Descending down the British Museum’s stairs toward the African exhibit, the walls display colorful tapestries and paintings. Through the glass doors, visitors get a glimpse of some of the greatest African empire’s artifacts.
Visitors like Hannah Aliyu walked around viewing pieces, discussing controversial topics and learning more about African culture in celebration of the United Kingdom’s Black History Month.
When Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, special projects officer at the Greater London Council, visited the United States in the 1970s, he said he worked to create a Black History Month for UK citizens, and eventually, the first UK BHM was opened in October 1987.
While the UK’s BHM has been established for nearly 34 years, Aliyu, a 30-year-old half-Nigerian woman, said she recalls not learning anything about her heritage or any African history while in primary and secondary school.
“Nothing,” she said. “It was never taught. You were taught just the English History.”
Years later, Aliyu said she actively seeks to better understand and assist others in the acknowledgment of African heritage. She slowly paced through the exhibit with her friend, Donny Moore, stopping ever so often to show him some of her favorite pieces in the museum.
There have been discussions and demands of adding more African history into the primary and secondary curriculum in the UK. After the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, many UK citizens have demanded Black history be embedded in all school subjects. According to an article by The Guardian, the government believes there is already flexibility and freedom within the curriculum to study black history.
Aliyu believes she has seen a change in the teaching of Black history since she attended school. Her mother is a teacher, and she tells Aliyu that the school is adding more Black history into all subject curriculum.
Parents Philip Udeh and Jamie Scheair-Udeh were at the museum to not only learn more about their culture but to create a more Afro-centric curriculum for their 5-year-old daughter to learn.
“The history and education that our daughter is getting is very much Eurocentric, and Black people are really seen as an afterthought,” Scheair-Udeh said. “We want to create an environment where she feels really rooted and like she belongs and to some extent has some entitlement.”
To celebrate Black History Month schools are playing Black movies in the on-campus theater, displaying Black books for people in the library and bringing publicity to some of the Black-led events around campus. The University of Kent in Canterbury England is showcasing a public exhibit of famous Black figures.
On the way to class, students can view portraits of famous Black people such as Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali, as well as learn about their accomplishments in the Keynes College lounge.
Udeh believes there is more to be done when it comes to educating UK students in order to create a more comfortable and inclusive experience for Black students.
“In our education system here, there is not that much about ancient Africa that shows the level of civilization, the level of creativity, the level of art,” said Udeh.
For Udeh, it starts with adding more information about ancient African civilizations into the curriculum to show the people of African descent that their history does not start with slavery.