Diversity with Floella Benjamin

Baroness Floella Benjamin OM DBE DL is to be awarded a Fellowship by the British Film and Television Academy Fellowship for her exceptional contribution to television. It is the highest accolade bestowed by BAFTA upon an individual.

Floella was one of the first prominent black figures in British television when she took a job with the BBC presenting the children’s programme Playschool and Play Away, from 1976 to 1988.

In 1981 she broke another barrier when she continued to present the show whilst pregnant.

Throughout her 50-year career in broadcasting, Floella has campaigned for diversity both in front of and behind the camera and currently advises the BBC and ITV on their diversity policies.

In 2010, she was the first woman from Trinidad to enter the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat Peer and was granted the title Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham. Her legislative work focuses on children’s rights, diversity and media. She is committed to encouraging black people’s participation in politics:

“I try and encourage people from BME (black and minority ethnic) backgrounds to join their local parties, to speak out, to join the council… If you don’t like something that’s happening, there’s no point being a car park protestor or sitting in your front room. You’ve got to get out there and campaign and speak, because someone will listen. You’ll be amazed [at] how many people will feel the same way.”

Floella helped change diversity and inclusion in academia as Chancellor of the University of Exeter for ten years: “We want our university to be a place where all feel comfortable,” she said, adopting a strategy of consideration, contentment and confidence.

“Exeter should be colour-blind. Don’t see any colour, you just see the person. Don’t focus on racism, but focus on how you make the changes to open people’s minds.”

She remains committed to encouraging diversity on television for children.

“Childhood? It lasts a lifetime,” says Floella, whose life began in the Caribbean, where she lived happily with her mother, father and siblings before her parents moved to the UK for work. After two years the children finally were able to join them but faced years of discrimination and bullying in 1960s England. She tells her story:

“My dad, being the philosopher, told us there was a world out there and my mum gave us the confidence to conquer the world. It was a wonderful combination. Even though the eight of us had to share one room, it didn’t matter. My mum told me that this was my palace; it was full of love.

“All you do when people don’t show you love, is show love yourself. You have to smile and feel worthy. I realised that if anyone else had a problem with the colour of my skin, then it was their problem. I had to begin showing the world who I really was. I stopped fighting with my fists, and started fighting with my brain. So, if a bully comes to get you; smile at them. Winners smile. Any wickedness that people give to me, I just smile.”

She encourages everyone to “change the world. Change the world for me.”

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