Black History Month shines a light on a wealth of culture and contribution
Last year, I was so frustrated by the lack of activity to mark Black History Month in my son’s school that my husband and I offered to give talks to the children to mark the month. Michael, my husband, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, gave a talk of his experience of growing up in East London to the children in the senior school whilst I did my talk to the children in the junior school.
For us, it is an opportunity to mark the achievements of black people, to profile new role models giving young people a wider spectrum of role models to choose from. This is particularly important for us parents as we know our children will need them as they grow, develop their own identity and seek their own career paths.
We were both amazed by the questions the children asked and the lack of knowledge about Africa, black people, our rich culture and contribution to the economy of the United Kingdom. We are both very proud of our African heritage and the strength of the black race in surviving centuries of atrocities committed against them globally and we encourage young children of black heritage to see themselves as survivors and not victims and to have pride in their heritage.
We know that their race, identity and sense of belonging will be very important as they grow. The recent Windrush scandal left many descents of that first wave of African Caribbean immigrants questioning their belonging in Britain.
For many years black people have contributed to the diversity and economic success of the United Kingdom and Yorkshire as a region, however, I fear that our education curriculum is not making children aware of these contributions. Our children are growing up knowing very little of these contributions and the achievement of black people outside of the stereotypical areas of sports and entertainment. Most people would know of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela but would they know of Rosa Parks, Dame Jocelyn Barrow, Len Garrison, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson and their contribution to social, political and scientific development?
The Black History Month was launched over 30 years ago as an opportunity to recognise, acknowledge and promote the achievement of black leaders across the UK.
The month is not without its critics, but for me, anything that shines a light on issues of black origin and contribution can only be good in a culture where black people are still being mistaken for waiters and waitresses – even when they are headline speakers at an event as Rene Carayol, experienced.
Rene Carayol, a leadership, culture and transformation expert, visiting professor at Cass Business School with experience on the boards of major international organisations, like Marks & Spencer and Pepsi tells his story of being mistaken for a waiter at a conference he was keynoting at. He was waiting at the venue when a woman handed him her fur coat! Lost for words, Rene went on stage with the fur coat and asked the woman to come and get it and share her story. This negative experience turned out to be an excellent learning opportunity on unconscious bias for her and the audience.
Black History Month means different things to different people. For many of us, it is a time to reflect on the diverse history of black people as a race from African, Caribbean and American descent.
If you are motivated after reading this article and want to do something to mark
Black History Month, why not check out Yorkshire’s own
Windrush: A Sharon Watson’s movement of the people
.Itis an artistic masterpiece which will take you on an emotional journey to experience what the first generation of Caribbean immigrants experienced when they came to England 70 years ago. It is an uplifting dance production that shines a light on an important era of the history of black people in the UK. See: https://www. phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk/ work/ windrush-movement-people/