Black History Month

Black History Month (BHM) has been celebrated in the UK since October 1987, when it emerged as part of the African Jubilee celebrations for the Marcus Garvey Centenary. BHM gives students, parents, teachers and the whole community an opportunity to celebrate the Black presence throughout history as well as Black influence in society today. The reality of the world we live in means that if we do not take this opportunity to reveal the histories of the diverse cultures that make up Britain they will remain hidden.

Black History Month teaching too frequently focuses on events and activities relating to the African diaspora outside of the UK and to the contributions of African Americans. The Black presence in British history also needs to be validated.

Local authorities, schools and voluntary organisations across the UK celebrate BHM through a wide range of performances and events. During October of each year, we are spoiled for choice with numerous talks, workshops, screenings and exhibitions. A major concern, though, is the blanket of silence that envelops boroughs, towns and cities across the UK at the end of October and for the following 11 months before the frenzy of activity begins once again the next year.

The significance of BHM should be understood but its importance should not detract from the need to make Black history resources and teaching readily available all year round. Use the Real Histories Directory and go beyond teaching about that BHM mainstay, the 3Ms (Martin, Marcus and Malcolm). Make this October the beginning of your rediscovery of the richness of British history.

How the Real Histories Directory can help you during Black History Month

Sonah Jalloh, Runnymede Intern during the summer, writes:

"Black history can be made known in so many ways. It can be incorporated into all areas of the curriculum and celebrated inside or outside the classroom, at home or through larger organised events A few ideas...

In the Classroom...

The contributions of Black people to science and technology often go unnoticed; however there is a wealth of resources available on black scientists and inventors and their roles throughout history. Use Black History at the Science Museum to help learn or teach about the achievements of Black people and others from a diversity of backgrounds in the fields of science and technology and to find out about the range of activities for Black History Month at the Science Museum in London. Or why not link up with other schools and students studying particular science topics around the world by visiting Science Across the World? You might also find the Key Stage 2 Science Useful Word List, with its definitions and translations, very useful indeed!

Music lessons can be an excellent way to bring diverse cultures alive in the classroom. Experience Africa (Devon based) is just one of many available workshops across the country that aims not just to educate but also to entertain. Through African drumming and music workshops Experience Africa celebrates the beauty and diversity of African culture with music, art, food, and fashion. Or try India Dance Wales  for workshops based on the South Indian classical dance style of Bharata Natyam. The Music Teacher's Resource Site has free resources including a classroom arrangement of Bob Marley's 'Three Little Birds', Merengue pieces, Indian music resources and a Calypso starter activity.

Rediscover your local area as part of a geography or history project. Channel 4 has created a Black and Asian history map as a resource recording and celebrating immigrant cultures to contemporary Britain, Origination. The site also includes lesson plans suitable for the history, geography, English and PHSE curriculum areas and the opportunity to build your own website. You can add to these resources by investigating your own local Black history. For an excellent example see Lewisham Black History Map, where 10 Lewisham schools and community organisations pulled their projects together and it is now a part of the Channel 4 Black and Asian History Map. You’ll find Black history sites for many locations across the country including Stockport, Birmingham and Coventry. You can also find information on important figures in Black British history including Mary Seacole, Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho as well as resources for teaching Indian history using the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail and you'll find out what's happening with Black culture in Wales in the magazine Beaco Online. For lesson plans, you could try Black History 4 Schools.

In your English class, why not encourage students to find out about the breadth of Black British literature at Ebony Reads, which has a section devoted to Teenagers and kids (and they might like to try the quiz) or visit the British Council’s Contemporary Authors site to find out about the UK & Commonwealth's most important living writers? Global Perspectives in the National Curriculum: Guidance for Key Stages 3 & 4 English is a publication that might also provide innovative ideas.

If you’re teaching media studies or drama, you might want to go to Film Education, which has been developed in response to the growing importance of Media Education in the National Curriculum. The site has study guides to films such as Tsotsi and World Trade Center. The British Film Institute Screenonline pages Black British Film (picture courtesy BFI Stills, Posters and Designs) and Asian-British Cinema are certainly worth a visit and there is a fascinating historical overview of the Black and Asian contribution to television at Television, Memory, Race.

For the teaching of Religion, there are numerous resources available like the People of Faith site where you can explore the rich diversity of the world’s main faiths and religions from the viewpoint of adherents of each faith and religion and even email them questions about their belief and how it affects the way they live. Or try the National RE Festival Database where you can read about children’s and young people’s ideas about faith, truth and justice, peace and a perfect world based on responses to a questionnaire completed by 500 pupils. Primary and secondary school students can also have their say on these important areas.

Or if you want to go beyond the UK boundaries (and it’s worth remembering that many students will be of African or African-Caribbean – rather than American – heritage) then the project A Day in the Life of Africa is an amazing resource that could give rise to discussions encompassing geography, history, religion or citizenship with debates to be encouraged about race, ethnicity, conservation, difference and sameness.

These are examples of how Black history can be introduced into the classroom using the Real Histories Directory resources. You can also use the ‘search’ facility to look for anything from African textiles, foods and musical instruments to books, museums, galleries, radio stations, artists and storytellers.

Or through a larger organised event…

October will, of course, see a great deal of activity up and down the country. There are events for all on our events page. From debates examining the use of the N-word in and outside of black and hip-hop culture, The N-Word & Insidious Racism Debate to exhibitions celebrating the history of Notting Hill Carnival, Flamingo: 21 Years of Carnival as well as the first-ever Annual Africa in Motion Edinburgh African Film Festival.

Events such as the Hammersmith - Discover Black History Walk attract people from a variety of backgrounds and can highlight hidden gems of Black people's contribution to London and to Britain's heritage. Liverpool (Slavery History Trail) and Bristol (Bristol Slavery Trail) also offer walking tours focusing on Black history and the transatlantic slave trade, which operate all year round.

...and at home

If you’re into writing and literature, why not share your creative ideas with others at Kids on the Net? Find out what’s hot to read at Cool-Reads. You can test your knowledge of Black history at the Black to the Future quiz or play games, get homework help and find out about children’s lives around the world at Globalgang where you might also like to visit Rooted, the global TV series where kids fly from the UK to check out their roots in other countries around the world. Or maybe you’d like to learn about and debate race, racism and life as seen through the eyes of the Britkids.

These are just a few ideas on how Black history as a valuable source of British pride can be celebrated. Hopefully they may make you consider the ways in which you interpret and celebrate BHM, ways that, perhaps, progress from the tried-and-tested drummers and dancers. You can also find practical guidance on the promotion of race equality and cultural diversity within the classroom in Runnymede's Complementing Teachers.

If you have other ideas, thoughts or suggestions, or would like to tell us about how you celebrate Black History Month, please do let us know at realhistories@runnymedetrust.org

copyright © Runnymede Trust and individual authors.