WHY BLACK HISTORY MONTH IS STILL SO IMPORTANT IN 2018

Here at The Diana Award, we’re working to create a world where every young person feels valued. Part of that means tackling hate and prejudice, especially when it is targeted at someone’s race. Anti-Bullying Training Coordinator Jessie Oghenegweke shares why she feels Black History Month is still so important in 2018.

9 October 2018

On this day, right now in 2018 I can’t tell you how happy I am that Black History Month is back again, to not only celebrate the wonderful people in history that have made an unimaginable impact to how we integrate in society nowadays but also to celebrate history that is not always mentioned, often overlooked and has helped significantly shape all of our lives.

If you asked me eight years ago what I had thought about Black History Month I would have rolled my eyes and asked if we could change the subject as I didn’t understand how it was at all relevant to me. I’d dread the mention of slavery as I knew the lesson would end the way it always did – with the whole class staring at the only girl in the class with an afro asking if I was ‘ok’.

Jessie, leading an Anti-Bullying Ambassador training event.

In retrospect, we should have all been asking each other if we were ok. With some of our biggest concerns being forgetting our P.E kits and not doing our homework, it was shocking to even begin to understand the treatment and worries of those who were labelled as slaves during the 17th – 19th Century. During that time millions of people who were transported across the Atlantic in slave ships, sold to work on sugar and cotton plantations would have hoped to live in a world in which we live in now, so more than anything we should celebrate this month to appreciate how far we’ve come. No matter who you are, what you look like, you have rights. We are all seen as human beings by society and by law, and for that we are more fortunate than we know.

Black History Month isn’t an exclusive month, it’s for everybody. For all of us that live in Great Britain, it’s a month to understand what makes Britain so great beyond the history that we’ve been taught in the classroom. It’s about thinking of all the soldiers who fought so bravely and lost their lives during World War Two, and acknowledging that over two million servicemen and woman from Africa and the Caribbean decided to selflessly travel across the globe to fight on the behalf of Britain. It’s about going to Carnival and dancing our socks off with friends and strangers and it’s about understanding that the reason we have carnival began after the Notting Hill riots in the 1950s, after a white woman was assaulted for the offence of being in a relationship with a black man.

It’s about reflecting on the national post-war labour shortage and appreciating the kind act of those who journeyed from the Caribbean on The Empire Windrush to help save our NHS. It’s about celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Race Relations Act when it was finally made illegal to refuse housing, public services and employment to people based on their ethnic background. It’s about highlighting the progression the UK has made and all its achievement in a month where without we wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn, celebrate and reflect.

“To me, Black History month is about remembering, honouring and celebrating those who found the bravery to fight, speak out and risk their own safety for the freedom & equality that we still strive for in 2018.”

Eleanor, Anti-Bullying Aftercare & Accreditation Coordinator

When we think of Black History Month a lot of us may look back to what we learnt at school, predominantly the civil rights movement and outstanding figures such as Martin Luther King, a phenomenal leader of the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks, a brave woman who refused to give up her seat for another passenger based on the colour of her skin and was later known as the mother of the civil rights movement and The Little Rock Nine, a remarkable group of young African-American students who challenged segregation in southern America and won. This movement showed us the power of courage, compassion and love and in turn changed the world for the better, and something I believe we should all take away from this month is valuing our own bravery, compassion and love and how we can use these qualities to help impact our own lives for the better.

“Black History month to me, is a celebration of diversity through the unity of all people. It is to celebrate the achievements of inspirational figures in the Black Community and a reminder that our future is not defined by the actions of a misguided and nonsensical past, but in the positivity, support and love we instil in each other as a global community”

Robbie, Anti-Bullying Training Officer

Although we often reflect on American history during this month, we can’t forget about the amazing movements inside the UK. In the 1960’s Bristol had a huge part to play in breaking down racial discrimination in society. The Bristol Bus Boycott, that was led by Paul Stephenson and the West Indian Development Council, lasted for four months and led to the creation of the Race Relations Act and paved the way for other Civil Rights breakthroughs. This meant that finally in the UK it was illegal to treat someone differently for their race – go on Bristol! Let’s not also forget about Mary Seacole, who in the 1850’s funded her own journey to the Crimea and initiated the British Hotel that provided a safe, comfortable space for ill and recuperating officers and visited the battlefield nursing those who were severely wounded.

“Black History month to me is about recognising and remembering important figures in black history”

Saraniya, Award and Development Officer

I appreciate that the UK isn’t perfect, and we still have many prejudices to overcome, but I’m also extremely proud of the millions of courageous, loving and resilient individuals who have fought in the face of adversity and have contributed to a fairer society in which many people now feel comfortable to live in and I feel extraordinarily lucky to see that more voices are being heard and that the future is only getting brighter.

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