Year 10 students have embraced the symbolic significance of October and spoken about why ‘Black History Month’ matters so much to them. Members of the school’s Student Affairs Committee talked about the importance of recognising this event and telling the stories that have helped to shape British history.
Mrwa Mohamed Kheir said: “This month is important because it highlights and celebrates the contribution of black people throughout history.” Maria Ehiamen talked about the importance of shining a light on the achievements of black people. She said: “It’s our responsibility to educate students on the concept of equality and teach them about things that black people have done.”
The importance of the month is clear when listening to some of the students at Sharples. Phil Ufuoma, who wrote a poem about racism and inequality as part of the English department’s ‘Poetry Slam’ in lockdown, said: “I think it’s of utmost importance. I don’t think a part of history as big as Black History Month should go unacknowledged.” His views echoed by Shaina Gatharia, who talked about: “the importance of appreciating and acknowledging the impact the black community has had on society as a whole.”
Sharples’ History curriculum is aiming to do just that. Mrs Solomons and the department are redeveloping the curriculum content in Year 7 and Year 8 in an attempt to make it a more inclusive picture. Rather than concentrating their efforts on one month and creating a sense of black history as ‘separate’ from the rest of history, the aim is to highlight the role played by black people in British and World History. It is, as Halimah Khushi in Year 10 suggests, about “how the black community has contributed in developing the story of the human race.” Academic texts such as David Olusoga’s ‘Black & British’ are helping to provide a more blended curriculum that places this history in the context of more well-known aspects of our nation’s past.
In English, the new academic year has seen the introduction of a more diverse poetry curriculum in Year 9 and reading lessons being used to open minds to more diverse literature. While William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Lord Byron are still cornerstones of the curriculum, they share a place in the literary landscape with Maya Angelou, Andrea Levy and Malorie Blackman. The broader cultural experience provides students with a broader range of experiences and deeper understanding of social and cultural issues. Other departments across the school are also looking at ways in which they can raise the profile of black and minority stories within their subjects.
Catherine Ross, guest editor of Black History Month 2020, said on the event website: “Black History Month 2020 is also a time to look forward and celebrate the here and now – and the future possibilities. In years gone by, October has been the only time of year when the UK talks about the achievements of Black people in Britain. Hopefully, the events of 2020 will be a catalyst for Black history to be shared much more widely.”
This echoes the direction Sharples are taking in Black History Month and, critically, beyond.