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7 March 2022
Diversity, disparity and inclusion

Dawn Gibbons, Deputy Chair of our Black, Asian and minority ethnic network, reflects on facilitating a workshop on becoming a magistrate at an International Women's Day event in Croydon.

On 5 March 2022, I attended a unique gathering at Croydon town hall to celebrate International Women’s Day: Cultivating Black Women for Social Change. This Soul Purpose 360-hosted event set out to provide an opportunity for Black women to inspire, network and support each other to change our lives, and I had been invited—in my role as deputy chair of the MA’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic network—to facilitate a workshop on ‘How to become a magistrate’.

Despite the early hour, when I arrived the entrance hall was a hive of activity. Women of all cultural backgrounds were mingling, networking and exchanging their expectations of the day ahead.  Immediately, any nerves I had ebbed away.

I was greeted warmly by Palma Black, founder of Soul Purpose 360 and Paul Hamlyn Foundation Ideas and Pioneers Grantee, who introduced me to our host for the day: Patricia Wharton. In addition to over 30 years’ experience working with children and families, Patricia also has a particular interest in creating future leaders.

The line-up of guest speakers was pretty inspiring and included Hamida Ali, Leader of Croydon Council. With a 20-year background in equality and diversity in the public sector, Hamida spoke with passion of her vision for Black women to dispel barriers and move forward in the political sphere. Poignantly, she asked the audience how many female Asian council leaders they knew of in the UK; a powerful reminder of how much we still need to achieve.

We then heard from Rossana Leal, founder of the Refugee Buddy Project and UNHCR’s 2019 Woman of the Year. Having fled from Chile to the UK as a child, she now supports refugees to transition into British society.

Next up was Marcia Brock, whose speech blew me away and reduced most of the audience to tears. Having been told she would never have children and not survive beyond her 30th birthday due to cancer, she’s now a mother, CEO and edging towards her fifties!

The main message from these opening talks was not to make excuses as to why we can’t change our lives and not to see hurdles as barriers to our success. Instead, we must keep moving forward because—in the words of Maya Angelou—each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.

Attendees were then invited to join a workshop, with options covering topics including: how to become a school governor, how to become a councillor, how to make your voice vibrant, how to find your soul purpose and, of course, how to become a magistrate.

I waited in my allocated room, wondering how many people would be interested in finding out why our justice system needs more Black representation. Two women appeared and I greeted them warmly, hoping more would arrive. Within five minutes, the room was full of women eager to know more!

The questions were fast, passionate and thought-provoking. When the call for lunch came an hour later, many in the room wanted to continue the conversation—as did I. When I had to call time, I was greeted by rapturous applause.

All in all, it was a truly inspiring day. It was wonderful to be able to celebrate International Women’s Day with Black women face-to-face. To be able to mingle and answer questions about what makes me tick, what made me decide to become a magistrate, and how we—as magistrates—protect the public in our communities, was invaluable. Several days later, I am still buzzing from the positive experience.