Posted on November 11, 2004

Calls For More Black History In Schools

Alexis Akwagyiram, BBC News, Nov. 11

For many Afro-Caribbean children in Britain, Black History Month is a rare chance to learn about their heritage.

Throughout October and the start of November, events are held across the UK to mark the annual celebration.

But Ken Barnes, who runs a charity called the 100 Black Men of London, wants to change this.

“Black history lasts for more than a month,” he said.

“It should be spread out throughout the year and not just in October — this is something that I am very passionate about.”

The 100 Black Men of London was set up in 2001 by Mr Barnes, who runs his own marketing company.

Frustrated by the lack of positive male role models in his local community, and the widely held view that black youngsters under perform in British school, he set up the organisation.

“I wanted to educate youngsters and adults about the contribution that black people have made to this country,” said Mr Barnes.

The charity’s Education through Film programme exemplifies the organisation’s stance as it enables members of the public, from any background, to attend screenings of films which explore aspects of African and Caribbean history throughout the year.

The charity was established as an off-shoot of 100 Black Men of America, which was set up in the 1960s to heighten cultural awareness among Afro-Caribbean communities.

A branch was established in Birmingham in 1997, before Mr Barnes and a group of friends decided to do the same in London.

All its fully-fledged members are men, although women can also participate. But the number 100 is merely seen as a symbolic figure.

“The charity focuses on the contribution made by men. It simply doesn’t give men an opportunity to step back,” said Mr Barnes, as he explained the organisation’s infrastructure.

Over the last three years, a team of around 45 volunteers have held events and mentoring sessions across London to spread this message to thousands of people of all ages.

Under-performing pupils

“Not enough is taught about the history and culture of Afro-Caribbean people in British schools,” said Mr Barnes.

“History helps to build up a child’s self esteem. They will be stimulated if they see images they can relate to.”

The charity is calling for changes in the national curriculum to reflect the increasing diversity of the UK’s population.

In 2002, only 30% of all black pupils got five or more good GCSEs (grades A* to C), compared to a national average of 51%.

And black pupils are around three times more likely than white pupils to be excluded from school.

Links have also be drawn with the lack of teachers from ethnic minorities.

In September a report by the Education Commission concluded that a third of London teachers and school governors need to be black or Asian in order to help improve the achievement of black children.

The report said that in 2003, 2.9% of teachers in London schools were black, compared to 19.6% of children.

The 100 Black Men, which attained charity status in September, runs a mentoring project in a number of schools around London.

Over a four-month period, volunteers visit pupils at school to organise activities, such as talks, videos and role-playing on issues ranging from peer pressure and the importance of education to the role played by Afro-Caribbeans in British culture.

John Radcliffe is the head teacher at North Brook Church of England school, in Lewisham, south London.

Last year Mr Radcliffe, 50, took up the charity’s offer to mentor pupils at the school, aged between 12 and 14.

He said: “We were keen to take part because there were concerns about a group of young children at the school — many of whom didn’t have any aims or aspirations.

Noticeable improvements

“We wanted to get them motivated to learn by getting them to listen to people they could relate to who would act as role models.”

And Mr Radcliffe, who has been the head for four years, was pleased with the results.

He said: “There were noticeable improvements.

“That year group has gone on to perform well in Stage Three exams, particularly maths and English, and their behaviour has improved.

“The mentors have a way of reaching out to young people which motivates them, turns them back to learning and raises their sense of self worth.”

Year 10 pupil Michael Bishop, 15, took part in scheme last year and mentors have made follow-up visits since.

Self belief

He said: “The sessions made me believe in myself. I realised that I could be anything I wanted to be.

“I really enjoyed the mentoring. They had a way of talking to us which wasn’t patronising and I learnt a lot.

Another mentee, 15 year-old Corrine Lindo, said: “The experience helped me to focus on school and what I can do after that. My grades have improved since the sessions and now I know that I eventually want to train to be a psychiatrist.

Corrine added: “There definitely isn’t enough black history taught at school. We briefly looked at slavery, and that was all.

“I would like to learn more about my ancestors.”

If the 100 Black Men have their way, this wish could become a reality.

Comments are closed.