Black History Month is relatively new to the UK. It was first celebrated in October 1987 as part of the African Jubilee Year, which marked the 150th anniversary of Caribbean emancipation, the centenary of the birth of Marcus Garvey, and 25 years of the Organisation of African Unity. Today, Black History Month reminds us how important it is to teach students about the people and events in the history of the African diaspora.
George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” While some aspects of Black history are challenging to discuss, especially with young students, the lessons of the past are far too important to ignore.
Here are some creative and thoughtful ways to bring Black History Month into your classrooms this October (and beyond).
Feature influential Black figures
Whether at a school or a classroom level, pick men and women from different periods of Black history to feature each week. Encourage teachers and students to explore their impact and to move beyond the most well-known figures. While their contribution is lasting and resonant, there’s far more to Black history than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Consider featuring at least one Black person who’s still alive and making a difference today. The more local your focus, the better—you may even bring local Black politicians, artists, or activists into your schools to speak.
Need inspiration? Try Black Past or the Black History Month website.
Encourage open conversation
Racism is perpetuated by silence—and when we do speak, the words we use carry significant meaning. Many teachers feel overwhelmed when navigating the murky waters of discussion around race and racism, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid these concepts in the classroom.
Create rules around respectful language, and encourage open conversation in classrooms. Talk openly about the best way to engage with racial issues, and why. Conversations about the history of racism can be difficult and even scary to bring into the classroom, but they become even more so when students are afraid to ask questions for fear of using the wrong words.
The purpose of open conversation about Black history and racial issues isn’t perfection. The purpose is to encourage a dialogue that keeps the lessons of history (and the evolving lessons of today) top of mind and free of stigma.
The British Red Cross and the American National Education Association are excellent resources for more detailed support on how to discuss racism with students.
Don’t shy away from modern or radical changemakers
Students want to learn about every aspect of Black history, from the peaceful protest of Rosa Parks to the more violent approach of the Black Panthers. Don’t shy away from incorporating lessons about Malcolm X and less conventional activists.
Also, be sure to incorporate lessons from the changemakers of today. The Black Lives Matter movement and other UK activists are making a difference as we speak and provide excellent topics for classroom discussion.
Incorporate Black culture
Black History Month isn’t just about history—it’s about culture. As much as possible, move beyond books to other forms of media. Watch a show or performance featuring Black performers and their stories, in person if at all possible.
If an in-person performance or visit isn’t possible, here are some online options:
Continue past October 31
Black History Month is a wonderful reminder to refocus on some of the voices that have been drowned out by an often “whitewashed” history curriculum, but the learning shouldn’t stop there. Do your best to extend Black History Month throughout the remainder of the year and incorporate Black stories and perspectives year-round.
Here are few ideas to get you started:
- Incorporate texts by Black authors into curriculums for every subject
- Pull in books from the Black Lives Matter book lists
- Refer students to famous Black scientists and mathematicians (for instance, the rich history of math in sub-Saharan Africa)
- Teach about local Black figures and celebrate the achievements of Black Britons
- Recruit diverse teachers as often as possible