The way that I was taught black history in secondary school followed a certain formula. Slavery, Emancipation and then rounding off with Martin Luther King and the civil rights struggle. Of course, these are significant moments in history but it seems that so much was missed out. The narrative usually seemed to reinforce the notion that black history began with slavery. This had an effect on my self-esteem as a teenager and I was reluctant to fully embrace my heritage and history partly because of the limited perspective that was presented.
Fast forward to 2016 and I am working in a school during black history month and I stumble across the resources that are being used. One of the documents was a word search containing words synonymous with slavery and plantation life. In instances like these, I feel not enough effort and perhaps respect is being devoted to exploring the topic.
In 2015 while working on the young black men’s project in Hackney I began delving deeper into black history. As a result of this, I gained a more thorough understanding of the negative outcomes that are currently faced by black people in the UK. The findings were enlightening. However, in that same summer, I also had an episode of mania which led to me being sectioned for three weeks. Throughout the ordeal, I was subject to detention in a prison cell and a T.A.S.E.R was also used on me. A year later I began talking about these experiences and incidentally, the first event I ran was In October and it was black history month that inspired me to hold this event and share my story. The link between black history month and mental health may seem tenuous but I would argue that this very line of thinking is what is needed in order to breathe new life into BHM.
In an ideal world, black history month would expand of the subject matter dealt with in schools. In addition to this, the stories of less well-known figures should be shared in an environment that brings generations together and inspires people to continue fighting for equality.
Eche Egbuonu is a teacher at The Complete Works in London. He read Business and Management at Aston University, graduating in 2013. He is a mental health advocate and facilitates the “Mental Health & The Black Community” forum throughout the year. His story has been featured on the BBC. Eche Egbuonu lives in Hackney, London.