Black History Month

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Celebrating Black History Month

by Adam Waite, Personal, Development and Behaviour Officer

We’re proud to be supporting Black History Month this October.

Below we answer the question of ‘What is Black History Month?’ followed by short biographies of influential Black people not just in the UK but throughout the world from politics, the arts, sport – and more.

Links to: British Values – Individual Liberty, Tolerance of Differences, Mutual Respect

Black, red, yellow and green pattern next to black history month title

What is Black History Month?

The aim of Black History Month is to celebrate the achievements, contributions, culture and history of black people not just in the UK, but throughout the world.

Although Black History Month has been celebrated every February in the USA since 1970, it was not officially celebrated in the UK until 1987 when it was organised by the activist Akyaaba Addai-Sebo who, at the time, was the coordinator for special projects for the Greater London Council. The first Black History Month was celebrated only in London, but in the years since the celebration has spread across the whole UK.

This year’s theme is “Dig Deeper, Look Closer, Think Bigger.”

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is a lawyer and writer who was the first lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She is the wife of the 44th U.S. president, Barack Obama. As first lady, Michelle focused her attention on social issues such as poverty, healthy living and education. Her 2018 memoir, Becoming, discusses the experiences that shaped her, from her childhood in Chicago to her years living in the White House.

Michelle was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson on January 17, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois. Michelle’s father, Fraser Robinson, was a city-pump operator and a Democratic precinct captain. Her mother, Marian, was a secretary at Spiegel’s but later stayed home to raise Michelle and her older brother, Craig. At just 21 months apart in age, Craig and Michelle were often mistaken for twins.

“Every day, the people I meet inspire me, every day they make me proud, every day they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on Earth. Serving as your first lady is an honour and a privilege.”

First Lady Michelle Obama next to microphones

Malorie Blackman

Malorie Blackman was born in 1962. She qualified in Computer Science and followed a successful career in computing, before becoming a writer at the age of 28. Her first published book was Not So Stupid! (1990), a book of short stories. Since then she has written many books and scripts, and her popularity has steadily grown. Her scripts for television include several episodes of Byker Grove, Whizziwig and Pig-Heart Boy, and she has also written original dramas for CITV and BBC Education. Her stage play, The Amazing Birthday, was performed in 2002.

Malorie Blackman’s most well-known books for young adults are: Noughts & Crosses (2001); Knife Edge (2004); Checkmate (2005); and Double Cross (2008) – which form the Noughts & Crosses series, the tale of two teenagers, Callum and Sephy. In 2004, she also wrote a novel entirely in verse, Cloud Busting (2004), which won a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize (Silver Award) the same year.

“What I would like to do is make sure every primary school child has a library card, so where parents don’t get their children library cards, we’ll see if we can get schools to step in and make sure that every child has one.”

Writer malorie blackman smiling

Dr Shirley Temple

Shirley J. Thompson was born, brought up and still resides in the east London (Newham). As well as being a leading British composer she is also an academic, and an artistic director that stages her own operatic productions.

The conceptual music of composer Shirley J. Thompson is performed and screened worldwide and often described as ‘superbe’ (Le Figaro) as well as ‘powerful and striking’(Planet Hugill). A visionary artist and cultural activist, Thompson has pushed the boundaries of classical music composition and performance.

Thompson is the first woman in Europe to have composed and conducted a symphony within the last 40 years. New Nation Rising, A 21st Century Symphony performed and recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is an epic musical story celebrating London’s thousand-year history. This extraordinary work was originally commissioned to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.

“Be tenacious and be gracious,” is Shirley’s advice to aspiring artists and creatives.

Lennox Lewis

Lennox Lewis, in full Lennox Claudius Lewis, (born September 2, 1965, London, England), first British boxer to hold the undisputed heavyweight world championship since Bob Fitzsimmons held the title in 1899.

Lewis was born to Jamaican parents, spent his early childhood in England, and then moved with his mother to Canada. An all-around athlete in high school, he excelled in several sports but soon focused on boxing and developed into one of Canada’s best amateur fighters. At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, Lewis beat American Riddick Bowe to earn the gold medal in the superheavyweight division.

Lewis returned to his native England in 1989 to pursue a professional career. He was undefeated in his first 22 professional fights and earned a title bout with Bowe, who had become the heavyweight champion.

“During the past 23 years, I have set a number of goals for myself and I’m proud to
say that these goals have been achieved.”

Boxer Lenox Lewis smiling

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was the first Black president of South Africa, elected after time in prison for his anti-apartheid work. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

A social rights activist, politician and philanthropist, he became South Africa’s first Black president from 1994 to 1999. After becoming involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s, Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1942. For 20 years, he directed a campaign of peaceful, nonviolent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies.

Beginning in 1962, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for political offenses. In 1993, Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to dismantle the country’s apartheid system. For generations to come, Mandela will be a source of inspiration for civil rights activists worldwide.

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

Nelson Mandela in black and white

John Boyega

John Boyega (born 17 March 1992) is a British actor, best known for playing Moses in his 2011 film debut Attack the Block and later for roles i the blockbuster film Star Wars.

Boyega was born in Peckham, London, to Nigerian parents. His first role was that of a leopard in a play at his primary school at the age of five. He attended Westminster City School as a teenager. He later took part in various school productions and attended classes at Theatre Peckham. He was a performing arts student at South Thames College in Wandsworth and was active in theatre productions there, including the lead in Othello in 2010.

During Britain’s Black Lives Matter rallies in June, John Boyega wrote his name in the history of racial justice. And here, in his first interview since finishing Star Wars and that unguarded address from a Hyde Park stage, he explains how both platforms inspired him to make a stand, but for very different reasons.

“I’m the only cast member, whose experience of Star Wars was based on their race.”

Actor John Boyega clapping

Marsha P Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was a trans-rights activist who played a big role in important moments for the LGBTQ+ movement, such as the Stonewall protests.

Marsha P. Johnson was an African-American gay man and drag artist – someone who dresses extravagantly and performs as a woman – from New Jersey, whose activism in the 1960s and 70s had a huge impact on the LGBTQ+ community. At this time, being gay was classified as a mental illness in the United States. Gay people were regularly threatened and beaten by police, and were shunned by many in society.

In June 1969, when Marsha was 23 years old, police raided a gay bar in New York called The Stonewall Inn. The police forced over 200 people out of the bar and onto the streets, and then used excessive violence against them. Marsha, who was living and working in New York at the time, was one of the key figures who stood up to the police during the raids.

“How many years has it taken people to realise that we are all brothers and sister and all human beings in the human race.”

Baroness Lawrence

Doreen Lawrence grew up with her grandmother in the Clarendon parish of Jamaica. At age nine Doreen travelled to England, joining her mother in Brockley, South London. Later in life Doreen decided to go to university where she pursued a BA Hons in Humanities. 

While studying for her undergraduate degree Doreen’s son Stephen was tragically murdered, an incident that changed the course of Doreen’s life and led her to becoming an important figure in the British Civil Rights movement. Doreen’s role in campaigning for justice contributed to the creation of the Macpherson Report, an inquiry that prompted necessary reforms of the UK police service. 

In 1998 the Lawrence family established the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. In 2003 Doreen was awarded an OBE for her advocacy and in 2013 she was invited to become a Life Peer in the House of Lords where she tries to be the
voice for the marginalised.

“Black people are still dying in the streets and in the back of police vans. For me institutional racism is ingrained and it is hard think of how this will be eradicated.”

Image of baroness Doreen lawrence

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, was a social activist and Baptist minister who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. 

King sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest. He was the driving force behind watershed events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington, which helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and is remembered each year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986.

One of the civil rights marches in Washington culminated in King’s most famous address, known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, a spirited call for peace and equality that many consider a masterpiece of rhetoric.

“I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Black and white image of martin luther king

Sir Trevor McDonald - OBE

Sir Trevor McDonald OBE (born George McDonald; 16 August 1939) is a Trinidadian-British newsreader and journalist, best known for his career as a news presenter with ITN. McDonald was knighted in 1999 for his services to journalism.

He has had a long and distinguished career in television news and is best known for fronting ITN’s News at Ten, Tonight with Trevor McDonald and his acclaimed documentaries on subjects as varied as Death Row, notorious UK killers and the Caribbean.

He was knighted in 1999 for his services to journalism and has received numerous awards for his work. He has been named Newscaster of the Year three times and he has received Honorary Degrees from at least eight Universities. Over the years Sir Trevor has travelled the globe meeting and interviewing the world’s leaders.

 “The thing about television is that you can’t fake it. Your sense of discovery must be genuine; you can’t pretend to be surprised.”

News set with the words breaking live on the screen
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