The Black Excellence Network by its definition is set up to challenge the racial disparities within UK higher education and competitive courses seen between black students and other ethnicities. We also support the professional and personal development of current black university students nationwide. And I feel as though this adequately encapsulates their mission. This is important because as observed through my own experience at a top institution, there is a lack of black students and one reason is the lack of access to resources that help with educational progress such as tutors, knowledgeable teachers, parents, or network that is well versed on the whole application process. These issues are also some of the barriers to financial freedom and/or high paying jobs in the black community to relate this back to the bank. Through this network, black students are given access to a mentor that is at the institution they are aiming for. They help with the application process and other aspects such as an insight into the culture. In my case, my mentor was the first person to tell me that you actually apply to a Cambridge college as I was unaware of Cambridge’s collegiate system which massively shapes your experience. After a successful application, I decided to sign up to be a mentor for the current cohort and I mentor a year 13 student who is aiming to read Economics at Cambridge. I have been able to give him an insight into the culture and answer his questions from my experience navigating the space as a black man. Representation matters and these kinds of mentorship schemes provide access to someone who looks like you in the space you desire to be in, dispelling the perceived unattainability of these institutions.
Prior to entering university, I founded my sixth form’s first African and Caribbean society. This stemmed from a need for cultural confidence I observed in the younger students. I had moved from a more diverse secondary school to a less diverse but academically stronger sixth form. Black students at this school were a very small minority and lacked the confidence in their culture present at my old school. For example, in the first meeting with some younger students which stemmed from a rehearsal for the cultural fashion show we put on, many of the black students could not even tell you where they were from! Either they generally did not know, or they were embarrassed to say where they came from. Either way, this was an issue. Social mobility is currently a buzzword that sparks great discourse, but I believe an essential ingredient of social mobility is left out. This is a true knowledge of self and confidence in that identity which is a key component of success as it equips you with the self-assurance you need to overcome barriers.
The voices of the young people from African and Caribbean heritage must be heard as until our ideas and voices are in the rooms and ears of decision-makers, we will continue to be excluded from consideration in policymaking. The black experience in the UK is a unique one and until we are properly considered and listened to the appropriate policy reformation and creation cannot be made. Because of this lack of concern, when there are shocks to the economy, these unaddressed issues are exacerbated and affect minority communities the most. As we saw with the pandemic, Black African and Caribbean and Asian communities were affected the most with disproportionate death rates and financial implications. I would like to attach this document that you can read that outlines stats and causes for the negative impact COVID-19 had on minority communities I provide this information, not to paint Black and other minority communities as helpless victims, but to emphasise the importance of our inclusion in policymaking and influential roles to make our change.
It is important for me and others like me, to get involved in this work as I have been lucky to have access to higher education which was made possible by factors such as the sixth form, I attended which is near my house which by uncontrollable circumstances the council assigned to my mother after moving out of London. Some people may not be so lucky and continue to be overlooked. In this society, the prestige associated with higher education, unfortunately, allows some voices to be heard louder than others speaking on and complaining about the same issues and so I will use mine to speak up for our community.
This blog post has been written by current Bank of England Youth Forum member Fortune Isoka, a first-year land economy student at the University of Cambridge. The article has been adapted from a presentation Fortune delivered as part of a skills development session on Youth Voice delivered as part of the forum’s induction.