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How Will Black History Month 2020 be different?

Peter Ejedewe B.A.Teacher & writer (Culture, Community & Management Studies)

So another October comes round.  Another #BlackHistoryMonth where we as educators, dust off the files and search for those posters and videos for students to complete projects. To show diversity, equality and to celebrate the achievements of Black Culture in the schools and colleges in the UK. 

How will this year be any different from those that are now consigned to 2019 or further back?

Should it be different in 2020?

With the world highlighting the deaths in the USA.  The protests, marches, and calls for a change in the laws and politics in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the summer as COVID-19 raged across the globe. We viewed, cheered, and marched to raise our voices for a change in the lives of black people across the Atlantic and again right here in the UK.  

You might have tutted at the violence and destruction of statues in Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, or London, yet what changed for those seeking justice for the loss of loved ones? 

What changed in the way people of colour are treated in the UK or the United States?

Recently I had a conversation with a student at the beginning of the new term when I asked him his views about the protests in the summer he said, ‘I feel for his family and the Police are brutal and racist in America, but it’s just one person really isn’t it.’

I cited the deaths of some of those I knew about and watched his jaw drop.  Some may be unaware that it wasn’t just the death of George Floyd that reignited the call for a reshaping in the treatment of black lives but those who had the unfortunate history of bigotry, racism, hatred and brutal violence placed on them.

What about the police executions of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown in 2014.  Of Walter Scott in 2015, of Alton Stirling, Philando Castile in 2016.  Stephon Clark and Breonna Taylor.  Or those who survive such as Jacob Blake, shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

So this month do we still roll out the pictures of famous black actors, sports stars and musicians such as Sir Lenny Henry, David Harewood, Marcus Rashford and Stormzy and say, ‘Look, they’re icons of black culture in the UK, so things must be okay?’  

In the UK we also conceal injustice as in the States. Deaths in police custody in Britain have also been invisible to the majority of people here too. 

Christopher Alder, a former British paratrooper died in custody in 1998. Sean Rigg in police custody in 2008, Kingsley burrell in 2011, Darren Cumberbatch 2017 and Simeon Francis in June of 2020, to name a few.  

So can we make this October 2020 a meaningful BHM?

Yes.  I believe we, as educators, can engage the students with an open, honest dialogue and be the catalyst for a new truth.  One born of understanding and developing a collective responsibility to answer some difficult questions of previous mistakes and create new opportunities and knowledge in the society which requires change and acknowledgment.  

I believe that our responsibility as educators is to inspire the students as they grapple through difficult concepts and question their own understanding of the protest movements and the response both positive and negative. 

Or are we to hold back the tide of truth sweeping the globe via multi-forms of technology where our students access as instantly this summer a new and insightful community tolerance for each other and protest against injustice and our capacity to show inhumanity to our fellow human beings.

There are some colleagues who have voiced agitation with the message of BLM and now BHM and a lethargy now that the sun has dined and we all return to work after lockdown.  But in that lies a truth which all people of colour can not, and indeed refuse to portray others as ‘trouble-maker, agitator, activist, who follow front-page news.  

Black students can’t return home and forget when the shouting subsides.  We can’t sneak to friends and tell them about the adventure we had this summer as a boast or anecdote.    We can’t stop worrying when our teenage children are late home, get stopped by police, predicted low grades, are stopped and searched because they ‘match the description of a suspect’. And are suspended from education because of the ‘aggressive behaviour’.  We can no more do this than we can shed our darker skin.

It is our history, British history which includes black culture and we should be proud of having a rich, diverse, vibrant culture.  Black British History is alive with spices, foods, customs, music, art, voices which sing, and explorers and scientists who share their discoveries.  

In an inclusive BLACK HISTORY MONTH can facilitators teach students about black writers like Sam Selvon, Malorie Blackman, Bernadine Evaristo, Derek Owusu, Jacob Ross or Marlon James  Teach about the WW1 black soldiers who fought for King and country.  The pioneer footballers, engineers, scientists who lived in 18th and 19th century Britain.

To develop interesting and exciting classes by making Jonny Cakes, show artifacts from ‘THE FRONT ROOM’, Give lessons on the history of weaving hair or Carnival heritage.  Show engaging cinema such as ‘Babylon’, The Harder they come’, Baby Mother 1998, Bullet Boy 2004, Belle 2014.  Some classic black cinema can show the history of laughs and cries; Pressure 1976, Countryman 1982, I am not your negro 2016 (doc), to present-day films with positive massages like Fences 2016 and Small Axe (2020).

So what topics will we focus on?

Black history should be a celebration of achievement. A beacon of challenge which opens opportunities for students to develop and gain knowledge and widen their understanding of black culture.  To enjoy and relish the experience of music (gospel, torch song, reggae from James Brown to Bunny Wailer. From Motown to trenchtown).  In literature with Andrea Levi or Roger Robinson.  From pioneers and influencers in fashion, art, science, and sport. 

Students will question the meaning of the ‘Dutch Pot, Carnival, Masquerade, Shabeens, and the Sound System and how the latter impacted the music of Stormzy.  They may question the rituals of Jumbies, Obea, and 9 nights and Caribbean funeral influences in the UK.  Not to mention, cricket, Rum punch, Black cake, Pard’ner, Hairstyling, Dominoes, Steelpan, and Ganja.  

It’s not about those who ‘shout at the wind’, pulling statues, and taking a knee.  Black culture has an obligation to educate and influence all people by showing it has more to offer than protests and conflict.   

If we, as educators can raise our heads and engage young people with resources from BBCiPlayer, More4, Channel4, ITVHub to name a few new entities who are now investing in programming, it will help spread the vast range of the culture. This year more than any other with education and knowledge, comes a responsibility to change the status quo.  To ask teachers, counselors, local councils, government ministers, questions and seek answers we feel passionately about.  To explore the past students can prompt the questions for the future.  And in this case the future of Black History.  

Was 2020 the year that changed for people?

Peter Ejedewe B.A.Teacher & writer (Culture, Community & Management Studies)

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