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Black History Month

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world

20 October 2020 | by Black History Month

The author of today’s blog is Dr Melernie Meheux. Dr Meheux is a senior child and adolescent educational psychologist at UCL, a certified play therapist and academic tutor, as well as chair of the board of trustees at Solidarity Sports and co- chair elect of the DECP.

Born to proud West Africans with positive images, my knowledge and love for culture came from trips to Africa where I learnt about history, rich traditions and first universities.

If I'm honest I didn't learn this in school or mainstream media. I learnt from family, community, specialist bookshops and stories.

The dolls and toys that looked like me came from 'abroad' and were rare. Black characters in books and TV...well, they were few and far between.

At times I've felt disappointed in education. When first taught the 'doll test' I was only given the findings, introducing negative feelings.

Neither Dr Mamie's name nor outstanding achievements were celebrated. Personal research about Dr Mamie inspired me to complete similar research and train to become an educational psychologist.

To be fair, education has improved somewhat. When I asked my year 1 class to write about a powerful figure, one of the children cried because she said she, a Black child, could not be any of these things.

So that day I taught them about Yaa Asantewaa and the Golden Stool, Queen Amina, Nzinga and Princess Yennenga. I feel the story of Rosa Parks oversimplified her role in history, so I taught them she was a political activist who planned and mobilised in excess of 17,000 people to boycott the bus system leading to change in the U.S constitution... she didn't just wake up one morning and 'refuse to move on a bus'

Yes, education has moved on. In formal education, there are efforts to decolonise the curriculum, consider reflective resources, content of curriculum, teachers and barriers and supports needed for equitable access to learning.

Black History Month and contributions made by Black people are now celebrated. There are books and toys that look like black children that you don't have to get on a plane to see. Society has started educating our children about dark histories and legacies of local statues, roads and building names.

Within media, children see multi-dimensional Black people who are exemplars of excellence. Articulate musicians like Akala writing powerful books about black history. Musical geniuses like the Kanneh-Masons. Inspirational musicians like Stormzy who writes books, launches publishing companies, encourages new writers and sponsors black students to attend Cambridge.

The media teaches that you can be like June Sarpong, the director of Creative Diversity at the BBC or the editor of Vogue like Edward Enniful. Children and young people can aspire to be like Gamal Fahnbulleh, broadcast journalist or his sister Miatta Fahnbulleh, Economist and Chief Executive at the New Economics Foundation.

They can be like Marcus Rashford, skilled footballer and advocate for social justice selflessly campaigning to eradicate poverty. Black children see they can be superheroes on film and in real life like Chadwick Boseman. These people, to name but a few, alongside family members and other roles in society show Black children that they can be whatever they dream of.

Is it enough

 Are there enough positive black role models in society?

In the media?

Are there enough Black teachers, teachers in senior leadership roles, people making government policy to address and challenge structural inequalities in education?

I haven't always had the courage myself but I will put myself in places that may not be comfortable or where I may be the only person of colour present.

I will continue to ask the important questions about disproportionality in the under-achievement of black boys in education, and also question their over-representation in SEN data and exclusion figures.

I will promote diversity within my profession, encouraging new applicants...borrowing the phrase 'you cannot be what you cannot see', now more than ever it is important to be seen.

So what are you going to do?


References

The title of this piece is a quote from Nelson Mandela.

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