Home Leeds Clarion celebrates Black History Month with talk by award-winning barrister Sally Penni

Clarion celebrates Black History Month with talk by award-winning barrister Sally Penni

Sally Penni with Foluke Onafowokan of Clarion

With a series of events running throughout October to mark Black History Month, Clarion is continuing to champion its ‘BeingOne’ strategy which focuses on diversity and inclusion and recognises that these differences create a better business. Colleagues at the Leeds law firm were inspired by a talk by award-winning Manchester barrister Sally Penni MBE, an advocate of diversity in the workplace within law and business.

Sally is also a public speaker, patron and non-executive director and trustee on a number of boards as well as being a podcast host of the popular ‘Talking Law’ podcast with almost 100,000 listeners. She visited Clarion’s Queen Street offices to discuss her new book ‘Where Are You Really From?’ which she has written for Black History Month. She was so appalled by the racist abuse suffered by three of the England footballers after the European Championship in July that she decided to write a children’s book dedicated to them.

Having previously authored several books, including a book with a diversity theme, Sally’s new work introduces children to 31 figures from black British history (one for each day of October), most of whom have a connection to the UK and many from the legal profession. Her aim is to raise awareness of the achievements of people of colour from Marcus Rashford to Britain’s first black policewoman Sislin Fay Allen and the first QC of African origin John Anthony Roberts.

Sally was last year appointed an MBE for services to diversity in the workplace, social mobility and law. A mother of three, she talked to the Clarion team about her experiences as a woman of Ghanaian heritage trying to enter the legal profession over 20 years ago. Despite a number of rejections, she persisted in her ambitions, regardless of the lack of real role models at the time. As she struggled to juggle her legal career with the demands of motherhood, she decided to set up a women’s not-for-profit networking organisation, Women in the Law UK, to provide support, events and resources. Sally firmly believes that law firms have a responsibility to support their female colleagues and also that this makes good business sense.

Sally said: “What law allows us all to do is to stand up and make changes. The death of George Floyd during lockdown was monumental, showing how we can use our voices in different ways and I have found a platform to talk about the issues I care about in a nuanced way through my books. While I was hugely disappointed by the racism faced by some of the England footballers and the subsequent de-facing of the mural of Marcus Rashford, I was also cheered by the flowers and kind messages that well-wishers had posted over the mural to cover the graffiti. I believe that, as a nation, when we embrace positivity, love can conquer hate.

“The idea behind my book is to explain to children that black and brown people have been here for centuries, and to tell them about some of the interesting things they have done – from John Blanke, a black trumpeter in the court of Henry VIII, to Indian soldiers who fought in World War One. It is not just black history, it is all our British history. I also want to encourage children to think about justice and the rule of law, and to look beyond themselves.”

She continues: “The theme for this year’s black history month is ‘proud to be’. I am proud to be so many things – a mother, a barrister practicing law, a black woman. I’m also proud that our children will grow up without seeing colour and that they will know about positive black history. We need forward-looking law firms like Clarion to take the initiative in promoting diversity in the professions and help to create inspiring role models for future generations.”

As part of Clarion’s wider diversity and inclusion strategy, the firm is involved with the Dixons Unity Academy in Chapeltown, Leeds, through its work with The Ahead Partnership, and will be donating some of Sally’s books to the school.

Clarion’s ‘BeingOne’ strategic framework focuses on diversity and inclusion and the ways in which we are all brilliantly unique. The firm recognises that these differences create a better business – delivering better outcomes for clients, driving innovation and enriching employee experience.