Gary Bennett has been a Patron of SRtRC for over 25 years having worked alongside Ged Grebby, Shaka Hislop and John Beresford to build a charity to educate thousands of school children and adults in anti-racism. We want to share his joy and pride at being awarded an MBE in the 2022 New Years Honours, as he looks forward to next week when he will travel with his wife and two of his sons to Windsor Castle.
It was on Gary’s 60th birthday that he opened a letter announcing that he alongside other sporting role models would be honoured with an MBE. Gary was shocked but also a little dubious thinking it must be a wind up from friends! He waited until his children had arrived later in the day to ask their opinion on the authenticity – “Yes it’s real you have been awarded!” and the celebrations began.
“I feel so proud, you need support and assurances from the community from MP’s and organisation’s, so even to have been nominated, the acknowledgment is huge. I had to pinch myself, I’m a normal person with parents who want the best for you, I’ve had breaks and done something I love, playing football. You want parents, friends and kids to be proud of what you’ve achieved. I got involved because I believe in what we are doing, I’ve suffered and I want to raise awareness not only in sport but in society. Racism can happen to anyone of any skin colour, religion, culture,if you are a minority it is likely you will suffer from some form of racism.”
— Gary Bennett
Gary has visited schools to work with young people as well as delivering anti-racism workshops to adults. He has found that football allows you through the door, and has the power to engage, to get kids to listen.
“From here you can encourage them to ask questions, to breakdown stereo-types, to open conversations and then to learn how to combat racism. For kids it can be as simple as a nickname, something that starts and they get away with, it can turn to bullying, then to violence, people go along with it because they want to fit in. At the end of each session we want them to recognise racism and feel empowered to have a conversation and speak to a trusted adult”
— Gary Bennett
Asking Gary about his plans for the future, how he views changes in society and what else needs to be done?
“Influence comes from families, friends, role models, the media, peer pressure, all on a daily basis. For myself now at a this time I feel uncomfortable not just with racism but with any form of discrimination, I now ask ‘why’ and ‘what can I do?’
Growing up I didn’t have Black footballers to look up to, I saw and heard language, terminology, TV programme’s which would now be unacceptable. Working for SRtRC has educated me, it has raised my awareness and made me think, I have been given an understanding of people and society, something we have to respect.
We all need to continue to educate ourselves. The groups who are targeted do change, for example the World Cup the players represent their countries, their differing backgrounds, everything is good because we have won our first game but when something goes wrong and then suddenly colour of skin, culture, religion is what is picked on. I truly believe social media needs to be held accountable for this.
What doesn’t change is the message from SRtRC, from day one it has been to combat and raise awareness of what racism is, how it effects people and how to report it.
Do I think it will ever be over? No I think it’s a case of it never ending, I don’t think we can get rid of racism we can just keep going, raising awareness and letting everybody knows it effects us all. It has improved to a certain extent but you can not take your foot off accelerator we need to push on every day.
Every opportunity I get I will take, any event, using my profile, through SRtRC – to see where it is now, the growth is incredible but so much is needed all over the world.”
— Gary Bennett
Gary receives his MBE on 29th November followed by his doctorate from Sunderland University and Freedom of the City of Sunderland a few days later. Gary expressed his gratitude, and received the news with humility and welcome surprise.