2020 has been an unforgettable year, a year where people all over the world came together to demand fairness and equality after the recorded police brutality, that lead to the death of George Floyd. Thus, creating a worldwide movement as protests began globally to reiterate that Black Lives Matter.
We recently sat down with Hilary Brown, who shared her story of coming together with another community activist, Steve Khaireh, to combine their forces to provide a service to support the most vulnerable in our communities during lockdown. They created the BAME Covid-19 food box response project. It was through this combined approach that they were able to offer food and clothing relief for families that needed it the most.
However, Hilary’s journey didn’t begin here, she is the CEO of Virgo Consultancy Services Ltd, Chair of Butetown Community Centre and a seasoned human rights activist. We shine a light on all of her ground-breaking achievements in honour of Black History Month.
Hilary Brown was described by Harriet Harman as a ‘social entrepreneur’ when Ms Harman was the elected as the first Minister for Women and has also been described by Operation Black Vote as a ‘one-woman force of nature’.
A seasoned campaigner who has led protests and campaigns and calls for Equality and Justice for people of Colour, it should come as no surprise that ’Miss Brown’ as she is known in the true tradition of her Caribbean roots has now focused her efforts right here in the Vale of Glamorgan back to where it all started in the early 80’s when she initially enrolled as a volunteer at the local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Our own Miss Brown has spent her entire working life in professions that speak to and speak up for the rights of people who are the most vulnerable in our society and her own lived experienced has stood her in good stead to understand the importance of ensuring that those who are most oppressed have a voice.
Miss Brown went on to become the First Black Woman in the UK to manage more than one bureau such was the desire by the service National Association of Citizens Advice Beaux nationally to bring themselves into the new age and era of supporting clients facing difficulties and empowering them to stand firm in the face of adversity Hilary’s expertise was often called on by the service to be the voice of the service when challenging discrimination via its unique social policy mechanisms.
During her time with CABX, Hilary went on to pioneer several other notable 1st’s such as:
- The first black manager to introduce a woman only waiting room in the CAB
- The first black woman manager in the UK to relocate a CAB to meet cultural demands
In addition to this, the work that she did was reported in Government White Papers and her cases were recorded and reported not only in the annual reports of the NACAB but were widely reported in newspapers and on TV.
In recognition of the fact that the race for equality is not for the swift but for who can endure it, Miss Brown was one of the founders of the National Black Youth Forum in the late 1990’s and helped mentor young Black people from all over the UK in a project that saw the young people help shape the UN convention on the rights of the child amongst many of the other positive outcomes and achievements of these young people that Miss Brown and her colleagues placed firmly under her wing. The young people went on to write ‘The Black Youth Charter’ which is a reference and resource still as current today as it was when it was initially written nearly 20 years ago.
Before devolution, Miss Brown was working for a law firm when she took on the issue of people being held on immigration matters and detained in prisons.
Miss Brown worked hard in achieving cross-party support to support the protest outside Cardiff prison where a number of her clients were detained and she remembers with fondness the support that she received from Rhodri Morgan who gladly took the megaphone on the day and demanded Justice for those in Immigration detention.
Miss Brown muses that the issue of Immigration detention has come full circle and she has only last week assisted with providing evidence in the failings of Government and the Justice system in ensuring those in Immigration detention have equal access to Justice.
Now a civil lawyer with her own law firm called Virgo Consultancy Services Ltd, she specializes in immigration, asylum, human rights and discrimination. Her law firm was the first in the UK to be granted a Tier 5 licence to issue work permits to international artists and sports people and those within the creative and sporting industries and has retained her status as an ‘A’ rated sponsor by the Home Office.
Miss Brown said: “I have always been aware of the valuable contribution made by international people to the UK.”
Helping international artists, performers, and those involved in creative and sporting industries, to gain work permits for the UK has enriched the British culture in every aspect of international trade and business.
Miss Brown has put her professional skills to notable use working on high profile law cases in the UK. She has acted as advisor to bodies including the Red Cross, United Nations, Cabinet `Office and the Ministry of Defence, CPS and South Wales Police.
In 2017, Hilary gave evidence in Parliament on immigration detention and her evidence was published by the International Council for Human Rights in their 16th edition.
Miss Brown involvement in the demand for justice for the Windrush Generation extends way back before the fateful declaration by Theresa May that people were let down by the British Government. Miss Brown had long been providing evidence to the Government of their failings and was making challenges within the Courts and Tribunal Services on behalf of many of the Windrush generation.
The Government in an attempt to rectify the failings of the UK opened up a UK wide Consultation to listen to the voices of those who had been failed. When the announcement was made by the Government that the consultation was complete in true Miss Brown style she trooped into battle with the UK Government and made a ‘one-woman’ demand that the Government reopen the Consultation and come to speak to people in Wales who had she says ‘conveniently been left out’.
Of course, the Government listened to her and she facilitated several visits by Home Office officials to Butetown Community Centre which is located in one of the oldest settled Black communities in the UK and from where her family hail from, and an organisation of which she is the Chair.
Miss Brown ensured that the Windrush generation in Wales was not overlooked and that their views were considered. Miss Brown’s evidence went on to shape the design of the Windrush Compensation Scheme although her views are that it fell far short of helping all those who were let down by the system in the Hostile Environment.
Miss Brown is such a resource on The Windrush Generation that Amelia Gentleman The Guardian journalist who wrote the book The Windrush Betrayal – Exposing the Hostile Environment sought advice and facts from her when writing the book and even featured cases of Miss Browns in the book and appropriately credited her with the facts.
If you look closely you will find Miss Brown’s name in volumes of reports, features and news items where she has held the baton in the race for Racial Equality and she often says, The Race for Racial Equality is not for the swift – but will be won by who can endure it and Miss Brown is not ready to give up yet.
Miss Brown says that these times are the most challenging in her 40+ year career as a Race activist and says there is still much to do. Racism is covert and subtle. Gone are the days when someone will come up to you and abuse you because of the colour of your skin. Racial hatred and discrimination is still prevalent today but is hidden in practices that see disproportionate numbers of young black people excluded from schools, unacceptable numbers of applicants failing to secure jobs that they are well equipped to do and see employees isolated marginalized and fail to secure promotion when so rightly deserved. There are many other examples of where Black people are failed time and again by those who are supposed to ensure that that the service they deliver is equally available to all.
The fight is far from over. Miss Brown is turning her attention to those who hold positions of power and to those who make decisions over people’s lives and is now demanding that they prove they are ’fit for purpose’ because if there not she says, there are many ready willing and able to replace them.