In 1987, Ghanaian-born activist Akyaaba Addai-Sebo launched the UK’s version of Black History Month. His attempt to take a stand on racism in our society was viewed as radical. Unperturbed, he pressed on. 

Fast forward to the year 2020. We witness Black Lives Matter protests around the world sparking individuals and organisations to educate themselves about Black history, heritage and culture. Thirty-three years on from Akyaaba’s initiative, has anything changed for the better? George Floyd’s murder, the conviction of the police officer Derek Chauvin, and the far-reaching responses across society are a powerful reminder of an ongoing universal human rights campaign, with more of us embracing the notion that structural racism is not a figment of Black people’s imagination. 

Today our month-long celebration, recognised by the government, takes place every October. Black History Month is a reminder to reflect upon what needs to be done in order to ensure our education system is fit for purpose. Our challenge is to prepare today’s learners through a policy of inclusion of all young people to thrive in a diverse and multi polar world in which no region nor race holds sway over all others. For people of colour, racist discrimination can feel like a political force, settling like a blanket on society’s comprehension – seeping, strangling, silencing. Dissecting the ways this force may be perceived as invisible, neutral, even benign opens our minds to the manner in which it can taint every interaction we ever engage in. 

As a school, we have committed ourselves to a better understanding of racism and standing in solidarity against it. October is a month of national celebration to honour the too-often unheralded accomplishments of Black Britons in every area of endeavour throughout our country’s history. At The Abbey, our student-led Diversity and Inclusion Committee is shining a light on the many ways in which we can proactively improve our shared understanding. During Black History Month, we are committed to telling the stories of those less recognised individuals, showcasing the impact their actions have had on British society. Where people have been excluded, it is right that we highlight them – so that their valuable contributions to human evolution are not forgotten. 

The Black history we learn in our school is not limited to Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat at the front of a bus in 1955. The resultant bus boycott in Alabama took place once more a decade later in Bristol, a mere 80 miles west from our Berkshire-based classrooms. Even though Black Britons feel a connection with the African-American experience – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Oprah and Jesse Jackson seemed visible and empowered decades ago – the way we assert cultural identity in this country has become more confident. Features of how this has been interwoven within our curriculum today includes listening to Stormzy rap in his explosive, staccato flow; understanding why protestors pulled down the statue of Edward Colston; championing Marcus Rashford’s use of celebrity clout to tackle food poverty; drilling down on decolonising language as an important step towards creating unity; debating the importance of the NHS’s appointment of Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent as England’s first Chief Midwife… We celebrate prominent names from our past and present. We are using language that belongs to us as a nation. I have an incredibly strong sense of heritage. Being a third generation Asian immigrant is not something your extended family allows you to forget! Consuming versions of our cultural heritage requires digging around in history. And this month has reminded us of the need to recognise generations of Black Britons as they continue to develop a sense of identity and find their voice. Let’s embrace our freedom and power to have impactful conversations about inclusion with our daughters, whilst taking a moment to celebrate Britain’s unsung heroes.  

Nisha Kaura, Head of the Junior School