The value of Black history education
In my first year of university, I felt it was important to immerse myself in the Black culture present. One way that was deeply important to me was through politics. I saw an event advertised by the Black Social, Political Society at my university. I went with my friend. One impassioned student, BantuScribe, was hosting alongside another student. It was great to hear the different perspectives shared that night. I unfortunately cannot remember the specific topics, but I remember the feeling of being around people equally passionate about the potential of our communities to thrive in the UK and ultimately, in this world. At the end, she advertised an opportunity to join the Young Historians project. She boasted that we can learn how to work behind the camera, to interview and collate Black history through creating a documentary and accompanying exhibition. 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.
Being in the Young Historians Project allowed me to achieve things I didn’t envisage for myself, especially at the age of 18/19 . To create a documentary with my team that remains accessible online, and in the Black Cultural Archives, about the history of the Black Liberation Front. To also create a portable exhibition based on the documentary. To interview Kathleen Cleaver, former Black Panther, and create an article from the interview again at 19. 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, and 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 the 8th 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 the Haitian revolution and how the abolition of slavery was a radical political position derived from the imagination of slaves based on the necessity of freedom.
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 Black African nurses in this country from the 20th century and finding myself frustrated and even angry because this history was invisible. It was our task to make our history seen. I was in unfamiliar territory, but that lead 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, I had to leave for Canada for my semester aboard.
After my semester abroad and close to the end of my final year, I volunteered for a wonderful organisation, 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 BLF documentary “We are our own Liberators” also helped me understand the importance of community spaces attending to the needs and interest of the Black community in Britain. I aim to continue to be involved in this work in whatever capacity I can, which is why I joined FORWARD’s YWAC, as the organisation focuses on creating affirming spaces for young Black Women.
The Black Liberation Front created radical spaces to support Black futures even in a time where many White Brits and institutions reflected the sentiments from Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech through building a mutual aid network. Not to say we have moved beyond this Britain, as we see from the tragedy of Grenfell fire and Windrush Scandal, Black life here remains conditional. But exploring this history tells us that we can create life here too, and theorise liberation through the expansion of spaces and projects like this. Connecting the past with the present can also help us make this necessary work happen.