This month we as a nation celebrate Black History Month. In the USA, Black History Month has been celebrated every February since 1970, it was not officially celebrated in the UK until 1987 when Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, the activist, organized it. At that time, he was the coordinator for special projects for the Greater London Council. Surprisingly the first Black History Month was only celebrated in London, but in years since, the celebration, rightly so, has spread across the whole of the UK.
The main goals of Black History Month are to celebrate the achievements and contributions of black people not just in the UK, but throughout the world and to educate everyone on black history.
During October there are an abundance of events to help celebrate Black History Month, like the Comedy Shutdown Black History Month Special taking place in Leeds on 18th October (Covid-19 rules permitting). But across the UK special classes and celebrations take place in schools and African and Caribbean societies at universities host special events and lectures. Art galleries and museums also show special themed exhibits, there are also many shows about Black History Month on TV and Radio.
Why Black History Month is so important this year?
We all know that 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for everyone around the globe, but it has really highlighted the brutal reality of racism in this modern-day world. We have unfortunately seen the ugly and disgusting reality of acts of racism, with black people dying disproportionately in the pandemic, to the unthinkable murder of George Floyd in May and no justice for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old, an emergency medical worker killed by police in her own home.
But with this tragedy we hope that change is here to stay and with the important celebrations and education that Black History Month brings, it is more important than ever that we listen, are active and participate in the equality of every human being.
Unfortunately here in the UK, the impact and sheer volume of instituionalised racism has been laid out for us to see, with young Black men being stopped and searched 20,000 times in London during the coronavirus lockdown (this is the same as 1 in 4 young Black men), this includes Black MPs, barristers, senior police officers, sportspeople and many more.
With such unimaginable acts of racism still taking place, it has brought on protests around the world, such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This sparked a commitment among many individuals and organisations to educate themselves about Black History, heritage, and culture, as part of understanding racism and standing in solidarity against it.
Social media activity surrounding Black Lives Matter has truly taken the world by storm, with incredible engagement such as:
- 24 million #BlackoutTuesday posts shared on Instagram
- 12 billion views on TikTok for the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter
- #sharethemicnow reached 300 million followers on Instagram
- YouTube pledges $100 million to support Black creators and artists
- Only 24 of the top 100 global brands did not post about George Floyd
- Twitter had a record (667k) for most app downloads in a day
- #BlackLivesMatter was used 48 million times between May 26 and June 7
However, the commitment transcends beyond social media into real change, as everyone needs to embrace Black History Month as a starting point for exploring, discovering, and celebrating Black History, heritage, and culture. There are incredible achievements and contributions to the many untold stories and barriers to progress – the day-to-day reality of institutionalised racism.
So, its easy to see why this year’s Black History Month is so prominent and why we all need to make a commitment for change. It’s a chance for us to uncover our shared British history and tell the whole story with truth and honesty, to tell stories from perspectives of all people, not just that of rich white men in power, as history has seen.
It is also a time to look ahead, to celebrate the here and now and look to the future for possibilities. It would be ideal if October was not the only month that we discuss, celebrate and educate about the achievements of Black people, but we create a catalyst for Black History Month to be shared more widely all year round, in museums, art galleries, schools, universities, communities and workplaces.
Black History Month 2020 is a time for people all over the country to come together, and I think we need that more so than ever right now. It is a time for lessons, both past and present. It is not just a commodity to be appropriated, Black History Month is not just a month to be ticked off the calendar. It’s here for us to make a change, to honor the commitment of learning, understanding and standing strong in unity against racism.
How to get involved?
With Black History Month themes on TV, Radio, Podcasts and live events across Britain, there are plenty of ways you can get involved. But of course, the current pandemic may make it harder to celebrate in groups at live events, however that will not stop us from celebrating. You can find all this year’s events and scheduled listings here. But it’s also important that we discover, learn and listen to the many achievements, progress and untold stories and you can find an in depth look into Black History at the official website here.
Whatever you do this month to celebrate, get involved, participate in conversations, talk to your colleagues, friends, or children. Educate each other and let’s make sure we stand up against racism, then just maybe we may see a real change that is so needed right now.