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How to extend Black History Month throughout the year - Ellisha Soanes

15 February 2024

When the actor Morgan Freeman was asked about Black History Month in an interview with The Guardian, he replied: “You’re going to relegate my history to a month?”

He is totally right. And a few years ago, when working at West Suffolk College, I set about incorporating black history into the curriculum throughout the entire year. My plans were embraced and taken on by others, with the impact visible in every pocket of the college community.

So, what advice would I give to others who want to do something similar?

The best place to start is to look at what you do and see how you can change. Get everyone in the organisation engaged at what you are trying to do and talk about the language – it may be an uncomfortable conversation in order to get comfortable – but by taking those first steps, you can cascade the training down. Personally I believe you need to start with your staff before moving on to students. After that, you can take a step back and let students teach you.

I’ve also found it worthwhile setting up a steering group. There are so many people who work in education who are passionate about EDI who will support you by becoming ambassadors for what you are trying to achieve. Make sure you involve everyone in your organisation as it will encourage a culture change across the board.

Another piece of advice is to see your transition from where you are to going in a different direction something that is bigger than a tick-box exercise. People always ask me if doing Black History Month in their organisation is okay. It is, but I believe you need to be having those conversations throughout the year, not just in October.

When I do my presentations for people, I talk about world history: Henry VIII, The Battle of Hastings, Neil Armstrong, Queen Victoria - and I always say to people “If I ask you to learn all of this history in one month, would you be able to?” Of course we couldn’t – so what makes you think you can learn black history in a month?”

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help or get things wrong. We don't know everything ourselves, so ask for support from external organisations and invest in our community networks, that will really help propel you forward. Have conversations with different people from different cultures and learn from them but don’t worry if you get things wrong. Just put your hands up and say sorry and learn from your mistakes.

I really believe it’s time for organisations to come together to increase the momentum of working with all sectors to share best practices on equality diversity and inclusion.

Morgan Freeman almost said in the film Shawshank Redemption "get busy living or get busy dying". I guess in the context of what I’m trying to do it’s more a case of "get busy changing and get busy doing".

Ellisha Soanes is the Director of Aspire Black Suffolk which delivers workshops and training to schools and organisations on anti-racist practice, how to embed EDI, how to work with local communities, and understanding safeguarding cultural aspects. In addition to this work, Ellisha delivers workshops and training to schools, educators and organisations nationwide.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.