#BlackLivesMatter: Where do we go from here?

Written by: Angelina Idun | Published:
"We have an opportunity ... to ensure this work stays central and integral to every aspect of our work in schools." Angelina Idun, director, SSAT – the schools, students and teachers network

The Black Lives Matter movement has led to a year of immense change, but there have also been devastating set-backs. Angelina Idun asks where are we now in the fight for equality – and what questions must schools be asking as the new year begins?

If @Oprah Winfrey is reading this, I hope she will not mind me taking as my title the title of a conversation she led following the tragic murder of George Floyd in May 2020. The conversation featured Oprah’s discussions with high-profile Black thought leaders, activists and artists. Over several months this was among the programmes I watched, books and articles I read, and events I participated in that gave me hope that the change I am impatient for was coming.

It has been more than a year since I watched that programme and pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, adding my voice to the protest by writing about Black Lives Matter (Idun, 2020). The year has been one of immense change, challenge, and uncertainty. As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin said: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

For me, a global moment of hope, giving the feeling that voices are being heard and that real change is possible, came as Kamala Harris made history becoming the first female, Black, and South Asian vice-president of the USA. And 22-year-old Amanda Gorman reciting her poem The Hill We Climb at the inauguration of President Joe Biden spoke words that were also a source of hope.

There are many inspirational lines in her poem. Relevant to this piece and the work that still remains to be done is this:

“And so, we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.”

Closer to home, it has been encouraging to work with and talk to teachers, students and leaders about how they have been motivated to actively develop their anti-racist strategy. Schools across the country are working to achieve greater equity and do all they can in their school communities to end discrimination. Creating safe spaces for adults and children to share experiences and encouraging and enabling stakeholders to educate themselves and deepen understanding has been key to these efforts.

As Kamala Harris says: “We are striving to forge our union with purpose.”

Editions of SSAT’s Sunday Supplement have shared examples of how George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter has given momentum to active change in school communities. Two excellent examples can be found at Central Girls’ Foundation School in east London (Garvin, 2021) and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Derbyshire (Chow, 2021) – work that has been captured in articles from teachers participating in SSAT’s Leadership Legacy Project.

These, like other schools, are on a journey to achieving the aims they strengthened their commitment to, in response to events of May 2020. This journey is a long haul. Throughout the year, these moments of hope have been clouded by moments and events that could easily distract, derail and discourage us from the important work we know needs to be done.

Examples include the 2021 Sewell Report that denied the existence of institutional racism, the wave of abuse directed at players after the Euro 2020 final, the hateful commentary that follows Meghan Markle, and the still-uncompensated Windrush scandal victims.

Again, closer to home, recent conversations are a reminder of the distance still to go. One teenage boy told me about being in the street when a passing car lowered its window and someone in the vehicle called him a “monkey”. It was poignant to see him lower his head and admit this made him feel scared.

In another conversation a mother told me of an incident in which she and her teenage daughter were called the “n…..” word. Mum, though hurt and appalled, was ready to let it go, daughter was ready to challenge and stand her ground. This, mum reflected, was an indication of how the work her child’s school is doing is empowering her daughter to call out racism. I have also talked to children of Asian descent targeted by an increase in racial slurs fuelled by Covid. So, as we start a new school year, where do we go from here?

The first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder gave us time to remember him and his family and to take stock. We also have an opportunity as the school year begins, as we review priorities and revisit the moral purpose to which Amanda Gorman refers to ensure this work stays central and integral to every aspect of our work in schools.

When the Sewell Report was published, I felt angry and at the same time doubtful and unsure whether the efforts of so many were worthwhile. As often happens at times like this, individuals and organisations stepped up, spoke out and reassured. Among these was the Runnymede Trust. Its webinar helped me see the report for what it was (2021). Among the speakers, campaigner and cultural historian Patrick Vernon told us not to spend time being angry about it, but instead to do the real work. He urged viewers to work and strategise with others who are serious about making lasting change happen.

The importance of drawing on the energy and spirit of allyship was emphasised, as was staying focused on our purpose, on the commitments we have made and on continued demands for change. As we reset and push forward, these messages are helpful to us all.

My first BLM blog (Idun, 2020) highlighted things I strongly feel matter and which we can focus on as schools to bring about change. As we start the term, these remain important and relevant, as do these questions:

  • What has been your school’s race equality journey this year?
  • What have you seen, read, or listened to that has influenced this agenda and activity?
  • Which aspects of your school’s anti-racist strategy will be a focus in the coming months?

Sharing strategies, stories and resources across schools and networks will help strengthen and sharpen our purpose and focus as we keep the spotlight on our race equality work.

  • Angelina Idun is director at the SSAT – the schools, students and teachers network.

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