Black History Month, Ysgol Harri Tudur/ Henry Tudor School Honours Dame Elizabeth Anionwu
Today, we honour Dame Elizabeth Anionwu.
In a world where heroes often wear capes, Professor Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu chose a nurse’s uniform as her symbol of compassion, resilience, and change. Born on the 2nd of July, 1947, in Birmingham, England, her journey began as Elizabeth Mary Furlong, the child of an Irish mother, Mary Maureen Furlong, and a Nigerian father, Lawrence Odiatu Victor Anionwu, a law student at Cambridge University at the time.
Anionwu’s early years were marked by constant shifts between institutions and family members. For a brief period, she resided with her mother, an experience cut short by an abusive stepfather. Subsequently, she found herself under the care of nuns in a Catholic children’s home, including several years spent in the Nazareth House convent in Birmingham.
Her childhood was scarred by severe punishment and humiliation, including being made to wear a urine-soaked sheet over her head as a penalty for bedwetting. Later in life, as a health visitor, she resolved to advocate for more humane treatments for bedwetting.
Despite her turbulent upbringing, Anionwu’s determination shone through. She embarked on a nursing career, starting as a school nurse assistant in Wolverhampton at the tender age of 16. Over time, she achieved seven O-levels and eventually became a nurse, health visitor, and tutor.
In pursuit of knowledge and expertise not available in the UK at the time, Anionwu ventured to the United States to study counselling for sickle-cell and thalassemia centres. In 1979, she collaborated with Dr. Milica Brozovic to establish the UK’s inaugural sickle-cell and thalassemia counselling centre in the London Borough of Brent, a pioneering initiative that would serve as a model for over 30 such centres across the UK.