Dawn Butler – MP of Brent Central

Tami Kalsi

Dawn butler was the third elected African-Caribbean government minister and the first to speak in the Commons despatch box.

In 2020, British Vogue named Dawn Butler as one of 25 “visionary women leading Britain with prescience, power and poise”.

After, hearing Dawn speak, it’s not surprising to see why she is one of Vogue’s 25 women of 2020. Dawn gave an impassioned and insightful talk where she described some of the first incidences of discrimination that her and her family endured and how she was able to adopt a resilient mindset despite her adversity.

If you missed the talk, here are some of the key points:

You are who you are, and you are enough.

When Dawn was 7 years-old, she went to Jamaica with her parents and saw cockroaches that flew. Upon describing this to her teacher, her teacher disagreed, called her a liar and that she needed to correct the story and sit down. At 7, Dawn could not articulate what was happening to her but knew something wasn’t right. She ran out of class, climbed over the fence to her house and told her dad. The teacher never called her a liar again. Dawn exclaimed “When you know that something is true, that you’ve seen it and felt it – don’t let others tell you otherwise. Often people of color must contend with being questioned. You are who you are, and you are enough.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Dawn’s parents never conveyed any bitterness towards the people that discriminated them. Her mother used to tell her “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” This became a song Dawn would sing. But Dawn got called names at school and they did hurt. Language is powerful. Why then, was her mother telling her that they did not hurt? Dawn believed her mother was teaching her that although names will hurt, Dawn could handle it.

“When you see someone in trouble, no matter how tired you are, never walk on the other side of the road.”

One night, as Dawn’s dad was on his way home from work he saw a group of boys beating another boy up. As her dad entered the house, he asked her where her brother was. Dawn answered that she didn’t know. Her dad instinctively knew that her brother was the boy being beaten up. Her dad saved Dawn’s brother that night. After the incident, her Dad said “when you see someone in trouble, no matter how tired you are, never walk on the other side of the road”. Dawn spoke about how her Dad and brothers taught her how to protect herself. She stressed the importance of having an ‘armor of resistance’. Dawn explained “as you go through life, you need resilience and resistance. Make sure you have friends that build that armor around you, people that you can fall back on. Fighting discrimination and breaking the glass ceiling is tiring”.

Other advice Dawn gave, included:

  • Make sure you take time out, take a deep breath when situations are getting too much.
  • Be careful what you put online, it is there forever.
  • Don’t let anybody have control over your words or your body. Protect who you are.
  • Don’t dim your light.
  • You can shine and you can let others shine too, there’s enough darkness in the world for us all to shine.

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