Here at Teesside University London, we sat down with Rebecca Gumbiti-Zimuto, Student Support and Operations Assistant, and asked her some questions on Black History Month.

An influential or historical figure who inspires you and why?

James Baldwin. James was an African American, openly gay writer who wasn’t afraid to be himself.  He spent his life travelling and writing, putting himself and his passion into his books. Whether fiction or non-fiction they speak to any reader. On TV, he wasn’t afraid to be portrayed as public enemy number one. He was on the FBI watch list due to being homosexual, black and an activist.

The reason Baldwin inspires me is that his work is a reminder that success is achievable by being yourself. In today’s society and on social media it is easy to get lost in other people’s lives, living through them and forgetting yourself. This can lead to personal issues and Baldwin helps me remember when the odds are against you, by being you, you can live a full life. I think it is powerful when your work and words still hold relevance years later.

Baldwin spoke up for himself, embraced his differences and the right people embraced him back. I want a life that can emanate that because who wants haters in their circle?

Work I recommend is I Am Not Your Negro, (2017), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), and Go Tell It On The Mountain (1952/53).

What does Black History Month mean to you and why is it important?

Black History Month to me is complex, it is both positive and negative. It is important to me as it gives the country an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on individuals who do not normally get the spotlight. However, it can be negative as this is a consequence of the country separating itself from its own history. As much as black history is just that – black history – it is also part of this nation’s history. To disagree is to leave massive gaps.

The month helps me to be reflective and encourage others around me to carry the attitude of the month into their daily lives beyond October. To be open and receptive to anyone’s history, background and person is something everyone should encompass and not just be ‘restricted’ to a month.

The notion of black is very complicated, and it can’t be understood as a linear ideal. I take on a Pan-African mindset and celebrate all brothers and sisters worldwide and rejoice where I have grown and come from.

Something you’ve done that you’re proud of?

One thing I have done that I am proud of is achieving two degrees at two prestigious universities. From a young age, I faced many challenges academically and at one point it was looking unlikely that I would obtain GCSEs. However, I took this situation and decided I would be the one to determine how well I did. I worked extremely hard to allow myself to reach the stage where I could design my educational path for myself.

When I reached university, I did it for myself, choosing a course that suited my interests over what could give me a clear career path. I am proud of this as it allowed me to be successful and I enjoyed my studies on top of learning.

I finished one degree and was able to start another and they both allowed me to find two jobs I have loved doing since. My degrees are something in my life I truly only did for myself, therefore I am very proud of them.

Best career advice you’ve received?

Rejection is redirection. I think this sentence encompasses so much. It was the best advice I was given as it helped me not to lose momentum when receiving no replies or rejections from jobs.

It is easy to be disheartened and feel like you are not good enough, but thinking of it as redirection makes you focus on the fact it is part of the journey to being directed to the correct career for you.

The correct job role will accept you and that redirection gets you there instead of potentially ending up in the wrong environment. I also think this advice should be applied in other areas of your life, such as relationships.