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Sir Simon Woolley: "My honour is for all of us"

HONOUR: Sir Simon Woolley hopes his knighthood will inspire youngsters across the country

OPERATION BLACK Vote director Sir Simon Woolley has spoken of his hope that his knighthood will help to “confront persistent issues of race inequality and close them sooner rather than later”.

The lauded activist received a knighthood from the Queen last week for services to race equality, which span over 25 years. Woolley is the founder of Operation Black Vote (OBV) – an organisation which works to achieve greater racial justice and equality across the UK.


Woolley told The Voice: “This knighthood came as a really big surprise. When I received the letter a couple of weeks ago from the Prime Minister saying that I would be conferred with this honour I was astonished, humbled and honoured.”

As one of the few race activists to receive such an honour, Woolley said he felt empowered to further help challenge the inequalities faced by black and minority ethnic (BME) people.

He said: “I hope that I can achieve our [Operation Black Vote] goal for race equality, sooner rather than later. I also hope it will inspire young black and brown people – particularly those from council houses and working class backgrounds – to think big, work hard and achieve.”

The campaigner, who was born in Leicester and brought up on the council estate St Matthews, has been credited with helping transform the ethnic and racial makeup, not only of parliament, but also local authori- ties, the magistracy and public bodies.

Through his work, four MPs – nearly 10 per cent of the to- tal number of minority ethnic MPs – have come from OBV mentoring schemes, including former equalities minister Helen Grant. More than 40 BME councillors have come through OBV leadership programmes. Additionally, he has served as a commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and is credited for the much-acclaimed Race Disparity Audit (RDA) launched by Prime Minister Theresa May.

The RDA is seen as one of the most innovative tools to help tackle persistent race inequalities in government, and public and private bodies. May appointed Woolley as its RDA advisory chair 18 months ago.

Woolley said: “I think this honour shows a big shift in many ways away from an establishment that tended to honour their own. I think it’s great that they’re reaching further out to individuals that endeavour to make a difference in society, be it through race equality and social justice or gender and disabilities.”

While he credits this shift towards a growing importance to challenge equality, he does feel a greater sense of urgency for change. “I’m impatient for change. I still think there are too many persistent inequalities when it comes to race in regards to employment, education and the criminal justice system,” said Woolley.

“I hope this honour will give me power to confront these issues and I’m excited about what I might do with others. This knighthood is not just for me - it’s for the team of Operation Black Vote, the activists and newspapers like The Voice, who have been on this journey with me for more than 25 years.

“But I also humbly accept this honour on behalf of the black community, who fight for race equality in such a fantastic way and who have never given up the struggle to fight. I’m sure many other people will follow on this journey so we can be the best we can be.”

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