Every October, Black History Month recognises the contributions of people living in the UK who are of African and Caribbean descent. Originating in America in the 1920s, today Black History Month is an internationally recognised event that aims to foster a greater understanding of black history.

As with previous years, Amazon’s celebrations were led by our UK Black Employee Network (BEN) who prepared a host of activities designed to raise awareness across the company about black history. The UK chapter is part of a global employee network who provide members with mentors and provides career and personal development workshops. We spoke to Aisha Suleiman, chair of BEN in the UK, who co-ordinated these initiatives with the support of BEN members – including free posters for schools, empowerment workshops, food stalls and much more.

BEN UK logo

1. Celebrating African legends with illustrator Onyinye Iwu

Artist and illustrator Onyinye Iwu uses original historical research – and her own creative flair – to produce unique portrayals of sometimes-overlooked legends from African history. Inspired by Onyinye’s work, Aisha commissioned a series of unique illustrations portraying African legends that were selected by BEN members – including writer Ignatius Sancho, abolitionist Olaudah Equiano and Queen Amina, the 17th Century Nigerian warrior queen.

Onyinye’s work has been displayed across Amazon corporate sites in the UK in October. The posters were also gifted to more than 60 schools around the UK. In addition, Alexa users can now find out more about Black History Month and these historical figures with a few simple utterances, for example: “Tell me about Queen Amina” or “Tell me about Black History Month.” Onyinye has praised the project as an opportunity to change the prevailing narrative around black identity.

My message is that black people have achieved a huge amount throughout history and we should celebrate that.
Onyinye Iwu

2. Afro-Caribbean food stalls

Food is an integral part of any cultural identity and this is particularly true for BEN members. To explore new flavours and connect with colleagues in a whole new way, Amazon employees enjoyed delicious and flavourful Afro-Caribbean dishes in our UK Head Office.

3. Pop-up market stalls

Our London offices have played host to pop-up African and Caribbean food stalls stocking products including everything from shea butter and snacks to artisanal gifts. Co-ordinated by BEN’s Christine Joseph-Browne, the vendors included Colour Celebrations, Just Like Me Toys, Mums Soaps and Shea Perfection.It was a perfect opportunity to stock up on goodies in the run-up to Christmas!

4. Celebrating Black British women and girls at Black Girl Festival

As the UK’s first arts and culture festival celebrating Black British women and girls, the Black Girl Festival was held at the British Design Centre on Saturday 12th October. BEN members attended this year’s festival, where the theme of ‘Taking Up Space’ explored how to break down barriers and “create new seats at the table” to boost inclusivity across many different industries. Check out Black Girl Festival on Instagram to find out more.

5. STRETCH career conference

Held at the Leonardo Royal London on Saturday 12th October, BEN members attended the STRETCH career conference - a place for attendees to listen to inspirational career talks and attend bite-sized workshops. Now in its third year, the STRETCH conference focused on a theme of, ‘Embracing Change: Thriving in an era of disruption and it provided an informative and valuable day of learning, debate and networking.

6. Coaching workshop with Sandra Berko

In addition, careers coach Sandra Berko offered one-hour coaching sessions to BEN UK members. The coaching sessions were held over the weekend of 21st and 22nd October and attendees had the opportunity to be mentored on a topic of their choice.

Read: Meet the African historical figures inspiring us this Black History Month

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