stage has become a catalyst for important conversations and changes that must be made to all levels of society. BLM has revealed the inherent social, political, and economic inequalities that are prevalent in our everyday lives. Much of what we see in workplaces and education is entrenched in unconscious bias and years of systemic and institutional racism.

We have seen many companies and academic institutions declare their desire to change and to the right the historical wrongs of institutional racism and the disadvantages it creates for black students and employees. We all see these desires fulfilled and to see the start of real generational change. If you are white and work in recruitment, admissions, or have hiring powers, etc., I urge you to challenge yourself, educate yourself, and ensure you are seeing people for their talents, passions, and desires. If you already are, thank you. If you are on a journey of learning and are beginning to understand, thank you.

We must all be the change that we see in the world and it begins by looking in the mirror and challenging ourselves on the ways we think and look at the systems around us to ensure they are being built to serve everyone.

This article was written as part of the LinkedIn #Changemakers partnership – a 12-month campaign shining a spotlight on individuals who are using LinkedIn to drive genuine change in the world of work. To find out more about the partnership, read more here:

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