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  • Enna Uwaifo

The Value of a Black history education

In my first year of university, I felt it was important to immerse myself in the Black culture surrounding me. One way I sought to achieve this was through politics. I saw an event advertised by the Black Social, Political Society at my university and went with a friend. One impassioned student, BantuScribe, was hosting. It was great to hear the different perspectives shared that night. I unfortunately cannot remember the specific topics, but I remember the uplifting feeling of being around people equally passionate about the potential of Black communities, both in the UK and globally. At the end, she advertised an opportunity to join the Young Historians project. She enthused how we could learn how to work behind the camera, help create an exhibition, do oral history interviews, or collate Black history through creating a documentary. I had to get in on this. So, I spoke to her after the event. We exchanged contact details and a few weeks later, I was in.

YHP members speaking at a film screening

Being in the Young Historians Project allowed me to achieve things I didn’t envisage for myself, especially at the age of 18, such as writing articles, creating a documentary accessible online and in the Black Cultural Archives, and interviewing Kathleen Cleaver, a former Black Panther. I also made friends for life through the project.

Reflecting back, my experience speaks to this moment in time, especially when talking about the radical Black imagination and how we can create spaces for it to flourish. This was a project to support young Black students going into the study of history. It was a space created for us. Through this space, we were able to do things we would not have ordinarily imagined for ourselves. Many of us came from working class backgrounds, where access to culture defining opportunities is not so easily attained. Through spaces such as these, we create. We are able to find confidence to be storytellers in dynamics ways.

An important question is to ask how the education system can reflect this as well. Many young Black kids are left alienated from the curriculum taught to them. We are taught about Henry VIII and his seven wives before we are taught about the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We are taught falsehoods, such as Britain being the first nation to abolish slavery, rather than Haiti after its revolution (1791–1804).

Kathleen Cleaver, 2018, photographed by YHP

When I think of my experience in the Young Historians Project, I do not pretend it was easy. It pushed me. I remember digging through archives to begin to tell the story of African nurses in Britain from the 20th century onwards and finding myself frustrated, angry even, because this history was made invisible. It was our task to make it be seen. I was in unfamiliar territory, but it led to the expansion of my self-esteem, especially in understanding what I can achieve in this life and what Black people as a collective can imagine for ourselves. Before I could really get into the new project, my time was up as I had to leave to Canada for my semester aboard.

After my semester abroad and during the end of my final year at university, I volunteered for a wonderful organisation called FORWARD UK in their Young Women’s Advisory Council (YWAC). I was able to draw from my experiences in YHP to interview to join the panel. The project coordination, research, and teamwork skills I built whilst in YHP proved invaluable to creating events centred on Black women and building the wider strategy with YWAC. The documentary 'We are our own Liberators' on the history of the Black Liberation Front (BLF) helped me understand the importance of community spaces which attend to the needs of the Black community in Britain. I aim to continue to be involved in this work in whatever capacity I can. This is partly why I joined FORWARD’s YWAC, as the organisation focuses on creating affirming spaces for young Black women.

The BLF created radical spaces and mutual aid networks to support Black futures, even in a time where many white Brits and institutions reflected the sentiments of Enoch Powell’s 'Rivers of Blood' speech. We have not entirely moved beyond this vision of Britain. As can be seen from the tragedy of Grenfell fire and Windrush Scandal, the value of Black life remains conditional. However, exploring this history tells us that we can create life here too, and theorise liberation through the expansion of spaces and projects like YHP. Connecting the past with the present can also help us make this necessary work happen.

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