Black History Month is an event that is observed every October throughout the United Kingdom to celebrate and recognise African and African Caribbean contributions to British society. The foremost aims of the Month are to disseminate information on positive black contributions to British society, to heighten the confidence and awareness of Black people to their cultural heritage, and to promote knowledge of Black history and experiences.
As well as a platform for Black culture, BHM is part of an ongoing educational project to redress perceived distortions and omissions of Africa’s global contribution to world civilisation. The event’s chosen symbol is the Sankofa bird, an Akan symbol showing a bird looking backwards while moving forwards, signifying the need to learn from the past. The event originated in the United States, when Carter G. Woodson established African and Caribbean celebrations in 1926.
In Britain, Adkyaaba Addai Sebbo is widely acknowledged as the founder of Black History Month. The inaugural event took place on 1 October 1987 during African Jubilee Year, arising from a strategic partnership between the Greater London Council, the Inner London Education Authority, and the London Strategic Policy Unit.
Black History Month has expanded with the years, and what was once unique to London is now nationwide. Its participants now encompass voluntary organisations, local authorities, museums, and the media. Events range from theatrical productions to storytelling, exhibitions, musical performances, poetry readings and comedy shows. In recent years the scope of the Month has expanded to serve as recognition of the general contribution of cultural diversity to British society, and local authorities have been proactive in hosting and organising events.
The success of Black History Month events grew at a time when racial tensions were still high after the riots in Brixton that spread across different cities across the country in 1981, including to Leicester. Organisations formed throughout the 1980s in Leicester to help build up community relations for the African and African Caribbean communities. The Highfields area of Leicester saw the creation of the Ajani Centre, Afro-Caribbean Education Working Group (ACE) and the Highfields Workshop Centre in 1981.
Following the 1981 disturbances in Leicester, which highlighted a number of deficiencies in the African Caribbean community a series of meetings were held with the Leicester City Council. This led to the formation of a community base committee to represent the young black community. The committee consisted of members from established black organisations, sound systems collectives, concerned individuals, and the business community. One of the conclusions from the committee was the community’s need for a building to call its own, a building from which a range of services could be provided to meet the deficiencies of the community. It was also felt the building could become a central point that the African Caribbean Community could identify with and it would intern become a focal point from which the community would have a local, national and international expression.
Since BHM’s creation, different themes are chosen by the organisation with the tender to produce the brochure for example, in recent years Mainstream Partnership and Serendipity Arts. Each year the chosen theme represents specific anniversaries and key events in the Black History timeline. Performances or exhibitions are created and delivered to audiences therefore, enhancing the vision and knowledge of Black History in Leicester for all generations of society.
African Caribbean Citizens Forum, Rapport Magazine, Summer Edition, 2005, p. 5.
Donated by Carol Varley: African Caribbean Citizens Forum