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2020 has been a defining year for challenging the injustices faced by Black people around the world. As we arrive at Black History Month UK, recognised in October, we celebrate the people and the important contributions made which have shaped our history. It also reminds us that there is more work to be done, and momentum must be continued to make meaningful change – which includes our own commitment at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
To mark this moment, five employees from our UK team have shared what Black History Month means to them. May the words of Toni, Samuel, Victor, Kwab and Jojo inspire you to continue the conversation this month and beyond.
Toni Kitaka - Vice President, Data Scientist Lead
Could you tell me a little about your current role? I work in the Applied Artificial Intelligence and Data Science team for Global Technology. We partner with other areas of the business to embed AI into our operations and products. As a product manager, my role spans strategy for new AI products and their delivery.
What do you enjoy most about it? Seeing the work we do impacting people and processes is rewarding and very enjoyable. In particular, AI plays a critical role in creating engaging employee experiences and it’s great to be part of that.
What’s the most important part of Black History Month to you? Increasing awareness of the history of and contribution to society of Black people. It’s not something that I was actively taught growing up, so I appreciate opportunities to broaden my knowledge and encourage others to do the same.
What will you be reflecting on and discussing with your network this year? With the increased focus on anti-Blackness this year and the attention on initiatives to improve diversity, equity & inclusion as a result, this year I’ll be reflecting on that momentum and continuing to discuss what I can do to play my part.
How will you be celebrating Black History Month with your colleagues? The JPMC resource group, BOLD (Black Organization for Leadership Development), have planned a fantastic series of events to celebrate Black History Month. The schedule is so packed that it started a month early! So far, I’ve enjoyed an MD Interview Series with three recently promoted Managing Directors of Black heritage, a conversation with renowned speakers Afua Hirsch and David Olusoga, on the objective and impact of BHM, and I’m really looking forward to an upcoming event around the documentary ‘Black and British - A Forgotten History’.
Who is an inspirational Black historical figure who inspires you and why? I’m hugely inspired by Serena Williams who, although is a modern example, has already claimed her place in history as one of the most successful sports people ever. I love that on top of her raw ambition, grit and talent, she’s a family woman too.
Samuel Sinayoko - Vice President, Software Engineer
Could you tell me a little about your current role? I’m a Machine Learning Engineer in the Global Equities Data Science Technology Team in Asset Management. We apply artificial intelligence to novel datasets to extract interesting signals about companies and make better investment decisions. For example, using reviews employees have shared online about their companies, our models are able to measure how well companies perform with regards to racial or gender discrimination.
What do you enjoy most about it? I love using technology to solve practical business problems. Machine Learning has really pushed the boundaries of what can be done with technology. It’s a growing and vibrant field and it’s exciting to be part of it.
What’s the most important part of Black History Month to you? For me it’s about bringing the community together. It’s a great occasion to celebrate the heroes of the community, past and present, and be inspired. I can educate myself, and hopefully others, and contribute to the fight against racism and discrimination. There is still so much to do! I’m from France and we don’t have Black History Month there, I wish we did.
What will you be reflecting on and discussing with your network this year? The shocking killing of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement, will be top of the agenda. It’s clear we need concrete actions to make sure this never happens again. I’ll be thinking about what I can do to help.
Who is an inspirational Black historical figure who inspires you and why? This year I discovered the life of Madam C. J. Walker, an African American washerwoman who rose from poverty to build a beauty empire and become the first female self-made millionaire in the early 20th century in the USA. There’s a Netflix series about her incredible story that is definitely worth watching. I was blown away by how she was able to overcome racism, gender discrimination and poverty, especially at that time!
Victor Azubuike - Analyst, Platform Sales Securities Services
Could you tell me a little about your current role? In the Platform Sales team we look to provide operational and strategic solutions to our clients - in my role those solutions come via the product suite offered in our Securities Services business.
What do you enjoy most about it? I enjoy the client engagement the most - learning more about the client helps you to find ways in which you can provide value to them. Whether that would be meeting with them (or more so Zoom calls these days) to discuss their future plans or providing them with insight into developments on our side that could be of interest. It’s always pleasing to know that your contribution has helped result in greater efficiencies and performance for them.
What’s the most important part of Black History Month to you? The best part of Black History Month for me is the opportunity to be educated on where I as a Black man have come from. In James Baldwin’s novel 'Go Tell It on the Mountain' he writes; “Go back to where you started, or as far back as you can, examine all of it, travel your road and tell the truth about it. Sing or shout or testify or keep it to yourself: but know whence you came.” During Black History Month I receive the chance as a British-Nigerian to couple my learnings of Nigerian history with Black British history—for me that is extremely inspiring and powerful.
What will you be reflecting on and discussing with your network this year? Outside of work, I run a book-club for 14-20 year old boys from underserved backgrounds. The last book we read was a novel called 'Small Island' by Andrea Levy which provided an account of four Jamaican immigrants moving to England in search of economic prosperity. I’m interested in learning more about the Windrush generation and honouring their valuable and important contribution to British society.
How will you be celebrating Black History Month with your colleagues? I’m looking forward to the events that BOLD are going to hold! It’s going to be great engaging with everyone and joining the different events to learn more about Black History both in the U.K. and globally. My team are great at getting behind the firm’s efforts to celebrate our diversity so I’m looking forward to hearing from them about how they are finding all the events and discussions. I’m a huge fan of Inua Ellams (I loved his adaptation of Chekhov’s 'Three Sisters' at the National Theatre last year) so I’m particularly looking forward to hearing from him at the opening event, 'A Salute to Black History Month: Poetry and Musical Showcase'.
Who is an inspirational Black historical figure who inspires you and why? The late Dame Jocelyn Barrow DBE OBE (pictured). She was an absolute powerhouse. She was a founding member, general secretary and later vice-chair of Campaign against Racial Discrimination. An organisation that between 1964 and 1967 lobbied for race relations legislation in the U.K. and were responsible for the Race Relations Act of 1968. The Act made it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins in Great Britain.
Kwabena Oteng - Vice President, Investment Specialist
Could you tell me a little about your current role? I am an Investment Advisor in the Private Bank and my role involves managing money and providing investment advice to Ultra High Net Worth Individuals in the UK. My clients range from inexperienced investors who have recently come into significant wealth, to experienced investors and financial professionals who have been investing for years. It is my job to provide them with an investment strategy that will help fulfil their financial goals. I have been at J.P. Morgan for just over 12 years.
What do you enjoy most about it? I love the fact that no two days in financial markets are alike and the same can be said for our clients. Building long term relationships is key in this business and my tenure at the Private Bank has allowed me to do this. Being entrusted to manage the wealth of some of the most intelligent and successful people in the UK is intellectually stimulating and extremely rewarding.
What’s the most important part of Black History Month to you? The most important part of Black History Month is the fact that it is traditionally a time when Black culture and Black achievements can be centred and celebrated, however this year feels different. In the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain (among others), the world appears to be paying more attention to the inequalities that Black people have been subject to for so long. Perhaps these horrific incidents are a catalyst for change and this year’s Black History Month is more important than ever.
What will you be reflecting on and discussing with your network this year? It has been a tough year so far for Black people. This year, I aim to spend more time exchanging ideas with colleagues and friends to explore ways in which financial institutions can improve the Black experience in the workplace. I will also continue the dialogue around increasing support to Black-owned businesses as well as continuing to provide mentorship to the younger generation.
How will you be celebrating Black History Month with your colleagues? Since June, I have had several conversations with colleagues about my experiences as a Black man both personally and professionally. However, I did not manage to get back to everyone who reached out and this month, I aim to have those conversations. I will also be taking the opportunity to check in and engage with more of my Black colleagues at the firm.
Who is an inspirational Black historical figure who inspires you and why? Muhammad Ali. His skill and competitiveness were unmatched and he was a formidable athlete, but more importantly, he matched that talent with an enviable work ethic that led him to the top of his craft. This work ethic inspires me to be better every day.
Jojo Sanders - Executive Director, Pan European Equity Sales
Could you tell me a little about your current role? I run the UK Cash Equity sales desk. This means I manage a team of 13 people who focus on European cash equity and investment trust products and sell them into a UK institutional client base of Hedge Funds and Long Only Asset Managers.
What do you enjoy most about it? Cash sales is fun for a few reasons because you can discuss the world and how businesses operate with some of the smartest people in the industry, but also the leaders you talk to have influence across a wide range of J.P. Morgan products. So you can go from talking to them about a stock to introducing all sorts of other ideas. As a manager I very much enjoy trying to think a few steps ahead on what strategy we need to take the business forward. I also really enjoy working out how to get the best out of my team.
What’s the most important part of Black History Month to you? Black History Month has not traditionally been a high profile event in the UK but this year our awareness and engagement around race has skyrocketed due to the BLM movement. It’s a real opportunity to re-connect with who I am and have conversations with my children about what it means to be Black and the history of race within western societies.
What will you be reflecting on and discussing with your network this year? Within my personal network being Black has been a never discussed issue, in the UK it has been a customary to say ‘I don’t see you as Black’ from white friends and contacts. Recent events have happily changed that conversation and has allowed me to have really in-depth conversations with some of my oldest friends on why I need them to see and cherish my difference rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. It has been enlightening all round!
Who is an inspirational Black historical figure who inspires you and why? For me the historical figures all felt so distant to my reality but I do take inspiration from those around me who have weathered prior eras – like my father who came to Britain bright and educated but was reduced to manual work by British racism and how he coped against that backdrop. Nelson Mandela is also a great inspiration to me - he balanced action with peace bringing people together rather than dividing them.