For 30 years we have been working to end race inequality for Black, Asian and mixed heritage communities. We see ourselves as a ‘Do Tank’ – relying on action, and not just words, to campaign for fairness, challenge discrimination, provide training and pioneer solutions to empower young people through education, employment and enterprise.
In 1991 there was a national skills, education and employment opportunity gap. For ethnic minorities this was rooted in racism, ethnic bias and poverty. The gap very much still exists today in employment. We want to remove the barriers preventing anyone from realising their true potential in education and employment, while using our expertise and collaborative networks to remove racism from the criminal justice system.
The history of Action for Race Equality is one woven through the advances and regressions of race equality.
We began as a project within the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in 1991, and registered as a charity five years later.
Around 60, mostly Black and Asian local organisations, wanted a national voice. There was a need for action research on skills, employment and enterprise and the experiences of Black and Asian people in England, to provide evidence that could influence public policy.
Between 1991-2021 many events have impacted upon the experiences of Black, Asian and people of Mixed Heritage in education, work and civil society. Many people have joined us on the journey, individually, in organisations and groups – helping us to take action.
We’ve worked with thousands of young people, and would love to hear from you on our social media channels telling us about your memories of working with us, or perhaps as a participant in one of our projects and programmes. Share your story online using #30YearsBTEG or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
30 years of taking action on race equality
Jeremy Crook, OBE, CEO of ARE, reflects on how he first began working in the sector.
As Action for Race Equality (ARE) is launched, bringing renewed focus from the 30-year foundations of BTEG, the Black Training and Enterprise Group, its chief executive Jeremy Crook looks back beyond his three decades at BTEG and identifies critical issues in education and employment. He finds that the barriers which affected his generation continue to set up obstacles for young people.
Jeremy was the first staff member of the Black Training and Enterprise Group, now Action for Race Equality, which was established in 1991.
“I can definitely identify with Sir Lewis Hamilton. I’ve always been concerned about children being excluded from school. As I was growing up, my mother did quite a bit around exclusions through her job in a Black community organisation. The first thing the school would do was call the only Black organisation in the town to mediate in some way. Schools did not want to accept that the cause of the problem was often a racist teacher.
I started realising how much institutional racism there existed in education and the school system. We became aware of what was happening in schools, up and down the country. Black educationalists and parents campaigned and led a self-help movement to make sure Black children were educated.
At 16, I hoped to stay on in the sixth form but when I went back to school, I was told I couldn’t come back because I didn’t have sufficient CSEs or if did, I’d be placed in the lower year – something which obviously, I wasn’t going to do. My mother advised me to go and enrol at the college to do O-Levels. A teacher at the school then turned to me and said, “Jeremy, there’s all these others, (Black and Asian male peers) – why don’t you speak to them about going to college as well?” And that’s what I did. Seven or eight of us went to the college and enrolled that day and started doing our O-Levels.
FE [further education] was the second chance for a lot of my generation. So I went to college, worked and studied for several years. I connected with Sociology and Law – we had some great lecturers – and managed to gain two A-Levels.
My mistake was that the penny didn’t drop with me regarding how important education was, even though my mother said you should work hard. Most of my teachers didn’t inspire me to work hard: some almost were disinterested in teaching. But I think there is always one teacher or lecturer who gets you and wants to help you, whether they’re White, Black or Asian. Looking back, I never had a Black teacher or college lecturer. At college, I met lecturers who did help me to understand that I could be successful in education and that’s probably when I started working hard and doing my A-Levels.
I like helping people and that’s why I got involved in my local Black community organisation and offered to volunteer a few hours a week visiting secondary schools (including the one I attended) and talking to [working class] young people from all ethnic backgrounds. What that did was build my confidence in public speaking. With my good friend, we used to go into a room of 40 young people from years 9, 10 and 11. As young people ourselves, we were trying to keep them focused on leaving school with some qualifications.
We learned how to engage them – we listened to their concerns and discussed how they reach their goals. I think it helped that we weren’t qualified teachers; we weren’t qualified in anything. We were just two Black teenage males that cared.
We were listening more than we were talking but our message was, “We had spent 11 years in education and left with nothing. Don’t make the same mistake. Teachers have their qualifications and careers. To progress from education, you’ve got to come out with something tangible.”
We would get across to them that no matter whether there are teachers that don’t care, whether they’re racist, or whether it’s the motivation that you’ve got as a young person – you’ve to got to do something to help yourself and achieve something and that it is possible. Even if you’re from a low-income family, it’s possible to do well.
Our volunteering led on to full-time employment at the Black charity funded via the government’s Manpower Services Commission job scheme. While doing this work in schools, we were also interacting with the local career service and other offices in the local council. But it was the careers service I had a particular interest in, because when I had used them, I didn’t find them helpful.
The careers staff had jobs on cards in their index box under the table, so depending on who you were, they would get out certain jobs. When I realised this, I asked them, “Don’t you think it would be fairer to put all the jobs on a board, so we could all see what’s available?” They were telling us to go and do unskilled work, with low pay and no future.
It was commonplace back then for careers officers to advise every Black boy or girl to pursue low-skilled jobs. They would say anything to discourage us, and if we had more ambition, they would tell us that we were being unrealistic. They used to say: “People like you don’t get those kinds of jobs.”
Back in the day we didn’t have networks of Black role models. Although we had people who were active in the community, some of whom worked in jobs that were below their capabilities. A lot had a job just to survive and look after their families, which is what so many people of Caribbean heritage had to do for many years.
It was this that got me to start thinking about influencing public services and in particular, the careers service. It set me on this journey. Careers and employment are important. The careers service was not fit for purpose in terms of race equality, and that stayed with me.
I realised the people I was dealing with in public bodies were graduates and mostly, if not all white. They often looked down on you if you were not a graduate and so I felt I needed to get a degree and give myself options in life. Having gone to FE college and got A-Levels, I only applied to Wolverhampton Polytechnic but by late September 1984, I had not heard back. Someone told me to go to the Polytechnic and find out. I found the admissions tutor and he picked out my application from his filing cabinet, interviewed me there and then, and offered me a place.
If I had not gone to see him face-to-face, I probably wouldn’t have got a reply for whatever reason and it may have just passed me by, but I’m grateful to the colleague who encouraged me to do that. I started the course, got a full grant and enjoyed my three years as a student. I worked hard and got a BA (Hons) 2:1 in Social Science. For me, A-Levels had been the turning point I never imagined I was capable of, but I was so proud to be a graduate.
In Walsall, the only real option for me was the council, for someone like me with a Social Science degree, trying to get a job. I’d been lobbying the council in other roles for several years, but nothing was happening in terms of opportunities, so knew I would move to London to get a job. I applied to other local councils that were advertising all kinds of race equality jobs back then, but never got an interview.
A role came up with a charity, GLARE (Greater London Action for Race Equality), now Race on the Agenda (ROTA). I worked for 18 months on a piece of action research with the London [boroughs] careers services, which were switching from the Inner London Education Authority’s services. The job required me to meet every careers service in London and do a survey on what they were doing around race equality, speaking to many ethnically diverse careers officers, looking at their outcomes and at the workforce of the service.
The GLARE report was the first to be published that looked at the careers service, their qualification body and the careers inspectorate. The GLARE board of trustees was an interesting group of Black and Asian elders, you could say – they were elders to me back then, although they were probably only in their 40s! Ros Howells [later a baroness] was one of the trustees and a number were in the Race Equality Councils in London.
Making a difference
We did some great work as an organisation – there was a big campaign with London Underground about Black and Asian workers who had disproportionately been made redundant. We did a lot of campaigning with people like Marc Wadsworth [journalist and prominent anti-racism campaigner]. I just liked the work because I felt like it was making a difference and I loved engaging with service users and providers.
In the careers service in London there was a group of younger staff – White, Black and Asian, who wanted to improve the careers service, so it met the needs of multi-ethnic London. Not all, but a good number of them knew there were issues and they wanted to get involved in the project and see what they could do more of: it was inspiring. We were all of a similar age. They’d been in the careers service for maybe three or four years and wanted to improve it.
This got me working with colleagues in the public sector from a charity point of view, to see how to move an institution or a service in the direction of race equality and how to make an organisational culture change.
So, while much has been achieved during the 30 years of BTEG – we’ve worked with a lot of organisations, councils, government departments and employers – we’re still trying to move the dial on that. I’m still on that journey because after 30-odd years, I’m still trying to dismantle systemic and institutional racism.