Betty Campbell: Wales’ First Black Headteacher

We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race. We all share the same basic values. — Kofi Annan

Betty Campbell shattered the ceilings and inspired millions of people around the world with her continuous commitment and courage to lift the black community.

Despite this, many people are unaware of the extent of her resilience.

Getting Through Adversity:

Rachel Elizabeth Campbell, better known as Betty, was born in the dockland’s neighbourhood of Cardiff in 1934 to a Jamaican father and a Welsh Barbadian mother. Following the death of her father during WWII, her mother struggled to make ends meet.

Betty had a powerful personality since her childhood. Betty, who was always at the top of the class, informed her principal that she, too, wanted to teach, but was told, “Oh my darling, the issues would be insurmountable.” Those comments broke her heart, but they also strengthened her will and focus.

Campbell once said, “I went back to my work and sobbed.” “It was the first time in school that I wept.” “But that only strengthened my resolve; I was going to be a teacher by whatever means necessary.”

Her journey to excellence

She had to overcome hurdles to attain her goal. In 1960, she was one of six female students admitted to Cardiff Teacher Training College for the first time. While balancing her young family, she became a teacher.

She became the first black head of school in Wales, Mount Stuart Primary School in Bute town, Cardiff, and she spent her life championing her multicultural history. It’s no surprise that Nelson Mandela sought her out on his only trip to Wales. Due to her uniqueness during her tenure as leader, she became a model for excellent practice inequality and intercultural education across the United Kingdom.

Betty’s school became a model for multicultural education, and her fame went far beyond Wales. When she joined the Home Office’s race advisory group and the Commission for Racial Equality, her influence in public life expanded even more.

Why is she an inspiration?

How did she achieve all of that?

By not following the story that she was told.

She removed the barriers with her passion, commitment, and resilience to enhance the spirit of black culture. “In a speech, she later made at the National Assembly, she explained:

“I was determined that I was going to become one of those people and enhance the black spirit, black culture as much as I could.” — Betty Campbell

She did not trust the individuals in her life who told her that because of those labels, she’d never rise to anything.

She was also a former councillor for the Bute town ward and a member of the National Assembly’s inauguration preparation committee in 1998. Between 1972 and 1976, she served on the race relations board, was a member of the Broadcasting Council for Wales from 1980 to 1984, a member of the Home Office’s race advisory council, and held a variety of educational positions. Mrs Campbell passed away in 2017 at the age of 82.

Following Monumental Welsh Women’s “Hidden Heroines” campaign, which was televised on BBC Wales, the sculpture was commissioned. Campbell came out on top in a public poll to be the subject of Wales’ first non-fictionalized monument of a woman.

Her statue was unveiled near the Principality Stadium and not far from Butetown on 29th September 2021. In an interview with the Guardian her daughter, Elaine Clark said

“This sculpture encapsulates Betty’s legacy of determination, aspiration and inspiration” (Guardian,2021)

Betty Campbell pushed harder than anybody else to promote Wales’ diversity and multiculturalism.

At the statue unveiling ceremony, Taylor Edmonds, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’ poet in residence, wrote a commemorative poem called “When I Speak of Bravery” for the unveiling ceremony. The letter concluded, “Let them come/from far and wide, to see/how just one lady can touch/so many lives,”

She created a legacy for future generations with her “I can” mentality, proving that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what country you belong to, or what religion you follow. With confidence, discipline, and perseverance, you can fight for what you want in life and achieve your goals. She taught us that we create our life, based on thoughts, if we admit ourselves to adversity and believe in such labels, then we cannot create a difference. We need to protect ourselves and believe in our values, talents, and mindset to stand out against the odds.

Alternatively, we may remind ourselves that it’s only a narrative and that it doesn’t have to be our story. That may not help us to overcome our fears and self-doubts.