Carol Sewell has been presented with the 2023 UNISON Nelson Mandela Award for over two decades of service to the union movement.
UNISON president Andrea Egan presented the award to Ms Sewell at this year’s national Black members’ conference.
UNISON presents the award every year to someone who has ‘gone above and beyond to represent Black members’.
Ms Sewell has championed race equality and racial representation within the union, sat on the TUC race relations committee and anti-racism task force, was elected BAME labour representative on the national Labour forum, and was the union’s vice president in 2016.
Having given over 46 years of her life to public service, Ms Sewell described how her journey to becoming an activist began in the late 1980s.
“UNISON took strike action on pay in 1989, and I got involved on the picket line, which made me feel really enthusiastic about supporting the branch.”
Laughing, she described enjoying “shouting at scabs who crossed the picket line”.
Ms Sewell was the first woman – and first Black woman – to become branch secretary of Walsall general branch in the West Midlands.
“You learn very quickly that women in this union are strong, we advocate on behalf of women who can’t speak up for themselves,” she told delegates.
“We, as Black members, need to work with each other. If you see a brother or a sister struggling, lift them up. Do not pretend you can’t see or hear them. If we don’t look after each other, who’s going to do it?
“You cannot make it in this union on your own, it’s about working with each other, and working collectively, to improve the lives of our Black members who suffer from racism and discrimination.
“These are the values I have, and will not break, for anyone. Always try to do the best that you can and make sure equality is at the heart of what you do.”
Ms Sewell closed her speech with two quotes. Borrowing from Maya Angelou she said: “People forget what you said, what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
And from Nelson Mandela: “There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to others without expecting anything in return”.
The article Carol Sewell wins 2023 UNISON Nelson Mandela Award first appeared on the UNISON National site.