OBV Profile: Hyacinth Parsons

Hyacinth Parsons is the regional coordinator for Community Cohesion in Government Office for London (GOL). Her extensive role involves delivering race equality strategies, promoting the Government’s agenda on community cohesion, stakeholder management and staff development.

Parsons, 53 is also the current chair of Lignum Vitae Club, a Jamaican women network which enables its members to develop humanitarian projects and activities within their local communities as well as internationally.

Before Joining GOL she worked with the Metropolitan Police Service in Southwark reviewing their stakeholder management resulting in a policy review and the development of a youth strategy and a diversity framework.

She has spent a great part of her working like in Southwark and was the director of the Race Equality Council for 14 years. Prior to this she worked as teacher in many of the local secondary schools working with special need pupils. Explaining her transition from teaching to her present role she says: “although I enjoyed my work with young people, my passion for wanting to ensure better life chances, particularly for young black men motivated me to seek situations or positions where I would have a greater impact.”

Hyacinth was born in Jamaica and joined her parents in England at the age of 11. She described leaving Jamaica and her grandparents behind as unsettling. “Many Black young people found it extremely difficult at that time; a time before the ascendancy of black consciousness and very low expectations of Black pupils.

“It was automatically presumed that Black children were inferior, she says, but my salvation was that I was not reared to believe in my inferiority and did not therefore believe that anyone was superior to me,” she says.

She left school and found paid employment with a Jewish Estate Agents and in that period it was hard for a Black person to work as a receptionist. The company held their ground in employing her as a secretary as it was a very bold step to take.

Following stints in other secretarial positions she became a youth worker in the West End supporting young people who had run away from home or were involved in drugs and prostitution. Subsequently she became a community development worker in New Cross where she worked to find employment and educational opportunities for young Black women who had left school as a consequence of becoming pregnant.

Education and young people then became a key lever in her decision to go to university to train as a qualified teacher. She felt that teaching was the best way for her to help young Black children who were failing in the education system.

From then on the link between education and race equality was always apparent and at the heart of her concerns, something which later led on to her becoming the former director of the Race Equality Council in Southwark.

Parsons attained a MA in Strategic Human Resource Management in 1994 and believes her personal successes have also been her challenges. “I started out with less than traditional family circumstances, I left home at 16, and being Black was not the most advantageous thing, but I, like many others have been able to change that around. Looking back I would not change anything as the lessons I have learned are invaluable.” she says.

Her political memory she regards as one of social change. Parsons explains that when she first came to this country Black women hardly ever went out with their hair not straightened, wearing the most ludicrous make up because they were so desperate to fit in. But now Black people today go to work with locks and plaits. “It is great to see people, especially young Black people, at peace with themselves despite the fact that the struggle for equality continues”, she says.

Parsons hopes to help tackle the situation regarding young Black men in education in the future. She says: “The reason why my CV is so varied has always been about challenges and what greater challenges that face us all at the moment than that of supporting young black men to enhance their life chances.”