From education to employment

What Did You Do This October? #BlackHistoryMonth

Kayla Benjamin, Training & Development Manager, Association of Colleges (AoC)

Why Black History Month

Black History Month is the time when the UK celebrates the achievements and historic contributions of the worlds black race.

A race of people who, for many centuries have been disrespected, marginalised, and struggling for human rights and equality, even to this day.

It is all too easy to reflect upon this race through the lens of slavery, misconstrued historic reports and the common representations from the mass media.

For these reasons it became all too rare to view the black race in the positive light of their significant advancement to our human race.

Black History Month allows the UK to correct this vision, create broader and more truthful account of our world history and celebrate the greatness of the many individuals who have impacted life as we know it.

Black History Month and further education – why bother?

As an inspiration for this article, I trawled through several college mission statements.

I enjoyed an inspiring compote of words in support of our young adults. This sector has pledged excellence in education and holistic, first class teaching that will feed young minds.

Our aims are beautiful but will forever remain unachieved unless we embed our ethos of inclusivity into the curriculums and lessons that we teach.

Next, I looked at FE student diversity figures provided by Association of Colleges. Current statistics show that our student body comprises of 24% 16 to 18-year-olds from ethnic minority backgrounds. Whilst 31% of our adult learners come from ethnic minority backgrounds.

In reflection to these figures I wondered how many of our 266 colleges have embedded black British history into our students learning?

Every October, Black History Month comes around and knocks on our door but rarely do our colleges let it in.

Yet Black History Month can provide our colleges with the opportunity to infuse our classrooms with rich black history that could make our curriculums truly holistic, diverse and exciting. Yet, it is overlooked. This is a blind spot!

Black History Month can provide a valuable educational resource that can help us inspire minds and teach a more complete breadth of information.

Black History Month in the classroom

When I first entered further education as Head of Music at Kensington & Chelsea College, I noticed how October crept in and left without so much of a whisper of Black History Month. It surprised me.

Not being one to turn down engaging teaching resources, I latched onto it eagerly. I recognised its assistance in creating interesting classes and revitalising my (sometimes dry looking) curriculum.

Best of all, I discovered that Black History Month provided a way of making my students do all the work!

My students were literally owning their learning (Which FE teacher doesn’t want to delegate some of their workload…I mean allow students to own their education?).

It started with one of those teaching experiments. I gave my students “research and report” tasks.

For at least half the term (if not the whole term), students began researching into specified musical genres, artists, and historical backdrops. By so doing, the students began to contextualise the contemporary music that they loved.

We worked from the present day backwards. Each week, the students would take extraordinary pride in teaching their peers and showing off their new knowledge.

They began raiding their parents record collections, YouTube and the CD archives of many libraries.

They produced hand-outs, audio and video recourses so rich that sometimes I learnt new things! It is simply brilliant practice if our learners can teach us as well. I became astounded at the usefulness of Black History Month.

The output for each academic year was never the same because it was learner led. Moreover, without realising it, these students were building their portfolios and becoming A-grade students!

So popular were these classes that some of my tutors began to attend just to get the rich knowledge. Sometimes they would embed the same themes into their music technology and theory classes.

Due to this success, I decided to use Black History Month every year, creatively innovating my curriculum and providing students with more diverse and complete facts.

I took a music theory class out of the classroom and into “Steel Pan Alley”. That day, the students learnt their majors and minors on steel drums.

It made a refreshing change for all of us. The students played a new instrument. They learnt black history and music theory.

Another year, Goldie came into the college to inspire my young Creative Music Producers and on more than one occasion, reggae grooves were played to students and staff in the college cafeteria. The dinner ladies loved it too!

I could go on but I won’t. My tales are not to gloat. Only to inspire.

Black History Month and other FE curriculums

“Music and Black History Month? That’s easy!” I hear you all cry!

It’s true that for centuries, black history and black artists have heavily influenced modern music. However, through minimal exploration you can also identify many inspiring black people who have positively affected your curriculum areas too; Here are some pointers that may be of interest;

  • Science & Technology
    • Dr Shirley Johnson – NASA, caller ID, touch tone phones and more
    • Otis Boykin – Pacemakers, IBM computers
    • Philip Emeagwali – Computer science
  • Maths & English
    • NASA (Hidden Figures)
    • Jesse Earnest Williams jnr.
  • Politics
    • Bristol Bus Boycotts
    • Bernie Grant
    • Olaudah Equiano
  • Hair & Beauty
    • Theresa Stevens, Lyda Newman, Madam Sarah Breedlove
  • Engineering
    • Lonnie G Johnoson – The super soaker
    • Elijah Mc Coy (“The Real McCoy”)
    • Alice Parker – Central heating
  • Art
    • Yinka Shonibare (SEND)
    • Frank Bowling
    • Uzo Egonu

From traffic lights to the light bulbs, black achievers, have influenced the lives of our young learners. It is their educational right to know this. It is applied inclusivity for us to educate this.

We, the FE professionals are the ones who can help our learners to explore outside stereotypic views and unpack a more complete story.

Every year, during October, we are given an opportunity to weave into our classrooms, a recognition for great, inspiring black contributors. October is here again, knocking on your doors, presenting you with Black History Month.

Will you let it into your college to help nourish the minds of your learners?

And when you do, please share and email us your pictures to inspire us too.

Kayla Benjamin, Training & Development Manager, Association of Colleges (AoC)

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