The Importance of Black History Month

Your President, Henn Warwick takes a deep dive into the origins of Black History Month and lets you know how you can celebrate with us at the Students' Union.

October marks Black History Month in the UK. The event was officially recognised by the US government in 1976, and first celebrated in the UK in 1987. But what is the significance of the month today?

To understand the importance of anything in life, it’s best to know the historical background of its origins so, how did Black History Month originate?

In 1926, Carter G Woodson sent out a press release to mark the first Black History Week in the US.

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
Carter G. Woodson

Woodson, also known as the "Father of Black History", was born in Virginia in 1875 and was the son of former slaves. Growing up, he had limited access to a good education and job opportunities, but he ended up studying at one of the few high schools for black students after saving money from working as a coal miner.

Over the years, Woodson gained an impressive number of qualifications, including a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University. He worked tirelessly to promote Black history in schools, leaving a lasting legacy. The event was expanded in 1970, and since 1976 every US president has officially designated February as Black History Month in the US.

But what about Black History Month in the UK?

Undoubtedly, Black History Month in the UK was inspired by the US, however, Black history in Britain and in America have fundamental differences. The lived experiences of individuals differ greatly based on geographical location, for example, the unique experiences of Britain’s extensive African-Caribbean population.

Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987, which was the 150th anniversary of Caribbean emancipation. The month was organised by Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who worked for Greater London Council as a coordinator of special projects and was intended to form part of the African Jubilee year. Clearly, the message caught on and Black History Month spread across the UK.

Why is Black History Month so important?

For far, far, FAR too long, Black history has been ignored and pushed to the back of the queue. This is notwithstanding the appropriation of culture and misrepresentation that has occurred, not only in the UK but across the world. This month-long celebration recognises the events, the activism and the achievements of Black people who have impacted, shaped and continue to shape our society.

Discovering and learning about the past enables us all to see that Black history is our history. Black history, in my view, shouldn’t be restricted to one month, it should be celebrated and recognised all year round. It should be given the representation it deserves and allowed to flow through our curriculum and daily life. The more we all learn about the history of mistreatment of the community, the better we can empathise with and understand each other. It's time to stand up - we cannot ignore the existence of racism.

This month enables everyone, regardless of race/ethnicity, to spotlight and celebrate Black achievements. It’s all too often that conversations involving race lead back to discrimination, harassment and racism. Whilst these topics are crucial and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure we discuss and enact change, it’s also extremely valuable and relevant to go beyond such topics. Black history goes beyond slavery, it’s important that we, as a student community, gain a broader understanding and appreciate this so that we can be proud and spotlight Black excellence.

For us to understand where we are, we must understand and appreciate our past and how we got here, including the events and Black people who shaped the way the UK stands today.

So what have we got planned for Black History Month 2021?

Well, for all the details you can check out our events calendar. But just to give you a quick insight - myself and the President of African-Caribbean Society (ACS), Shaniya Odulawa have worked hard to bring you a month jam-packed full of events.

Black History Month at the Students' Union is in full swing! So far, we've had a chilled-out evening at The Packhorse, where ACS members sipped 'n' painted whilst catching up with friends and meeting new people. For World Mental Health Day, we put together a personal reflection exercise that allowed you to be more in touch with yourself and recognise how far you have come on your journey.

Coming up, we've got weekly movie nights and discussion events, which provide an opportunity for students to delve into some tricky and challenging topics followed by a light-hearted and fun discussion. Chine McDonald (Head of Community Fundraising & Public Engagement at Christian Aid) is holding a lecture focusing on the topic of her recent book, God is Not a White Man. This session will delve into the deep-rooted whitewashing of religion with a focus on these questions: ‘What does it mean when God is presented as male?’; ‘What does it mean when — from our internal assumptions to our shared cultural imaginings — God is presented as white?’. This lecture includes a Q&A session where you can get involved.

We are really looking forward to the ACS Student Mingle: Rep Your Flag event where we're inviting students to Tommy’s Lounge to get involved in some face painting or to wear a flag sticker to show off their nationality and meet others from around the world!

Towards the end of the month, your very own ACS President, Shaniya Odulawa will be leading a Makeup Masterclass exclusively for students with medium to dark skin tones. More information to come - it’s definitely not one to miss!