Published on: 3rd October 2023

Evelyn Asante-Mensah OBE, our chair, has written a blog for NHS England to support Black History Month and this year's theme of 'saluting our sisters'.

Evelyn Asante-Mensah.jpgA role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration.

The phrase ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ is something of a cliché. But there’s more than a grain of truth to it.

It’s the most powerful form of educating and so, for Black History Month, I want to salute six truly inspiring women who I know.

I have had the opportunity to work with four of these wonderful women, as well as the joy of having two in my family.

They have all faced barriers but have achieved so much.

Before identifying as a “proud African lesbian woman,” Phyll Opoku-Gyimah – widely known as Lady Phyll and the co-founder of UK Black Pride – identifies as a human being. Perhaps this is why her work as one of the leading LGBTQ+ activists in the UK runs deep with so many.

I had the privilege of working with Lady Phyll when I did some work with the charity Stonewall and meeting a fellow Ghanaian, who was not only a powerhouse but so open about her sexuality – had a profound impact.

The second sister I want to salute is Pari Dhillon, founder of the Social Justice Collective who I also worked with at Stonewall.

Pari is an unstoppable grassroots activist, helps leaders across the land advance social justice, and a major player in the equality, diversity and inclusion space.

The third salute is for Cym D’Souza, chief executive of the Arawak Walton Housing Association in Greater Manchester and also chair of BMENational, a collective of over 45 housing associations working in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country.

Her work to shape the housing sector and champion the provision of quality affordable homes for Black and minority communities has made Cym a hugely respected and admired leader.

Sally Penni, an award-winning barrister, radio broadcaster, author and public speaker, is also based in Manchester. She is the founder and Chair of Women in the Law UK and a passionate champion and driver for diversity in the workplace, social mobility and women in business. 

And the last two sisters I want to salute are my brave, bold, bright and brilliant mother and daughter.

I owe so much to my mother, Beatrice Gyamfi. 

My parents came here from Ghana when I was five years old to give me a better life. Having been a teacher back in Ghana, my mother then worked in the NHS but sadly didn’t progress in the way she wanted because of the racism in the NHS.

When I was young she said: “When you get older you will have to work ten times harder because of the colour of your skin. Don’t think for a second that because you are bright, you will always be treated with respect.”

She taught me to ‘get on with it and be the best you can be’. I wanted to make my mother proud and show that a first-generation Black African girl who grew up in Hulme and Moss Side could be a success.

And my daughter, Sade Fraser, makes me proud every day.  

She has faced challenges but has held onto what she wants to do and who she is, pushing forward with tenacity and courage. Sade has shown that you can dream big if you work hard, stay focussed and surround yourself with good people you can succeed. 

There’s so much respect out there for Sade not only for her achievements but for also for who she is as a woman. 

Sade has just been appointed head of anti-poverty strategy at Manchester City Council and is a phenomenal mother to ‘my little people’ as I refer to my three gorgeous grandchildren: Mia, Bobby, and Ryan. 

Six authentic, gutsy, visionary, take-action women who have been outspoken and pushed the boundaries to achieve not only professional but personal success. 

I salute you sisters.