Woolley received a knighthood for services to race equality in 2019 UK Parliament / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/#

The Principal of Homerton College spoke about tackling the “burden of pain” surrounding black men’s mental health at a talk at Corpus Christi College, as part of Black History Month.

Lord Simon Woolley became Principal of Homerton College in 2021, making him the first black male to head an Oxbridge college.

This was just two years after Sonita Alleyne became master of Jesus College and the first black person to head an Oxbridge college in 2019.

Talking at ‘Black Men On The Couch’, alongside Cambridge sociology professor Jason Arday and George the Poet, real name George Mpanga, the Homerton head discussed his “mental health journey.”

The Homerton head told the McCrum Lecture Theatre earlier this week: “most black people put it in the box, put a lock on it, keep it closed - carrying the burden of pain - don’t get mad, get in a position of power where you can make a difference.”

Lord Woolley emphasised having “conversations” rather than “confrontations” as a way to approach the mental health of black men.

“Black men need space to have these conversations where they can share the lived experience and not let it internalise where it can become something quite poisonous,” Lord Woolley said.

“The truth is, until these conversations I have to hold the emotion back because I relive the humiliation,” Lord Woolley continued, referring to being stopped by police.

Lord Woolley is the founding director of the campaign group Operation Black Vote, an initiative to encourage community engagement in minority ethnic communities.

Asked about how the growing number of incidents surrounding black people and the police has impacted him personally, Lord Woolley said that “it’s traumatic to open the box,” but stressed that part of the solution is to have such conversations on the issue.


Mountain View

‘I try to speak for those who don’t have a voice’: Lord Simon Woolley, Principal of Homerton

Government figures show black people are more likely to be put in detention under the Mental Health Act than white people. In 2021-2022, 342 black people were put in detention, for every 100,000 people, compared to 72 white people.

“When I go into Homerton College I often put on my gown [...] and say this is my superpower, but in reality, black men in general and black men in positions of power have particular stresses that we often can’t talk about,” Lord Woolley told the BBC.

Speaking on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Lord Woolley explained: “there’s these great expectations we cannot fail because we’re carrying a community [...] failure is not an option and that’s a burden too.”