Empowering the Next Generation: Teaching Black History to UK Students

We wake up, we walk out of the door, we meet people on the streets, and glance at passers-by. This is existing. We meet, we create friendships, we love, we learn. This is living. We listen, we talk (formally or just as a chit-chat), we share experiences, we learn and educate – ourselves and others. This is empowerment.

There are roots so deep they cannot be uprooted – they live in our generational heritage, pride, and shared histories. From a little bud starting as we hear the fairytales our grandparents put us to sleep with, to the warming meals our parents cook for family dinners and the dances of our communities, when we celebrate the passage of time.

And today we’re empowering through learning a little more about those roots and shared histories, diving into a topic that’s not only fascinating but also essential for our growth and understanding — Black history in the UK.

Black History Month in the UK

Black woman in university hall

Those new to the UK, such as students coming to study from abroad, might be wondering, is there a Black History Month in the UK?

Absolutely! The UK Black History Month is (you guessed it) a month-long celebration of the substantial Black heritage, rich culture and significant contributions of black people to the formation of British society as we know it today. It takes place every October and it’s an exciting time dedicated to learning, appreciation and celebration.

If you’ve ever wondered why precisely October was chosen as a Black History Month in the UK, it is a beautiful and culturally significant way to reconnect with black people’s roots to the African continent as October is when African chiefs and leaders gather to settle their differences. Furthermore, October is just when students of all ages return to their educational institutions, making it the perfect time to give black students a sense of pride and identity.

When was Black History Month First Celebrated in the UK? 

Black History Month was officially recognized in the UK in 1987, thanks to the tireless efforts of Ghanaian-born Akyaaba Addai Sebo, a special projects officer at the Greater London Council as well as many other activists and community leaders.

The Importance of Teaching Black History in the UK 

Black woman graduating university

British history and Black history are intertwined and integral to each other. Black individuals have made significant contributions to history, music, politics, and sports. From Olaudah Equiano, whose autobiography is a classic text of an African’s experiences in the era of Atlantic slavery, to Sarah Remond, an anti-slavery lecturer who educated in Warrington, Manchester, London, and Leeds. In more recent times Sam King, who set up the Windrush foundation and Sir Learie Constantine, England’s first black peer have redefined the course of history. 

Taking the time to teach students about these contributions and many more, means that we can better understand the diversity that enriches our nation, and also build a welcoming mindset for future generations. 

Learning about black history in university or school, and having access to academic resources can empower the generation coming of age to challenge stereotypes, discrimination, and injustice, inspiring them to become leaders and advocates for a more inclusive and harmonious society. 

How to Celebrate Black History Month in the UK? 

Two hands showing the peace sign, one is a white person and one is a black person

There are tons of ways to celebrate Black History Month, whether you’re in the UK or not. All you need to do is a bit of research – the official Black History Month website is a great place to start. If you’re not able to travel around, it is likely that there will be talks, events, and discussions in your local Community Centre or library. Just keep your eyes peeled. 

For those willing to take a trip there are the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, London. The Victoria and Albert museum also has a collection of black heritage and culture artifacts, including fashion, photography, and performance. There are also The National Caribbean and Heritage Museum in Nottingham, The National Jazz Archive in Loughton, Essex, and The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool.

If you’re abroad or just short on traveling time, there is always the opportunity to watch films related to Black History and heritage, read books, join online events, or even explore the Black British Museum Project.

Black History Month in the UK –  2023 Theme 

six Black women of all ages, shapes and sizes

The theme for UK Black History Month 2023 is “Saluting our Sisters”. It is a powerful, brave, and unapologetic celebration of black women who struggled to get recognition, stood behind the curtain of great successes, had contributions ignored, ideas appropriated, and voices silenced.

There isn’t a field that has not been shaped by the unending resilience, creativity, and support of black women. Whether it’s literature, music, politics, academia, business or sport, women of the black community have inspired change, educated, and encouraged positive change that has benefited society as a whole.

For those curious to learn more, below is a list of inspiring black women with fascinating histories to uncover in your own time:

  • Mary Seacole – nurse (Crimean War) & role model. The Mary Seacole House in Liverpool is a leading Mental Health Charity, which supports culturally diverse communities in the area
  • Baroness Floella Benjamin – TV presenter, politician, and former Chancellor of the University of Exeter
  • Baroness Valerie Amos – politician, first female Master of University College, Oxford, and first black Master of any college at Oxford.
  • Lilian Bader – military pioneer & teacher
  • Joan Armatrading – musician
  • Dame Shirley Bassy – singer
  • Naomi Campbell – supermodel
  • Diane Abbott – politician
  • Dame Sharon White – Chair of John Lewis Partnership, former Civil Servant
  • Nicola Adams –  boxer, Black & LGBGTQi+ campaigner
  • Baroness Doreen Lawrence – activist & campaigner
  • Kym Oliver & Jumoke Abdullahi, The Triple Cripples – YouTube campaigners
  • The Ivory Bangle Lady – a high-status woman from Roman York
  • Olivette Otele – first black woman to be a Professor of History

In 2023, Black History Month will showcase the stories and experiences of these women who triumphed, struggled, fought the system, and… won. They won because we are all here to listen.  

Additional Resources:

If you’re interested in delving deeper into Black history and inspiring the change in your community this month here are some resources that can help you on your journey. 

Although the theme for 2023 focuses on women’s triumphs, once you’ve learned about all the inspiring ladies above, you might want to go the extra mile and research some incredible black men as well: 

  • Idris Elba – actor, producer campaigner 
  • Sir Lenny Henry – comedian & campaigner
  • Stormzy – musician & campaigner
  • Pablo Fanque – born as William Darby, the first recorded Black circus owner in Britain, during the Golden Age of circus
  • Courtney Pine – jazz musician

As students, we have a unique opportunity to embrace and celebrate Black history within our educational institutions, within our jobs and volunteering activities. We are young, we are the next generation and we can empower the generations after us. It’s not just about history; it’s about building empathy, understanding, and a more inclusive society. So, let’s make the most of Black History Month and the chance to empower ourselves through teaching – other students and ourselves.

Together, we can create a future that is better for everyone.

Table of Contents