Black History Month is a national celebration across October which aims to promote and celebrate Black contributions to British society, and to foster an understanding of Black history in general. I’ve found that traditionally, education around black history month appears to be quite limited to focus on the trans-atlantic slave trade or the US Civil Rights movement. Although it is imperative that everyone has a holistic understanding of this history, I do not wish to relive the trauma associated with these periods each and every year of my life. I also am grateful and try to acknowledge the civil freedoms which were rallied for by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X everyday when I show up for work in a place that values diversity and inclusion and is striving to do more. What I personally prefer to do, is take this month as an opportunity to yes acknowledge those who have gone before me, but to also push myself to learn something new about the culture, to share something on social media that may inspire my network and to support and celebrate a new black business.
Black History month is important as it allows for us to fill in the gaps that have been left by schools taking a euro-centric approach to history. For instance, I remember in school learning about World War 2 in both GCSE history and A Level history, being taught about the Allied front but never learning about the hundreds of thousands of Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals who assisted the war effort – serving with distinction. At university I studied Ancient History, however there was a 70% focus on Greco-Roman civilisation with 30% on Ancient Egypt. There were no modules offered by the university on the three great empires of West Africa – Ghana, Mali and Songhai to learn about the likes of Mansa Musa, the richest man to have ever lived on earth (more than twice as wealthy as Jeff Bezos). How can someone be completely proud of their history and their past if they are unaware of it? That is why black history month is important, at least in this month it allows for a shift in perspective, our hidden history is brought to light, discussed and shared allowing everyone to come together to learn something new.
It’s one thing knowing your history and it’s a totally different thing celebrating it! To celebrate black history month, to me, means embracing the whole culture. It’s taking in the sumptuous flavours and spices of Afro-Carribean food and trying to cook a new dish. It’s about going back to the roots listening to the ‘Father of Afrobeats’ Fela Kuti and Bob Marley and the Wailers but also discovering cool British Neo-Jazz artists like Alfa Mist. Celebrating is showing off an item or piece of clothing you purchased from a new black business. It’s visiting an art gallery that is creating spaces for black artists to showcase their exhibitions. Celebrating, to me, is seeing the big media outlets like Channel 4 commissioning more black content like ‘Highlife’ and pushing to get more black talent onto TV and behind the scenes. It’s actor Aml Ameen taking that vision to the big screen by directing and starring in the first Black British Christmas film ‘Boxing Day’ coming to cinemas early December. Celebrating is ultimately about encapsulating this year’s theme for Black History Month: ‘Proud to be’ by indulging in the whole essence and vibe that black inventors, creatives and more bring to wider society.
‘Proud to be’ to me is also about sharing your light and using your talents to inspire others. When I was in school I had a few teachers that went over and beyond to provide us with guests that really excelled in their respective fields. Over the years we were visited by local MP for Tottenham David Lammy, Olympic Gold Medallist Christine Ohorogou, poet Benjamin Zephania, and female UK Rapper Shystie. They were shining their light at an elite level and it was truly inspiring meeting these individuals. I remember putting Christine Ohorogou’s medal around my neck and just thinking firstly, ‘How on earth have they managed to get her to visit our little school?! And secondly, “This is an actual Olympic gold medal!’. The teachers that arranged these visits deserved medals. They knew that me and my peers needed inspiration. We weren’t necessarily going to be interested in politics or interested by poetry, but it was about the passion in the guest speaker’s message. These individuals climbed to reach where they were while being proud of who they were. They encouraged all of my peers to be bold in our pursuits, bold in our ambition and to be proud of who we are and where we come from. I am and always will be proud of my Jamaican and Ghanian heritage. I am proud to be British. I am proud to be Black and I celebrate this not just within Black history month but all year round. I am proud to be, I just hope I can also inspire and educate others along the way.