CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Take Back The Power: The education system has been whitewashed, say young activists

Project members who joined Black Lives Matter protest call for ‘proper’ black history to be taught

11 June, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

A billboard in Camden Town reads ‘I can’t breathe’, some of George Floyd’s final words [Simon Lamrock]

YOUNG activists who joined the Black Lives Matter protests in central London over the weekend say the education system needs an overhaul, with histories of all cultures added to the curriculum.

Members of Take Back The Power (TBTP), a youth project based at The Winch in Swiss Cottage, joined the demonstrations that followed the police custody death of George Floyd in the United States last month.

Zandi Mathebula-Jonah, 18, who was at the protest on Sunday outside the US embassy, said: “It was good to be standing in unity together but more needs to be done than just protests. TBTP want to achieve emotional amnesty – that means there should be a space for young people to voice experiences of systemic violence. A lot of people need to reconcile what is happening.”

Haven Pope, 18, who lives in Kentish Town, said: “The education system has been whitewashed. It is vital proper black history is taught in schools. A shallow education breeds prejudice. Black history at school at the moment is at a basic level. When I was at school I found myself teaching other people what wasn’t being taught and doing my own external reading.”

Zandi Mathebula-Jonah

She added: “We have seen people become uncomfortable with what is going on and how that affects black people. People realise it is a deep-rooted issue that must be dealt with.”

Dean Mukeza, 18, also from TBTP, said the issue of exclusions – 700 children were excluded in Camden last year – needs to be looked at again. “I’ve known loads of people who were put in isolation at school,” he said. “School is a place where a lot of moulding happens. When people are excluded from school that can be detrimental to their emotional growth. Young people are begging for change but the system around us is not quick enough.”

The government had urged people not to join the demonstrations due to the possible transmission of coronavirus in large groups. Camden Council, however, took the stance of setting up a support centre in Somers Town and a support phone line offering advice on how to protest safely.

Haven Pope protesting in central London

Hiri Arunagiri, a teacher at Acland Burghley School in Tufnell Park, said: “One of the things that gets talked about a lot is school exclusion rates, especially among black boys. If we reduce the exclusion rate, the other statistics, including underemployment, will drop. This will reduce if we keep students in school and this will happen if we work on our unconscious bias.”

Ben Turner set up the Camden Rap Club two years ago with young people from Haverstock, UCL, Maria Fidelis, William Ellis, Parliament Hill schools and WAC Arts College.

He said: “When I speak to them they want to see change and want to be heard but are very fragile because they have less support than they otherwise would have. “I hope there is a recognition to be more embracing of cultures in the curriculum. I think there is a lot of potential there to have a big positive impact for our young people.”

Mr Turner added: “I really think giving our young people platforms where they are not just heard but where they are leading the conversation and leading others to make change is important. The words they say and the actions they do lead the change.”

Last week, Camden Council lit up its offices in purple lights in solidarity with the campaign.

Town Hall leader Councillor Georgia Gould said of the council’s decision to offer advice to demonstrators: “The first thing is to really express, again, our anger and heartbreak at some of the scenes we’re seeing from America – not just what happened to George Floyd, but the response to that. And we know that there’s systemic racism, not just in the US, but in the UK, and in our own community as well.”

She added: “We recognise that many young people are really angry, and we totally understand that anger. And we’re trying to create spaces where young people can work with us.”

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