As we draw rapidly towards the end of 2020, there can be no denying, from any part of the globe, that this year will be recorded as a momentous year. Nothing will ever be the same again. A new time dimension has been set, as in pre-Covid and post-Covid. I often think of the small children who are growing up in these times – the entrenched memories of faces hidden behind the ever-widening and diversely-styled masks. The broad smiles replaced by the glistening of the eye to mark positive connections between people and confirmation of ‘I’m fine today and keeping safe’. We are the authors and characters who are making history. So what story will you be telling?
For myself, there is another story to be told; a story of events mapped out by camera stills and live footage, which led to people of all colours marching in the streets to let their voices be heard. We were told that “The Revolution would not be televised.” (Gil Scott – Heron), but it was, and it continues to be. A global movement led by pure anger against racial injustice and raw fear juxtaposed with strength, a passionate and empowering belief in a better, more racially-inclusive society. In turn, we cried, “I can’t breath!”…… and with our tired, yet unified voices, we mustered support and a renewed reflection. A burning ember was born. We led a period of introspection, where we forced ourselves to ask ‘What has been our contribution to making this a more equitable society and what will our contribution continue to be?’. For myself, I know, I cannot yet be silent.
Racism is not a new concept. It was cited as one of the three evils by Dr Martin Luther King Jn in 1967: “the evil of racism, the evil of poverty and the evil of war”. Racism exists and, for us to make inroads into its eradication, acknowledging its existence must be the starting point. “….and so there has been progress, but we must not allow this progress to cause us to engage in superficial and dangerous optimism” – Dr Martin Luther King Jn (1967). We rise in recognition of the significant role that education has to play in securing an anti-racist agenda for our schools and our young people. School leaders, including governors, are positioned to influence themselves, teachers, students, parents, politicians and the local community. We will silence the mockers who question our lived experiences. #TheTimeIsNow. This is why my own solutions to improving our racially-diverse society have been practical, far-reaching and sustainable.
There is too much to lose, as each of our allies, gradually get pulled back into the minutia of day-to-day survival, for some, there can be no going back. There is no time for hibernation, because we do not know what we will find when we re-awake. For the sake of the silent majority, we must act and act now, in a peaceful and intellectually inspired way. We must ‘prod the snake’ and when we get bitten, we prod again. “There is no vaccine for racism, we just have to do the work” Kamala Harris. If you and I are not speaking, declaring, articulating and vocalising, who will?. So we implore each other to stand tall, with dignity and not be silent. A silent world is deafening in its own right.
How a moment of great joy created a greatest moment of anxiety.
I am a professional in education, but first and foremost, I am a mother and most recently a grandmother. When people look at me, they see a successful, black leader in education. For most of my life that is what has defined me – that became the air that I breathed. When George Floyd was killed, it struck me so hard, like I’d been kicked at full force by a horse. Which mother could not look at those scenes and feel the pains of childbirth?. But you didn’t even have to be a mother, you just had to be human. To grow a son for so many years, just to have the breath taken out of them in 8 minutes and 46 seconds. 8 minutes and 46 seconds and all the hopes, dreams, memories, laughter and joy were over.
My response has not been dissimilar to some of my other black colleagues, because to live in a world of highly successful people, who are not the same colour as yourself, means to some degree that you have to play by a different set of rules just to fit in, otherwise all manner of accusations start to fly. Any reason to say ‘they were only appointed because they were black’ and as we know it is very rarely that black heads get the less challenging schools. But I have moved to a place where none of that matters anymore. It is time to speak and speak loudly. Why? George Floyd could have been my son or grandson…………………
When my grandson was born late last year, my first response was an overwhelming sense of pure love. I know he is going to be a special child, because as I arrived at the hospital at 10.55am, the sun came out and shone brightly, on what was a rainy day. He was born at 10.56am. As I entered the hospital room, I was struck by the serene environment. No busy hospital bustle, the room looked more like a bedroom at home. The baby was there as if he had always been here. ‘It’s a boy!’, they said. ‘Oh wow’, I replied. ‘Simply amazing!’.
As I looked down at him with the biggest smile ever, the emotions were very real. My thoughts turned over and over to land on the ‘How am I going to protect this young black boy in this country?’. What kind of an experience is he going to have in what is, whether it’s stated/liked or not, a racist country, with long-held views about black boys. It is for this reason that I am writing this blog. It matters. Black Lives Matter.
As a professional, I have done great things, but I have always been clear that the quality of my work comes first. It is said in the black community that we have to work twice as hard to get anywhere and this can be said of the teaching profession, because only 1% of headteachers are from the BAME community. Did I get through the doors because my name is very generic, neither white nor black? I don’t know, but what I do know is that I have always had to work hard to prove myself, despite the numerous examples of racism I have faced, and with the tirelessly hard work, has come the accolades. I deliberately avoided getting pulled into educational debate as ‘the black Head’, because I wanted my work to speak first and I needed a broad experience of education. I wanted people to choose me for the right reasons. I swerved at the suggestion of ‘Let’s get HER because we need a black person in the room to make ourselves look inclusive’. Even now, you would be hard-pressed to find another black face in a professional meeting of significance. The tide has not turned, but it is turning now………………. I think to some degree, for my own survival, my decisions were right.
So what is needed now to make Black Lives Matter? Not in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, whose streets we walk every day, whose streets where black boys are still being profiled and stopped for unnecessary reasons, where their chances of achieving at school and reaching their potential is limited? Well, although it is much broader than an educational response, education is what I know best, therefore these would be my suggestions.
The System and People – Involve all schools. You can’t remove the system from the people. The people are the system. It is not just about our black children who we worry about on a daily basis in terms of safety, but it is also about aspirations and whether the school system is actively involved in this agenda.
Cross Party Politics – Develop a sustained approach, which has a clear commitment from all sides. Too often governments change and the system plays snakes and ladders with the systemic racism and the solution to it. We start again, and again, and again.
Systemic Change – Implement systemic change . You don’t just change the people, you have to change the policies.
Teacher Training – Develop a Core Unit within teacher training to do with race and racism, including how to develop a diverse and inclusive curriculum
Accountability for MAT CEOs – Train CEOs and Headteachers on the ‘Race at Work‘ report. There must be a commitment to respond to the report in a significant way and sign up to the Race at Work Charter, to ensure that we have ‘engaged institutions’ (see Paul Washington Miller’s paper – Tackling race inequality in school leadership‘) 2019.
Collaboration of schools – Share good practice across schools. Don’t avoid talking about race and racism, no matter how uncomfortable it feels. If you do not know the right words to use, then it is simple….ASK
Recruitment – Improve recruitment. Mentor, Coach and recruit more ethnic role models into middle and senior leadership positions
Anti-Racism – Separate anti-racism out as a distinct whole-school responsibility
Be Brave – Be brave and acknowledge when things are not going right
Curriculum Changes – Implement curriculum changes. Embed positive ethnic role models throughout the curriculum. Look at the positive aspects of black history and avoid stereotyping.
From the black community, a saying I recently came across, ‘George Floyd isn’t a wake-up call. It is just that we/you keep hitting the snooze button’. School leaders, including governors, are positioned to influence themselves, the students, teachers, parents and others in the local community. We must use that influence to talk about race and effect change. The whole teaching profession should step up in its’ effort for equality for the children, but also for each other. It is a time for deep reflection, because in order for change to take place on the outside, it has to permeate from the inside. If you feel it as a mother, as a grandmother, as a father, as a member of mankind, you understand it as a person.
So this is my call to my ethnic colleagues and leaders, don’t wait for a seat on the table, create your own table. We don’t have to be endorsed. We are here to stay for our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. For everyone else, you matter to us so let Black Lives Matter to you. The time for talking is finished. The time for change is here.
We have to believe that change is possible. I believe it is.