Reflections on a career during Black History Month

October is Black History Month and has been marked in the UK for more than 30 years.

It is an annual event to highlight and celebrate the achievements and contributions of the black community throughout the UK.

Turning our attention a little closer to home, Inspector Lornette Stokes has been a police officer for nearly 30 years and, as she approaches retirement, reflects on her career.

Why did you want to become a police officer?

  • I’m not certain where it came from, but I recall when I was aged around six-years-old my grandmother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said a police officer.  I remember her laughing and saying ‘don’t be silly’ …. Something that I did not understand at the time.  I now understand that it was 1970, where it was very unlikely that a black woman could be a cop.  The innocence of youth.  As I got older I saw that within Bedfordshire police there were several black female officers, including PC Dahlia Hendrickson, who was a family friend.  These incredible women inspired me not only to join but also to seek promotion; a first for a black woman within Bedfordshire Police.

Inspector Stokes police uniform.jpg

What difficulties did you find as a black female officer?

  • I was very fortunate that most supervisors back in the early 1990s were ‘old school’; firm but fair, in that they did not treat me any differently than any of my colleagues.  However, as the years went by I did suffer with instances of direct racism and what I believed to be conscious and unconscious bias, and struggled to gain support for promotion. On reflection I must have been very unusual indeed with my desire to gain promotion.  This led to me becoming a support officer for my local and national Black Police Associations and my experiences instilled a high sense of fairness and justice within me.

Is this what led to you taking your law degree?

  • In part, but also because I had applied for the Police Accelerated Promotion Scheme on a couple of occasions and had been unsuccessful.  I decided that it was up to me to make my own luck.  I was also slightly envious of my husband who had obtained a degree in Mechanical Engineering in the 1980s.

Graduation and husband.jpg

What was it like to study as a mature student, and as a mother and wife and with a full-time job?

  • I embarked on a 5 year, part-time law degree in October 2013 aged 49, and the first couple of years were quite difficult, however I was fortunate enough to become friends with other students and also had the support of my husband who proof read every single essay that I wrote.  As the years went on I became much more proficient and last year was delighted to achieve a Distinction on one of my modules and an overall 2:1 degree pass in law.  On 21September 2019 I graduated at the Barbican Centre in the City of London and can honestly say that the sense of pride I felt at my graduation was equal to the pride I felt at my police passing out parade in November 1990.

Law graduation 2.jpgAs you approach retirement, how do you feel about it?

  • Everybody says that they cannot wait to retire, myself included.  However, as it got closer I had a sense of panic and dread and did consider not retiring.  It was also made difficult because for the past 3 years I had been fortunate enough to lead a team of response officers, whom every day, have the same enthusiasm as I did as a young officer despite the dangers.  Each day working alongside them is a pleasure.  However, I have now come to terms with the fact that it is time to hand the ‘baton’ onto the new guard and for me to support my colleagues from the side-line.

Here are a few notable inventions and discoveries by black men and women that you might not have heard about.

  • Jon Clough settled in London and became Britain’s first black bus driver, he later moved to Bedford and became a much-loved figure in the town and is subject to a poem by Abraham Gibson.
  • World Wars survivors can thank Garrett Morgan as he invented the gas mark. He also reduced automobile accidents by adding a third traffic signal.
  • At the age of 14 Philip Emeagwali was forced to drop out of school. But he didn’t let that hold him back, as he is now often called “The Bill Gates of Africa”. Nature inspired him to rethink computer processing and he invented the world’s first super computer.
  • Marian Croak has some remarkable achievements attached to her name, she holds over 135 patents, has been inducted into Women in Technology International’s hall of fame and currently sits on the board for Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Centre.
  • If you ever had water fights you know the Super Soaker was the thing to have and you can thank Lonnie Johnson for that invention. But more notably he was an Aerospace Engineer for NASA with a stint in the US Air Force.
  • Whilst working as a nurse Marie Van Brittan Brown recognised security threats to her home and as a result invented the first home security system. The patent laid the groundwork for the modern home security systems, surveillance and traffic monitoring.
  • Dr Shirley Jackson was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics at MIT. She has an impressive number of inventions under her belt and is currently the 18th president of Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Visit www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk to read more about some of the amazing contributions from black people.

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