Birmingham community champion Tony Kelly speaks with OBV about receiving British Citizens Award

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Birmingham’s Tony Kelly has been recognised with the British Citizens Award for his endeavours in the City. The British Citizens Award (BCA) is a bi-annual programme dedicated to awarding individuals who are engaging in extraordinary work in their local community. Having won the award, he will be invited to the Palace of Westminster, although a date hasn’t been specified. 

Kelly, who is British born but grew up in Jamaica, has been a vocal advocate in raising awareness on the realities of diabetes and managing the condition. As recently as last year, when being recognised in an editorial for the Unsung Heroes Award, he opened up about the importance of continuing to pass down knowledge relating to diabetes, describing it during that interview as a ‘major achievement’. Tony himself has type 2 diabetes. It is a condition that runs in his family, and his work in highlighting how to manage it cannot be understated. 

Research suggests that individuals from South Asian, and African and Caribbean backgrounds are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at a younger age compared to white individuals. This has recently led Professor Kamlesh Khunti to suggest that people from these backgrounds should be undergoing NHS health checks from as early as 25.

"We need to ensure that people from BAME backgrounds are assessed regularly for any of these risk factors that are mentioned.

"We have an NHS health check, which is for people aged 40 to 74, but for the BAME backgrounds, because they get these conditions earlier, we should extend that to age 25 and onwards."

~ Professor Kamlesh Khunti

Diabetes.org also highlight that cases of type 2 diabetes in these groups are less closely linked to levels of fat around the waist and high blood cholesterol levels than in people of White European origin. This has the result of making early detection of the issue notably more difficult. Tony still believes there needs to be a greater push to educate the black community on the matter. 

“Within the black community, we have a major issue with our health. I myself have type 2 diabetes. I have never taken a tablet, a potion or a pill because I do the right things, two things with my wife and daughter; I eat healthily and engage in physical activities - Zumba, pilates, aqua aerobics, badminton, which is why the doctors keep saying you need to educate the black community." 

However, whilst education is key for Tony, he has found frustration with narratives that paint black communities as being ‘hard to reach’, urging relevant authorities to ‘leave their ivory towers’ and engage with people on the matter. 

‘Don’t tell me anything about hard to reach communities - it is offensive’.

~ Tony Kelly

Nevertheless, Tony’s commitment to volunteering and acting as a Community Champion to educate has meant that those in his local community, and further afield, have been better placed to manage both the health and wellbeing realities of diabetes. 

His role as an educator in raising awareness has taken him from Canada to Dominica, while his online show ‘Our health is our wealth’ means that he’s able to maintain an overseas presence, even amid a pandemic.

Tony’s background however has largely been in Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and his passion for genuine race equality remains as bright as ever.

He spoke frankly of his belief that covid-19 had brought systemic health inequalities to the fore, and how other inequalities have become clearer within other areas of life as a result of the pandemic. 

'I’m about changing the narrative - I am not here to maintain the status quo.'

Mayowa Ayodele

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