Black History Month: Students discuss ways to tackle racism with black Met Police officer

Students shared their views on tackling racism with a black Metropolitan Police officer during a series of events at Capital City College Group (CCCG) to mark Black History Month.

Inspector Chris Excell, who has served the Met for 15 years, was among the guests invited to give talks to students at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).

Insp Excell shared his experience of being a black police officer, a brief history of black police officers in Britain and his role as the Chair of the Black Police Association at the Met.

Students at CONEL also heard from Corporal Nyerere St John who spoke about being a black soldier in the British Army and gave his advice on careers in the Armed Forces.

There were also talks and presentations on black history, the slave trade, Marie Seacole, black Olympians, black footballers, black scientists and inventors, black hair and beauty, black music and the screening of a documentary on the Windrush generation.

Metropolitan Police Inspector Chris Excell, who is also a member of the Metropolitan Black Police Association (MBPA), spoke to students at The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, about his career and how former members of the MBPA have strived to carve and strengthen their place as part of the public services. ‘We are black all year round,’ said Excell. ‘Black History Month is really a time to celebrate, come together and not be the only person in the room to celebrate each other.” Find out more about courses we have that will support your future your career joining the public services by visiting www.capitalccg.ac.uk

City and Islington College (CANDI) hosted a Chat and Chillax session where students took part in a discussion about Black History Month, what it means to them, why it is important and ways to tackle racism in society.

Students also participated in workshops where they wrote positive affirmations to promote more tolerance in society on leaf-shaped pieces of paper that were then stuck to a large picture of a ‘tree of hope’ for their peers to read.

Among the uplifting messages placed on the tree were ‘Everyone is allowed to live freely’, ‘Respect each other’, ‘Love each other’ and ‘Educate ourselves and others.’

The atrium at Westminster Kingsway College’s King’s Cross Centre was adorned with flags from countries around the world to represent the diversity of its staff and students.

Students heard talks from guest speakers from BAME backgrounds including entrepreneur Tlwalola Ogunles, youth mentor Luke Malillah, actor and presenter Jordan Kensington, social mobility advocate Kevin Osei, property investor TJ Atkinson and WestKing administrator Lorna Blackman.

They were also encouraged to read books by black authors in the college’s Learning Resource Centre including Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and Slay in Your Lane by Elizabeth Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené.

There were screenings off Becoming, the documentary on life of former US First Lady Michelle Obama, and Rocks, a drama about a black teenage girl and her brother in Hackney whose mum abandons them, forcing them to try and avoid being taken into social care.

Music students also put on live performances of their own songs inspired by black music.

CCCG runs many enrichment activities across its three colleges for students personal and professional development.

Find out more about Student Life at CANDI here.

Black History Month – ‘We still have a long way to go to bridge the equality gap’

To mark Black History Month this October, Isatu Taylor, Curriculum Leader for Visual Arts, shares her experiences of life as a black person and what can be done to eradicate racism in society and make colleges more inclusive.

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Portland, Jamaica, and moved to the UK with my sister when I was 14. My mum lived in London as a child and went on to study a degree in Slavonic Studies. She later burnt her British passport in protest at how black students were being treated and came back to Jamaica before returning to England.

Is Black History Month important to you?

It’s sad indictment that we need Black History Month, but I’ll take a month when blackness is on the agenda than not at all. I’ve had people ask why we don’t have a white history month, and I tell them every month is white history month. If you grow up in schools in England you learn European history, and obviously that’s important, but as a black child I didn’t learn anything about black history. Part of the way we unlock our differences is by showing that we’ve all faced atrocities and had moments in history where we’ve done each other great disservice. Black History Month should not just be talking about the issues, but about identifying the challenges to make sure history doesn’t keep repeating itself. We need to get past the ‘here we go again’ mentality and token gestures.

What was it like for you growing up as a black person?

I remember walking into my first classroom in London and everybody appeared to be blond. It was very different in terms of people’s mannerisms, expectations and how children viewed education. People had expectations of what I would be like, asking if smoked weed or if I had seen anybody killed. It wasn’t said in a malicious way, more out of ignorance from all ethnicities, not just white students. I was lucky to be living in London because it was so multicultural. I spent the first few years near King’s Cross where there was a big Bengali community. I connected with the food and culture as it was similar to the Caribbean.

Tell us about a time when you have experienced racism.

My worst experience of racism happened when I had part-time job when I was 16 in McDonald’s. There was large group of men and there had been a mix-up with their order and they thought it would be funny to pour a chocolate milkshake over us and make racially abusive comments. It was a bit frightening, but I manly felt that these guys were idiots. I was brought up to see people as people and think it’s very important that you don’t allow the actions of a few to shape your perspective.

How much has society changed in its attitudes to race since you were younger?

Unfortunately, racism still exists. A look, comment or just a feeling can make you uncomfortable. Racial profiling and stereotyping are still a problematic issue. Groups of black boys are often more animated than their white counterparts and wrongly perceived as more aggressive. More needs to be done to educate people in positions of authority to make them more aware of how these differences manifest themselves and how organisations can be more culturally sensitive. Most of our politicians are white and of a certain class and too many policies are driven by their experiences. We’ve made positive progress but still have a long way to go to bridge the equality gap.

Who are your black heroes and role models and why?

I’d have to say my mum. My son calls her a doctor because he says she knows everything. When she eventually leaves us, I can only hope to have a fraction of her knowledge and wisdom. She raised five children and at one point was also holding down two jobs and doing her master’s degree. She believes in hard work and is a great supporter of what I do. I always admire people who do positive things but always reserve hero status for those I know.

What can be done to stop racism in our society?

Representation is so important. We need more black teachers, especially in primary school, to reflect the pupils in the classroom. Often, if you are a black child, you can go through your whole educational experience without ever being taught by a black person. There is so much research on unconscious bias where people identify and favour with people who have shared experiences. If we’re able to educate people and offer students of all backgrounds the opportunity to be taught by someone of colour, then it will change their perspective. They are not just seeing black people in stereotypical roles, but as people in society.

How do you incorporate black culture into your teaching?

Growing up in the Caribbean I have had a very different experience to a lot of my students. I do reflect on my experiences, but don’t necessarily set about focusing on blackness. Instead, I set an example of promoting tolerance, love, acceptance and understanding. I’ve also discovered cultural similarities from my travels in Asia and talking to my students. By celebrating our differences and also recognising that we have more in common than we do not, our classrooms can be much more inclusive.

How can the further education sector become more racially inclusive?

BAME history and culture need to be much higher up the agenda. Colleges need to commit to planning innovative and meaningful ways to better integrate and put this at the heart of the curriculum. This should include more staff and student training, mentoring and support on diversity issues, and celebrating different cultural groups through workshops, networking and partnership work. In terms of teaching and staffing, FE is in much better shape in terms of diversity than other areas of education but more needs to be done in terms of leadership, how and where staff are recruited and internal progression. The sector has an abundance of teachers from different ethnicities, and we need more of them promoted to senior management roles.

Black History Month – ‘We need to enrich our students’ lives no matter what their backgrounds’

To mark Black History Month this October, Jacqueline Dyett, Head of School for Business, Accounting and Travel and Tourism, shares her experiences of life as a black person and what can be done to eradicate racism in society and make colleges more inclusive.

Tell us about your background.

I was born in the Eastern Caribbean on the island of Montserrat, a British Overseas Territory, and migrated to the United Kingdom after the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in the late 1990s.

Is Black History Month important to you?

I have mixed feelings about Black History Month. Although it is good to take time to reflect on the contributions of African and Caribbean communities to the UK, it saddens me that we still have to rely on a month to do so, after which these contributions are quickly forgotten until the next year. It seems to be a never-ending cycle where the inequalities faced by our backgrounds persist in everyday life. I look forward to the day when black history is integrated into the social, moral and educational fabric of today’s society.

What was it like for you growing up as a black person?

My experiences were eye openers of the wider societal issue of race and ethnic identity and only served to strengthen my resolve and character. It made me more determined to be successful in the UK regardless of my background. I have benefited academically from my migration to the UK and have enhanced my career as a result of the positive experiences I have had. I continue to be optimistic regardless of the challenges my ethnic background brings. It gives me hope seeing the many encouraging changes over the years. 

Tell us about a time when you have experienced racism.

I led a relatively sheltered life growing up in Montserrat and was not subjected to racism until I went to Vancouver in British Columbia to study Marketing in my early 20s. I distinctly remember boarding a bus and taking a seat next to a passenger who then immediately got up and took another seat at the rear of the bus. This left me feeling very uncomfortable at the time. I was also the only black female West Indian student in my class, and this made for a number of very difficult moments while trying to fit in and be accepted.

How much has society changed in its attitudes to race since you were younger?

There are more black people in positions of leadership and people tend generally to be less openly racist. However, I feel that attitudes to race have simply mutated into various forms, which are now more entrenched institutionally and so less visible and more difficult to eradicate.

Who are your black heroes and role models and why?

My inspirations over the years came from not one person but many people such as Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama and a former Canadian tutor of mine named John Porteous who started me on my accounting journey, as well as my parents and two former managers. Michelle Obama is a strong, black woman, passionate about changing the world and the fate of everyone, as was Maya Angelou. 

What can be done to stop racism in our society?

I agree with Michelle Obama when she stated that “race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. It’s up to all of us – black, white, everyone, no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.” I would like to see black history included in the wider national curriculum in all state and public schools. Perhaps then, we will not require a Black History Month.

How can the further education sector become more racially inclusive?

The FE sector is well placed to become more racially inclusive as we have such diverse classrooms. At our School of Business, Accounting and Travel and Tourism, students are taught by staff who they can identify with and relate to, which enables them to feel part of the curriculum and aspire. Our students are today’s workforce, and we need to do our best to enrich their lives no matter what their backgrounds, so that they can individually fulfil their potential.