October was Black History Month, an event celebrated around the country and featuring many discussions and perspectives on Black history, and how we can learn from the past. The events at Eton were no exception, with lots of innovative ways to open up the conversation about history and race.
Mr Isama, Eton’s Inclusion Officer, led assemblies for many year groups discussing trailblazers in society and chaired discussions following numerous powerful film showings. The award-winning 2004 film ‘Bullet Boy’ was shown, along with the biographical ‘Fruitvale Station’, depicting the final hours of Oscar Grant’s life before he was shot and killed by Oakland Police officers in 2009.
Finn J, Secretary of FilmSoc, explained the decision behind showing the latter. He said it was choice for “its heart-breaking depiction of the victimization of African-Americans by the brutality of the police, shown through the eyes of one man. When the lights turned on in the room, there were tears from all ages and I know that the impact of the film’s message stayed with everyone”
Eton’s History Publication, the 1440 Review, featured articles about Black History throughout the month, looking at everything from the Mali Empire’s Ninth King-Emperor Mansa Musa, to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. These articles proved how vital it is to remember and learn from the past. For example, the riots surrounding the case of black shoe-shiner Dick Rowland in 1921 were a “forgotten tragedy” until the 1990s, as Thomas H’s article explains. You can read these stories and more on the 1440 review website: https://1440review.com/
Along with regular society meetings discussing Black History, the centrepiece of this year’s events was the Coutts Bank talk and prize. Coutts’ Headquarters celebrated football player Marcus Rashford and his message “change takes true character”. Business leaders from the bank joined NatWest Black Professionals Group, and pupils from Eton, Holyport, Slough Star Academies, and Eden Girls to discuss diversity in the modern world and workplace. Nilesh J was there and describes the event:
“The talk was a series of powerful and moving moments, bringing together a whole room of people in their shared experiences and centred around the theme of ‘I am proud’. Jonathan spoke about breaking down the negative perceptions around being black. Alishba spoke powerfully about pushing past barriers despite her differences. Sofia spoke about how she was simply ‘proud to be’, questioning why we should be set apart by our differences.”
It was a night where I realised what it meant to feel empowered. It was fantastic to be able to do so in such a supportive atmosphere. We learnt that every single one of us has so much to be proud of, both with our differences and in spite of them.”Nilesh, Year 13 Pupil
Tyrese G also spoke at the event, closing the evening with a series of poems and monologues about what it means to be a Black British man. Tyrese told me it was “a truly special event put on to showcase the talents of BAME students and our individual stories. I don’t usually get nervous when I speak but this time I was, with a platform this big to share my emotions, experiences and pain through poetry and a short monologue was more than I could’ve asked for. What a night! What a message!”
At the event, Lord Waldegrave, Eton’s Provost and Chair of Coutts, also announced a new Diversity essay prize for Eton and partner schools. Winners will be announced in January, receiving cash prizes and work experience at Coutts.
Thanks go to everyone who was involved in making this year’s Black History Month so full of interesting events and vital discussions. Thank you to the Head of Inclusion Education Mrs Osborne and Mr Isama, as well as the many pupils and teachers involved. Thanks also to external speakers and students from other schools, who helped to make Black History Month such a significant event in Eton’s calendar.