Black History Month briefing for CEPs brings new perspective on youth and education settings
Date Created: 27th Oct 2021
To mark Black History Month in October, Artswork partnered with BHM South CIC (Community Interest Company) to deliver an online briefing. Lucy Marder, Strategic Manager for Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton writes what was shared, and her reflections. She was joined by representatives of Cultural Education Partnerships (CEPs) from across the South East region, keen to find out more about Black History Month, how it works and the opportunities it offers for a CEP.
We were particularly grateful to session leader Lou Taylor, Director of BHM South CIC, for opting to go ahead with the event even when feeling rather under the weather and having tested positive for Covid on the day. In spite of this, Lou was an inspiring and energising speaker. The discussion of Black History Month was enriched by Lou’s sharing his own story as a Nigerian child in late 20th century Britain and the impact on him of those educational environments in which he felt most valued and welcomed.
Originally an American initiative, Black History Month has been celebrated in the UK since the 1980s. When Black History Month first came to the UK, much of the focus was on black American history and Lou highlighted the importance of moving beyond this to create local relevance. This can be achieved through highlighting significant local figures from African and Caribbean backgrounds, whose stories are often side-lined in conventional local history narratives. Black history in the UK has a different set of stories to the US. This need for local relevance creates particular opportunity for place-based partnerships such as CEPs, who can use the annual event to engage local education, community and cultural partners in work that is resonant and meaningful to local children and young people.
Lou paid tribute to anti-racism champions Don John and Jayanti Shah who built Black History Month to become a key part of Southampton’s cultural calendar, with impact and influence across the community especially with local schools, universities and colleges. Whilst not party ‘Political’, it is still ‘political’ in that it uses culture and technology to connect and inspire people around anti-racist advocacy and activism.
Lou shared his perspective on the significance of highlighting positive narratives through Black History Month. Understanding and addressing oppression and injustice – both past and present – are hugely important. Yet Lou suggested that stories of Black achievement and resilience can be much more effective in making Black experience accessible and meaningful to the broader community. Positive stories open more doors to actively engage with anti-racist allyship.
After Lou’s presentation, participants asked insightful questions and shared some of their own examples of practice. There was an interesting discussion about overcoming colleagues’ anxiety or resistance about Black History Month in one’s school or arts organisation. Once again, Lou counselled on the powerful role of positive and inspiring stories in overcoming their reluctance.
Examples of ways that a CEP might engage with Black History Month were shared and discussed. This might be very light touch – for example a CEP that has a social media presence can use it to amplify posts by local Black-led organisations and to spotlight activities being provided by CEP members and other local practitioners. A CEP might use its communications (for example members’ bulletins or schools’ newsletters) to highlight relevant toolkits and resources. Alternatively, a CEP might take a more intensive approach. This might be to develop and fund-raise for a longer-term cultural education project that focuses on local Black histories; working with local communities and schools. This could be scheduling towards Black History Month October for any public performance, exhibition, film release or publication of outputs.
Lou talked about the importance of such work being done with, and in support of, local Black communities. Where a CEP already has representation of Black arts practitioners, young people or educators; this might be about spotlighting their voices and work. Few CEPs are yet representative of the ethnic diversity of their local populations though. Lou gave practical suggestions about how CEP leads can proactively connect with local Black and minority communities, for example via local churches and other religious centres.
Lou’s wealth of experience in working across sectors was a real asset to the briefing. As well as leading Black History Month South, Lou acts as an advisor to the Southampton 2025 City of Culture Bid steering committee, is non-executive director of two police forces and a housing association and has his own business and creative identities. Lou drew on insights from all of these, showing real understanding of the challenges that CEP leads face and offering practical suggestions about how to move forward. The examples that participants shared from their own work also greatly enriched the workshop for me, personally. I left feeling educated, inspired and encouraged.