BLACK HISTORY MONTH was founded by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, former Operations Manager of London’s Notting Hill Carnival, the world’s second largest open-air street festival after Brazil’s Rio Carnival.
The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in a message released to open the month-long celebrations and reflections wrote: “Today, in every walk of life, from business to politics, sport to culture, there are African and African Caribbean men and women whose achievements are not just making our country a better place but inspiring others to follow in their footsteps to even greater success… So as we mark the 30th anniversary of Black History Month, it is right to look back with pride on the progress that has been made in taking on racism and discrimination. But I am also clear just how far we have to go, not just in rooting out hatred and prejudice from our society, but in tackling injustices that still hold back too many people in our country today…”
The opposition Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn wrote: “At the heart of the Labour Party is the promise to always campaign for equality, equality of rights and opportunity for all. As a lifelong campaigner for equal rights I will do all I can as Leader to ensure the Party delivers on that promise…I hope you enjoy Black History month, a time to reflect, to learn but also to celebrate the wonderful diversity of Britain. I encourage everyone to look up and attend local events as I will do both in my constituency and on my travels across the country…”
Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats Leader, had this to say:
“Since its inception in 1987, Black History Month has given us many inspiring stories, reminding us of the tireless efforts of those who have fought for equality in the face of adversity, hate and indeed danger. They did so selflessly, so that future generations would enjoy the freedoms and opportunities they were denied…I am really pleased to once again extend my support to this annual celebration of culture, identity and community in this its 30th year in the UK. As I think back over British history, I am overwhelmed by the remarkable legacies of BAME diaspora communities, whose contributions have transformed the political, economic and cultural landscape of this country for the better…”
And from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: “During October I look forward to joining Londoners from all backgrounds at a variety of events across the city to pay tribute to our African and African Caribbean communities and all they have done to add to the life of the capital, helping to make it one of the most vibrant places on the planet. At Africa on the Square, a highlight in the capital’s cultural calendar, Londoners from all backgrounds and visitors to the city will celebrate the best of African culture and creativity…I also want to use Black History Month to improve the wellbeing of the capital’s black communities and to raise awareness of the challenges they still face in London today.”
In a special message released to mark the occasion Akyaaba Addai-Sebo wrote:
“Black History Month calls on the rest of British society to pull out of their archives, basements and lofts the evidence of their ancestors’ encounter with Africa plus the tell-tale treasures, iconic monuments, images and jewellery that thus hidden continue to suppress, defile and destroy indigenous African advances in the arts, agriculture, architecture, clothing, industry, science, technology and medicine. The hidden hereditary motifs, cultural insignia and recorded familiar family accounts that attest to the abiding “humanity” and industry of the African should now come out in the open as part of the sum total of British life and civilisation. It is this coming out that will cause a healing and reconnection and celebration of our common humanity and give meaning and real value to Great Britain.”
Addai-Sebo continued: “Black History month seeks to establish a common ground to attain that common purpose in shared values in our way of life for the re-ordering of British society for freedom and justice to prevail at all times so as to ensure that society is purged of discrimination, marginalisation, inequality, injustice and racism. To achieve this desirable goal, as enshrined in the Race Relations and Equalities Acts, there must be carried out by the state a systemic root and branch national curriculum change from lullabies, nursery rhymes and catechism to tertiary education courses, tutorials, research and development programmes so that purposeful, balanced and measurable change can be felt and appreciated by all to the cause of our one humanity.”
In 1997, through the vision and driving force of Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, supported by Lord Paul Boateng, then Chairman of the Ethnic Minorities Committee of the Greater London Council, an African Jubilee Year Declaration was promulgated and the month of October declared Black History Month and successively endorsed by local authorities across the United Kingdom. During the month, yearly, over 4000 multi-cultural activities are simultaneously organized in the communities, schools, colleges, universities, libraries, museums, cinemas, theatres, churches, mosques, temples, local authorities, government departments, the armed forces, police and old people’s homes. All, in celebration and recognition of the contributions of Africa, Africans and people of African descent to the economic, social, political, industrial and commercial life of Great Britain from antiquity to the present.
In late 1985, Addai-Sebo became aware of the difficulties that British black children faced in identifying themselves as Africans. This problem of identity came to characterise the behaviour of some Ghanaian youth who carried and as well as mimicked themselves as Afro-Caribbeans. Africa, as fed them mostly by the mass media and the educational curriculum, did not instil in them any inspiring cultural perspectives. The black child born and raised in this Great Britain was made not to feel “great” about themselves. And the recently arrived from Africa or the Caribbean only came to add to the pool of alienated youth confused about who they are with their tongues and mind glued by the common English language, a most powerful tool of acculturation or mental enslavement. Something had to be done to reclaim the African child and the lost generation.
Intervention proposals made to the progressive leadership of the Greater London Council (GLC) were accepted and budgetary provisions were duly made. A public education programme was carried out across London under the banner of GLC Historical Lectures and Concerts which awakened London to the truth of the contributions of the human and natural resources of Mother Africa to the development, growth and the making of this “Great” Britain. The lectures and concerts were extended to other cities across the UK and the “word” of the arising African Personality reverberated in schools, homes and within the communities sowing seeds of recognition and acceptance. Thus the foundation of Black History Month was solidly laid in the hearts and mind of the people and a veritable cultural space was created in the annual calendar of events in the United Kingdom.