You Get One Month...
It’s October and in the UK we all know that it’s Black History Month. I’m not against BHM, never have been. Growing up, I thought “I’d rather have one month than nothing at all.” But as I’ve gotten older and I’m an educator myself, I don’t want BHM to be a one-off thing where senior leaders ask their Black staff members to come up with an activity, presentation or some interesting facts that can be sent out in a staff email. I want to see people like me; in the curriculum all year round, in the staff team, in senior leadership levels etc.
When I was in school, we never celebrated BHM. I don’t remember my primary or secondary schools acknowledging it at all. I remember towards the end of Year 7 or 8, my history teacher at the time just stuck the Roots video tape into the VCR (I’m actually laughing right now because I haven’t seen a video tape or VCR in years, it’s actually mad how much technology has changed). Anywho, we were basically forced to watch Roots and what did that do for my 12/13-year-old self? I became angry and looked at white people with a side eye because that was the first time, I had ever seen Roots and I didn’t understand the context. I didn’t know about slavery; it wasn’t something that 12/13-year-old kids spoke about in the playground. I felt uncomfortable watching Roots and wondered what the white people in the class were thinking as they were watching the movie too.
Since then, my interest to know more about Black people and our history grew. I spoke to my parents about Roots and they explained everything to me. I read about Olaudah Equiano and all that he had accomplished and I felt proud that he was Nigerian like me. I gave myself a research task and researched the history and origins of Rap and Hip-Hop music. Whenever a Black music artist would sample somebody else’s music, I’d find out the origins. This led me to artists like; Slick Rick, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Fela Kuti, Afrika Bambaataa, Otis Redding and many more.
As a student, every book in the library was written by a white author, so I didn’t necessarily see myself in the books available to read (shout out to Jacqueline Wilson though, her books were on point). I’ve always loved reading fiction, but most importantly, I love reading books by Black authors. The lack of books written by Black authors in my school library, made me research and ask the school librarian to order a few. Now 99% of the books I own are written by Black authors; Eric Jerome Dickey, Andrea Levy, Omar Tyree, Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chibundu Onuzo, Yaa Gyasi, Taiye Selasi, Chinua Achebe, Sister Souljah, and many more great writers.
In sixth form, myself and another student collaborated on putting on a showcase for BHM to highlight African fashion, food, spoken word, drama and music. It was fantastic and an opportunity for us to really show the school how it should be done.
In the first school I worked in, for BHM, a History teacher sent out a powerpoint about slavery for form tutors to go through with their form class during registration. If you saw the look on my face when I saw that email. I went to the History teacher and the Headteacher and gave them a piece of my mind (in a professional manner of course). I also followed up our conversation with an email so there was no misunderstanding. Now as an educator, I try my best to incorporate Black History throughout the academic year. When I teach about the heart and circulatory system, I include Daniel Hale Williams. When I teach about Space, I include Mae Carol Jemison. As the Head of Careers, I’d highlight Black entrepreneurs such as Madam CJ Walker, Daymond John and Kanya King. I ensure that my school celebrates Stephen Lawrence Day and Windrush Day. I ensure that my students know that Black men fought in WW1 and WW2 even though we’re not in the movies [rolls eyes].
I’m not saying BHM shouldn’t be celebrated in schools. I just believe it should be woven into the fabric of the school. That’s what it means to celebrate diversity and be inclusive.
Students of all different backgrounds need to understand the impact that Black people have made in the world we live in today. We are not a throw away race. Our diverse culture is in everything we see today. You can’t pick us up for a month and then drop us and even if you do, still we rise (word to Maya Angelou).