As part of our celebrations for Black History Month, we sat down with Leanne Pero to talk about what Black History Month means to her, her life experiences as a black woman and why black contributions to society are so important. See what Leanne had to tell us...
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is always a beautiful time to highlight and celebrate the achievements of people of colour and how far we have come. It's also a time where we can unapologetically challenge racial perceptions and continual injustice we have to face on a day to day basis via healthy conversations about our lived experiences.
As a woman of colour, have you found that the colour of your skin has impacted you in certain areas of your life?
I grew up in a small town in Norfolk - we were one of the only black families in this town, so I experienced racism from a young age...being excluded by my peers for being black in the playground, not being picked for sports teams and not being invited to other kids parties to name a few.
As an adult, I have experienced extreme racism when going on holiday abroad, being stared at in the streets if the areas are affluently white, not being let into night clubs and being called fat or ugly by other men (including men of my own race) and as I started my dance business at a young age, I was often referred to as ‘angry’ and having a ‘chip on my shoulder’ for expressing passion about something.
As I started my own charity after having breast cancer at 30, Black Women Rising UK, I have been trolled for talking about the healthcare rights of Black Women in the UK.
It's endless, but in an awful way, I've become accustomed to it all.
What words of encouragement would you give to your younger self?
Not to worry too much about other people's opinions, some people are just unkind and know that my black skin is beautiful.
Black Lives Matter is such a monumental movement. How do you think this will shape the future?
The BLM movement has been beautiful to watch.
So many of us have used the space to share our experiences as people of colour trying to navigate a racially oppressed world. We have been able to start healthy conversations with our peers and work colleagues and educate them on our experiences, but also give tips on how they too can help.
I've enjoyed seeing the aliship of brands like Lounge Underwear and other movements, jump behind us and stand up for us putting their own reputations on the line to stand strong with us.
It hasn't been easy and it's been tinged with a small amount of negativity, but we are still standing strong... and real tangible and productive conversations about change are happening - partially in the cancer world where my charity is making so much change for people of colour.
What else can people do to celebrate and promote black contributions to society?
Just continue to keep highlighting these achievements all year round, not one month or because society has jumped on the BLM movement.
Our stories and our faces need to be seen on a regular basis. The goal posts of how we define beauty need to keep being challenged, black women need to know they are beautiful and worthy of the same opportunities and platforms as our white counterparts - only then will we start to change the narrative.
Lounge Underwear continues to do this and for that, we not only feel a connection with the brand, but most of all we are thankful.
A big part of Black History Month is celebrating black achievements. What's your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement hands down is starting my two community focused companies - the first being a Dance Company that I started 20 years ago as a teen called The Movement Factory that helps young people use the medium of dance to help aid their personal and social development. The second one, The Leanne Pero Foundation, is a cancer charity focused on rehabilitating and assisting BAME cancer patients whilst they go through their cancer diagnosis or who are in remission and struggling to get back to normal.
We have been able to do some incredible stuff and our biggest project, Black Women Rising UK, continues to go from strength to strength changing the lives and narratives of Black Female Cancer patients across the UK and the globe.
You can follow Leanne here: @leanneperoofficial