Here we delve into their choices and spotlight these diverse role models and look at how, through activities like this, we can contribute to the ongoing discussion and development of diverse and inclusive practice.
Suha Yassin – Pearson’s lead for Diversity and Inclusion – singled out Alice Walker as her inspiration. The prolific writer is best known for her 1982 novel The Color Purple, which scooped the renowned Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making her its first ever female African-American winner.
“She’s an inspiration to me for her prominent activism throughout her life and her work,” Suha explains. “Until this day she continues to campaign for feminists, LGBTQ+ and civil rights.” In 2003, Walker’s activism led to her arrest outside the White House, for crossing police lines during a rally opposing the Iraq war; a figure undeterred by challenge in pursuit of the causes she values.
Freya Thomas Monk, Senior Vice President for English Language Learning, shared how inspired she had been by the influence of an unnamed friend – a teacher who was ostracised on coming out to his family decades before; an experience that remains common to this day. “He tells others about his story,” says Freya. “He tells people and gives them the courage and comfort to come out to their families, and to move forward and embrace their true identities.” His approach perfectly highlights how big changes can arise from personal acts – and how speaking up can foster a sense of belonging, and shared understanding. As Freya puts it, “he is paving the way for the next generation.”
Pearson’s Senior Vice President, Sharon Hague, also championed the impact of an inspiring educator: the activist and primary teacher Tashan Charles. Hearing him speak about his experiences of being gay and Black in the UK, she says, “really helped me understand more about intersectionality. He talked about growing up, and always feeling that he was part of a minority.”
As in Freya’s choice, Charles’s decision to share his past experiences continues to guide children and young people today, helping create a safe space for them, and their differences. Sharon explains: “[He] saw the opportunity that he had – and the power he had in his story – to inspire and support other young people that might be going through similar things.”
Sometimes, however, it’s younger generations with important lessons to teach us, as identified by John Tweeddale, Senior Vice President of Higher Education. John’s most inspiring role model? His son.
As he put it: “When our son came out to us it really reignited a discovery process to understand better what it means to be an ally, how to be a more effective advocate, and to help ensure that I’m doing my part to build a more equitable future, in our society, the culture and the team”.
As part of that process, John says, “I’ve been thinking a lot about what we have learned from all those who’ve come before us, and what their voices and experiences have to teach us.”
Every learner is built and shaped by the people with whom they share their time, space and personal stories. In every corner of our lives, at every level, inspiring individuals can influence change near and far – impacting on aspirations, understanding, and communities, from the very youngest learners right on up.
These are important conversations to be having inside and outside of the classroom. Who is your diversity role model? What about your students? What impact have they had now, in the past and in the future? In education, in society, business or communities near and far?