"What I do today can make a difference for the next generation"
Gordon Muvuti is Director of Partnerships at Solent NHS Trust, providing leadership on Mental Health Transformation across the Integrated Care System
Here, Gordon talks about his career in mental health and his role in leadership, through the lens of hope, as we celebrate Black History month.
"I was born in Zimbabwe before independence and during an overtly post-colonial time. My mum was a nurse in the air force and my father was in corporate insurance. They had grown up in a time where black people had to fight for their independence, neither of them had the opportunity to attend university and they viewed education as the way to escape the system of oppression and set a platform for my future. I grew up with this instilled in me from a very early age.
"My father died suddenly when I was 14, so I spent most of my teens figuring out my way in the world and trying to come to terms with the loss associated with this. My mother had to be both parents to my sister and I. Once I finished my A-Levels, my mum, probably due to her nursing background, encouraged me to come over to England and pursue a career in nursing. We had family in the UK, most of whom had lived here for over 3 decades and had also followed the nursing pathway.
"I arrived in England in the late 90’s, attending Surrey University to study Adult nursing, with an aspiration to be a specialist nurse. It wasn’t until mid-way through my general nurse training, where I had been deployed to a ward, where I realised this wasn’t for me. I finished my shift and rang my Tutor, asking if there were any spaces in Mental Health. With one space left I had to accept it that day! And so, I found my niche and the realisation that the training I received explained so many of my own past experiences during my general nursing!
"Having qualified whilst at the Greylingwell Institute, I decided to stay on, working on the front line of mental health. When I look back, what really strikes me about that time is how few black role models there where for me to look up to. I had got to where I was solely due to my upbringing, which had forced me to shift my mindset, resulting in me becoming quite driven. As a result, I was never the sort of person who was afraid to put myself out there and take a chance. But it makes you wonder about those who didn’t have that positive push; how can you be ‘it’ if you don’t see ‘it’? It wasn’t long before I began putting myself forward for leadership roles.
"Later in my career, I lost my dear sister; she was murdered in South Africa. As a black person, you experience all of life’s tragedies, but you have the double burden of doing so whilst dealing with racism. At this point in my career I was experiencing a huge amount of racism, whilst grieving for my sister; unbearable. Knowing how this toxicity wears you down, I quite understand why many lose resilience and give up on their dreams.
"Throughout my career, I have encountered a huge amount of racism. I remember when a patient made a complaint, stating that they didn’t want to be nursed by a black person. In swapping the patient’s care to a white nurse, my manager inadvertently was supporting the very systemic problems I was trying to overcome!
"I still work clinically on the bank when I can, and it keeps me grounded, especially working with the Crisis Mental Health Team. In the last 10 – 15 years, the stigma around mental health has reduced dramatically and it is now socially acceptable to talk about mental health in most communities, which is huge progress.
"In pushing back against the questions about where I came from and against racist tropes, I discovered a passion for leadership. I felt then as I do now; I have a duty to change the landscape for black BAME colleagues. This sense of purpose has never really stopped; I believe I have to change the system for those coming behind me. Messages I receive on social media act as a regular reminder that giving hope, potentially inspiring young black people, serves to show them that they too can achieve.
"There is a dissonance between the talk around the Race Equality Action Plan, delivered some 20 years ago, and tangible action. In Birmingham, where over 40% of the population is BAME, all of the Executives at the 5 Trusts are white and 3 of them haven’t had a black executive in 20 years. Even in our STP in Hampshire, I am the only black Executive and evidence from across the UK shows that this is commonplace; where is the appetite for genuine change to be reflected in corporate leadership?
"The narrative around Black Lives Matters is a chance to change experiences for the people coming through; reaching out to do more mentoring for young black people from our poorest communities and give them someone to look up to. I see myself in a privileged position but one of service.
"As our society begins to acknowledge systemic racism, it is vital that the NHS, as the largest employer in the UK, addresses the issue and provides the hope that is required. Without it, nothing will fundamentally change.
"I don’t see anything significant changing for me but what I do today can make a difference for the next generation, for my two-year-old son so that he doesn’t have to experience the things that I have. When tackling four hundred years of racism, you take the baton, hold yourself to account and aim to do your bit, hoping you have made a difference for at least one individual’s experience."