Arike Oke: My first 100 days


Have you heard of the ‘first 100 days’ phenomenon? It’s a theory that when you start in a new leadership role the first 100 days are the ones in which you can make the most immediate impact. All eyes are on you. It’s also the time frame in which you must get up to speed on the organisation you’re now running, to set the new direction, to bring the team with you.

I reached my 100th (business) day at Black Cultural Archives on Friday 19th July. I’ve been having an exhilarating and exhausting time in equal measures. BCA is special – it’s the home of Black British History – and we’ve been working on the next steps to share our vision for where we are going, and the difference we’ll make in society.

My vision

My vision is that by using our national voice and unique position to combat racism, fight inequality, increase wellbeing and strengthen communities, we’ll address the omissions and erasures in Britain’s shared history. We need to ensure that people of African and African Caribbean descent always have a home for our stories, histories, challenges, celebrations and memories. Our strategy for reaching that vision is starting to take shape. We’ll share the strategy later this year.

Behind the scenes, we’ve been working on strengthening our governance. We’ve welcomed eight new trustees to our board, who each bring fresh energy, different perspectives and varied experience. I’m honoured that our existing board members have been very supportive of me in my first few months. They’ve been actively networking for BCA, getting involved in funding negotiations and sharing their wisdom.

Time to rebuild

BCA’s journey in the next 12 months is one of recovery and rebuilding. The team have risen to each challenge, from creating (in less than a month) BCA’s first exhibition drawn primarily from our collections – Windrush: Looking Back, Moving Forward – which takes a critical look at the journey from 1948 to the current hostile environment ; and making a beautiful web resource to complete the 2016 Family Ties project; to holding BCA Pathways, the first BCA arts and heritage careers event with a stellar cast of Black speakers and role models. We’re already making progress towards addressing the gaps in mainstream history, telling untold stories and embedding change in the heritage sector itself.

We are still on our path to financial resilience. I’ve spent much of my first 100 days learning the numbers, and meeting funders past, present and possibly future. We are talking about a few exciting projects, and I’m delighted to have rekindled some long-lost relationships.

We couldn’t do it alone

Our volunteers are a huge part of BCA. They’ve been helping us to go further in lots of ways including setting up the co-presentation of landmark film HERO: The Ulric Cross Story on the first official Windrush Day; undertaking a long-overdue collections stock take; even serving up our delicious café menu (please come and try the black-eyed bean and plantain stew with rice, or Issakah’s famous green soup); not to mention supervising the library’s reading room. We have over 80 volunteers. I’m still meeting each of them.

We also benefit from the support of businesses and individuals lending us their expertise pro bono. The BCA community runs deep.

Some of our most dedicated volunteers, I was delighted to find out, are the BCA Friends Committee. They have been on their own transitional journey and are toiling to make the Friends scheme better than ever. Members can expect more interaction with BCA with new benefits and events. Standard annual BCA membership is temporarily held at £30. It’s a great deal and the money goes straight to BCA to help us carry out our mission.

Fulfilling our founder's desire to educate

Since I started at BCA, only 100-ish business days ago, our tiny staff team has welcomed over 200 school children, 140 plus university students from the UK and the USA, families and over 200 informal learners for taught or led sessions. The Young Historians Project set up their residency at BCA; many researchers have made discoveries in the archives; role models including Benjamin Zephaniah and Dr Samantha Tross have been in conversation; our HQ has been hired by a great range of groups, from large corporations to social enterprises and individuals; thousands of people have visited our exhibitions. None of this has been my work; we’re a team and we’re learning together how we make the deepest impact.

A small but mighty team

We are a small team, the smallest in number that we’ve ever been since moving into our HQ at 1 Windrush Square 5 years ago. We’ll be working collaboratively with BCA’s extended family of organisations and finding partnerships that help us to make sure that we can continue to be brave, moving forward together and making a difference without over-stretching.

Building a future for Black British history

We have all the tools we need to build BCA’s future. The next 100 days will be about using those tools, and listening to Maya Angelou’s words when she said, ‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style.’

Join us for the next phase of BCA. Onwards, together, into the future.

Thank you for reading – I look forward to meeting you at BCA soon!

(P.S. we’ve all heard Black History Month, but when’s Black Futures Month? BCA has the answer this October, keep your eyes peeled on @bcaheritage social media and subscribe to our mailing list for more.