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Akyaaba Addai-Sebo is a Ghanaian analyst, journalist and pan-African activist who is credited with developing in 1987 the recognition of October as Black History Month in the UK

Black History Month: Time for Change: Action Not Words

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From the days of the slave trade through to modern times, black people have endured segregation and have had their rights undermined, in contrast to the white man’s privilege. Post-emancipation, the black community’s efforts towards integration and advocating for equal rights have often met with blockades, making any advance next to impossible. Black generations growing up in ‘western’ cultures recognised that for their roots, history and essence as a race to matter they had to take a stand and fight.

After surviving for generations as a minority group, the UK’s black community reached a pivotal moment. This was the onset of a movement that began as a dream and has steadily gained ground, becoming a month-long celebration of the men and women who shook UK culture to its foundations.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson

Black History Month (BHM) has its origins in Dr Carter G Woodson’s 1926 campaign for one week a year, in February, to be set aside to promote and educate people about black history and culture. By the 1960s, the original ‘Negro History Week’ had expanded into Black History Month, which was officially recognised by the US government in 1976.

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It gained momentum in the UK in 1987 when Ghanaian-born Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a special projects officer at the Greater London Council (GLC), noted that black children in the 1980s had an identity problem despite Race Awareness campaigns by the GLC and the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).

Addai-Sebo’s goal was to introduce black schoolchildren to the accomplishments of  “Africa, Africans and people of African descent to world civilization from antiquity to the present”who contributed to the cultural and economic blueprint in the UK. Every October, these students could now learn about the history of people who looked like them and were heroes in their own right in their schools. Even better, they could carry on the heritage and preserve their identity for posterity.

Having started with students, BHM has now paid the way for black creators, influencers, businesses and artists to advocate for equal rights and opportunities across the globe.

Despite the challenges the black community still faces, there is a strong resolve to build on the achievements of BHM. One development is the inclusion of other minorities that share a past affected by discrimination and segregation.

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An important challenge is to change the narrative around the black community. Social media has proved to be a powerful tool for retelling their story. Other agents of change are music, film, art, fashion and education.

This year’s theme, Time for Change: Action Not Words, characterises the tenacity of the UK’s black community to take charge and call for more action from their community, relevant stakeholders and the wider world.

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