"The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history." George Orwell
A very frank opening quote, and I believe Orwell was spot on. As you perhaps already know, here in the UK we are coming to the end of black history month.
The genesis of Black History Month lies in 1926 in the United States, when renowned historian Carter G. Woodson announced the introduction of "Negro History Week" for the second week of February.
Fundamentally, "Black History Week" was intended as an educational opportunity. From it's very earliest phase, the emphasis was on the teaching of African history in American schools. At the time of Negro History Week's launch, Woodson argued that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical, emotional and intellectual survival of African Americans:
"If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."
Here in the UK, Black History Month was not celebrated until 1987. The need for Black History Month was palpable. We already know that 'leading by example' is fundamental to every young persons development. Without leaders, authority and inspiration, the world would be in chaos. To grow a confident and healthy generation, boosting their pride is fundamental. Self-pride is born from knowing that greatness lies behind (and within) so that it can be used to drive their present and future development.
I think maintaining the spirit of Black History Month is to include, but not to focus solely, on slavery. Our history did not begin with slavery; it was shaped by it. Our young need to know we are, and always have been, a community of achievers.
"A crucial dimension to the development of our sense of identity, established during infancy, is the sense of self, humanity and continuity. We have long been stranded in societies that relentlessly immerse us in anti-African rhetoric. We have long hungered for the medicine that would immediately reaffirm our sense of self, and thus bind us with humanity." D. Maison
At this point I would usually share some statistics to throw light on our youth and their sense of identity. Sadly, the most recent reports I could find were as far back as 2002. It would seem that there are few surveys interested in status of our children's development in relation to identity, history and culture.
It is all too easy, however, to find statistics on 'stop and search', prison numbers, underage pregnancy, relationship abuse, gangs and knife crime. They are fairly alarming and constantly reported statistics. Yet they are a symptom of something far deeper. I believe to remedy this we must not despair; we must engage. I established S.W.I.M to equip girls as young as 7 with the emotional tools to enable them to avoid DV in response to the rising statistics. Our solution needn't be that drastic; it has taken me decades to reach a point where I can 'send the elevator back down'.
Between us, as parents, practitioners, siblings, aunts and uncles etc., we can ensure that Black History Month is not merely a month but a way of life. Black icons and achievements shouldn't be something we throw a cursory glance at during October, they should be staple parts of our households. The celeb mania of Beyoncé and The Kardashians needs to be balanced with Kenny Imafidon and Temi Mwale; living examples of trailblazers. These are just two of a myriad of people who have achieved despite hardship and stacked odds.
This is not an endeavour that I believe the Black community need shoulder alone. It takes 'a village to raise a child', and creating empowered, whole, engaged young people serves to better our global community, not just the black diaspora.
We need to be creative in the education we provide; there exists a variety and plethora of inspirational figures in our midst. From our long-gone pioneers to our modern child prodigies; from inventing the crisp to defying disability.
It is fairly evident that our educational system is not going to introduce Afrocentric history into the syllabus anytime soon. Rather than just bemoan its absence, let's create our own syllabus. From the films we watch, to the events we attend, the books we read and the conversations we have. I believe we must fill our homes with literature (I was privileged to have a black literature bookshelf in my childhood home, its impact on my psyche was immeasurable) and initiate open conversations about identity, history and the future.
I believe if our young only knew the greatness they have within; they would flourish. Let's bring Black History month back to what it was intended for: Education. Yet let's not be restricted to the month of October. Every month can be Black History Month if we put in a concerted effort to give our young the medicine they need; the self-conception and self-perception that can only be derived from a deeply-rooted cultural identity.