Bringing Black History Month inside: Celebrations at HMYOI Aylesbury

Bringing Black History Month inside: Celebrations at HMYOI Aylesbury

Black History Month got a boost at HMYOI Aylesbury this year as Unlocked Graduate Katrice drove the project, setting-up panel discussions with the young men about Black History, invited artists and speakers for events, and hosted a quiz. Her passion has made a big difference to the young men at HMYOI Aylesbury and got some important conversations started.

#She tells the story in her own words here

Think back to when you were in school… How many of you can remember being taught about Black History Month (beyond brief stories about slavery in America)?

When it’s done right, Black History Month fills a critical gap in the usual history curriculum.  It may be the first time that young people find out about the imperative work that Black British people did, alongside other minority groups and White British individuals, to cultivate a culture of equality within the UK – whilst simultaneously fighting for their own freedom from oppression.

In my experience, Black History Month would almost catch me by surprise every year at school (despite it being at the same time) and we would focus on: Marcus Garvey, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X – and if we were lucky, they may have thrown in a more current figure such as Barack Obama. The fact remains that Black History is still not fully understood.

Celebrating Black History Month allows for the rich contribution of Black individuals to be shared, acknowledged and celebrated. The reality is this – Black British history, just like all other areas of Black History, belongs to all of us. The celebration of this history allows for all individuals irrespective of race, to learn and celebrate history. The impact Black Brits have made deserves to be recognised, celebrated and honoured. The celebration of Black History month allows us to pause, acknowledge and honour their sacrifices and achievements – partly as a precursor to generating racial equality.

This is why I wanted to do something to mark it at HMYOI Aylesbury which houses a very diverse groups of young men between 18 and 21 who may have missed out on learning like this at school.

Whilst we strive earnestly to create a safe and decent prison system, our four walls are unable to fully keep everything out – racism included. It is important that we seek to challenge racist views but also educate the residents in our care about race and the history that it played in the UK. This will help to equip the young offenders for a life beyond custody.

Black History Month ran for the first ever time in 2019 at HMYOI Aylesbury. We ran celebrations for the young offenders, including a Black History Month quiz, panel discussions about race and criminal justice, and arranged for speakers and artists to discuss Black History. This resulted in them being able to openly discuss how equality can be improved in the prison, gave them the platform to engage in social issues and helped them build a desire to learn and challenge social injustice both in custody and upon release.

The celebration of Black History Month allows us to acknowledge the progress we have made collectively and to look to the future in confidence of a fairer and more equal society. Whether you believe Black History Month is still relevant or not, the paradox is this; the fight for racial equality demands the commitment and unity of us all.