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Engaging black and ethnic minority communities in physical activity: a view from Ladi Ajayi

Engaging black and ethnic minority communities in physical activity: a view from Ladi Ajayi

I was asked to write a short piece to coincide with Black History Season on my thoughts on how London can better engage Black and ethnically diverse communities in sport and physical activity.

I’ve been involved within this space for a number of years and before hitting the keyboard in answer to this, I had to pause and reflect on mine and other people’s experiences to help bring together what I think is needed to address this issue.

As I have been working, speaking and learning amongst other thought leaders across different industries, these ideas which are brought together here are part of the ACE™ model created by AKD Solutions and help shape my response.

Acknowledge the issue and challenge, warts and all

We have plenty of data showing that communities from Black, Asian and other ethnically diverse communities in London are the least likely to engage in and meet the recommended daily amount of physical activity. However, there are differences and nuances in these communities that make up London. See that, acknowledge it and do better in not lumping everyone together in the same category. Equally you can’t look at this in isolation, factors such as shelter, food, clothing, security, purpose and human connection have to be met before people may want to contemplate or engage.

“Don’t throw me a line about group exercise when the rent needs paying”

Having open and honest communication/dialog

Let’s be real, we can easily hide what we think and the perceptions we have about individuals, organisations and communities behind language and structures we choose to communicate with. Don’t use this to swerve having real conversations with audiences you wish to engage with.

Also don’t fall into the trap of thinking you already have the answers because some people filled out a survey and your analysis shows that you know what’s needed. Don’t think that you are the great saviour. Speak to all people, listen intently and hear what’s being said. Black, Asian and ethnically diverse communities often already have answers, ideas and solutions to challenges and issues that they face. They need to be included, valued and central to bringing their solutions into the space. It can only be achieved through open and honest dialogue.

“They asked me what I thought and proceeded to tell me what they’ve already done”

Building and maintaining trust

We are not all the same, we have different experiences and journeys. I come from a different generation than that of my parents and that of my children. Who and how we trust different institutions will differ. Acknowledgment and being honest builds trust with people, people need to be seen, heard and treated with respect. If you want people from Black, Asian and ethnically diverse communities to engage in sport and physical activity, assist them to imagine the possible, believe in tangible outcomes and share the power to get things done.

“I’m happy to let you join the golf club but can’t let you hit any balls”

Using these three principles and embedding them as a foundation for effective change, I truly believe that it can be a transformational way to accelerate engagement with any targeted audience.

Written by Ladi Ajayi, Head of Sport at AKD Solutions and Leisure and Physical Activity Development Manager at London Borough of Hackney

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