Black History Month UK: Past, Present & Future
Black History Month UK
October is Black History Month in the UK. It will be a time when we come together to recognise and celebrate the contribution made by the BAME community to the world today, both in the past and also in the present day. This year I’m particularly looking forward to the celebrations. I say this because I’ve spent a great deal of time working to deliver a number of activities and events, scheduled to take place at different sites within my organisation throughout the month. There will be a business-led panel event, a historical discussion on black servicemen in the First World War and a change to our menus to include African-Caribbean inspired food selections. There will also be educational information published on our internal social networking sites and cascaded to our leadership teams through targeted emails.
I’m also looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm for this time of year with my children, now that they’ve reached a point in their lives where they are mature enough to begin to understand why it’s so important. My expectation however, is that they will struggle to really appreciate why it means so much to me. It’s my belief that most people in the UK today and the young in particular, struggle to find relevance in Black History Month. Perhaps it’s because we’re still in a place where there is not enough of our history taught in schools and homes around the UK. Or perhaps it’s because we still have too few role models in society and the impact of the few is lost amongst the noise of the many. Or could it be that the power of Black History Month is diluted over the course of an entire month when most of us choose to live our lives in the moment. Whatever the case I am still personally convinced there is inspiration to be found in both our past and our present.
Our past is clearly dominated by the cruelty and injustice brought about as a result of the Atlantic slave trade. However there is inspiration to be found even here in amongst the darkest of our times. It’s worth remembering that the slaves themselves played a significant part in gaining their freedom through active revolt against their owners. Some slave leaders such as Bussa in Barbados and Samuel Sharpe in Jamaica are revered and still spoken of with affection in and around the Caribbean today. In his classic book The Black Jacobians, C.L.R James tells the story of the formidable Haitian slave Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led the only revolt that is ever known to have succeeded. James goes on to make the case that these revolts collectively demonstrated to slave owners in the UK that slavery was no longer economically viable, acting as a catalyst for the eventual abolition of the slave trade through legislation. These slaves then should be our heroes. Their stories resonate with the struggles of the civil rights movement in America and the ongoing struggles we still face today against adversity of any kind.
Our present too certainly has a lot to offer in terms of inspirational role models, many of whom are showcased on the Black History Month website. In our more recent history for example we have the highly revered Nelson Mandela to call upon when looking for someone who epitomises dignity and compassion in a human being. Then of course there are the usual sporting heroes and role models in the world of music and entertainment whose achievements we should certainly celebrate and so often do. We’re fortunate too that October happens to be a significant month in the awards season for emerging BAME talent. The Race for Opportunity Awards 2015 will take place on Tuesday 6th October, with winners announced from among 23 finalists who have excelled in their efforts to promote of race equality and inclusion in the workplace. Two weeks later the Black British Business Awards will honour leaders and rising stars in categories ranging from Financial Services and Consumer and Retail to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. I wish all of the winners the very best of luck for the future.
It’s clear then that there will be a lot to discuss with my children throughout October and my hope is that some of it will spark a fire within them that will grow. I do think Black History Month UK has missed a trick though by not coordinating efforts with the US and Canada where the event is celebrated in February each year. I often wonder what a global event would look like, but perhaps that’s something for the next generation to address in the future.