I felt truly honoured to be a part of the historic moment when the long-awaited Mary Seacole statue was finally unveiled in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital. It has taken over 12 years of campaigning as an ambassador for the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal and distributing badges.
In 2004 Mary Seacole was named the greatest black Briton. This was the first time I heard of Mary Seacole although I had been a nurse for over 20 years. I was taught about Florence Nightingale during my nurse training but no one mentioned Mary Seacole and I did not read about her in any nursing books or journals. When I learned about Mary, I felt empowered, encouraged and inspired, she made me proud to be a black nurse in the NHS. Mary for me epitomises BME nurses who are resilient in the face of opposition, discrimination and challenges in the workplace.
If after several centuries Mary could be excavated from obscurity and brought to prominence then there is hope for BME nurses; however, I hope it won't take that long for us. The majority of BME nurses in the NHS still occupy lower levels in the nursing workforce. I trust that when they see the first statue to a named black woman in the UK,they too will begin to believe that they can arise from obscurity and places where they are hidden and be allowed to shine and demonstrate their abilities at more senior levels in the NHS.
A week after the Brexit vote, which threw the whole of Britain into disarray, the statue of Mary Seacole was unveiled and as a symbol of unity. The statue represents overseas nurses who came to England to help in the nursing profession. Sir Hugh Taylor, the chairman of Guy's and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust stated that: ‘Mary Seacole is a positive role model for the current generation of nurses and health professionals and speaks to the diversity of our local population our patient and the staff who work.’
Mary Seacole is a role model for nurses because she never took no for an answer. When she was refused a place as an army nurse by the war office to go to the Crimea, she did not let this stop her. She demonstrated her entrepreneurial skills and paid her way and set up a hotel where she could tend to the sick and dying soldiers. She had a clear vision, mission and plan and nothing and no one was able to stop her from caring for those in need.
The statue stands as a legacy to generations to come; it shows that a 12-year campaign for recognition and acknowledgement of her work was not in vain; there is now a permanent, tangible memorial to her memory for all to see. Thank you to all who donated money for badges and campaigned, which made the statue possible.
Joan Myers OBE is nurse consultant for children and young people, senior lecturer for community children's nursing, and chair of the CNO's BME Strategic Advisory Group