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Personal perspectives on BHM2020: Justin Dankyi

Posted on October 2020

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1. Tell me a bit about yourself, and your background. 

Both of my parents are from Ghana my dad first came to the UK in the 70s and my mum in the 80s. They met over here and when they got married moved to Hounslow to raise a family and I have lived there my whole life. We have quite a few relatives that live in London, so we are able to do family get-togethers and keep up traditions.  Having said that as I've got older whilst I can still understand most of my native language, it’s getting worse. When I was younger, I could understand everything, so I’d love to get to a point where I understand it fully again. My Ghanaian heritage is important to me, and without lockdown I would have been going there this year. It would have been the first time since I was 2 or 3 – it has been such a long time. It’s something I really wanted to do, I wanted to go back home and see all my relatives. They keep saying they remember seeing me when I was there, but obviously I don’t recall meeting them as I was so young.

2. Why is it important we celebrate BHM, and black history more widely? 

One reason why it’s important is that it is not really covered in schools at all. Ideally there shouldn’t have to be a Black History Month, but I feel if there wasn’t one it would easily be dismissed. I was looking back to my time at school, about the moments in which we learnt about black history, and I feel like there’s always a designated period ‘okay now we’re going to learn about black history’. Then the rest of the year it’s just not there. BHM is a good opportunity to highlight positive people and figures in black history. When we watched the Michael Holding video in the D+I meeting, he spoke about Lewis Latimer who invented the filament. I had heard about it before, but then I was thinking why didn’t I learn about this in school? That’s surely something that should be really important, this man’s innovation was how Thomas Edison was able to make a light bulb, but no one has heard of him. So BHM goes someway to putting these people back in the spotlight.

One issue about Black History Month is that a lot of the time I’ll be aware it’s happening and then I'll notice a distinct lack of coverage of on various sites. It's getting better that this year there’s really been a push for it. It has its own website now but there is still more to do. For instance, last week I just thought I would check the BBC site and see what they are doing to cover BHM. I had to scroll right to the bottom of the page to see anything, I don’t believe this is going to beneficial for anyone. Personally, as much as I don’t mind educating people on this, the burden shouldn't be on black people.

3. Who has been an inspiration for you?

I am going to name a few people that I’d say what they have achieved is something to be talked about. Firstly, my uncle. He’s an accountant and every now and again he’ll tell stories of his education and career in the UK and what he’s had to deal with and how he’s just persevered. A few weeks ago, he was telling me the story of how he was meeting a client and brought one of his colleagues, so his colleague could see how the meeting should be conducted. The client walked in and spoke to my uncle as though he was the assistant or someone to bring the water to the room. I just think he’s stronger than I am, I don’t think I could deal with that on a day to day basis. It doesn’t happen so much now but 20/30 years ago he had to deal with that every day.

Someone not in my family would be Lewis Hamilton, for being the only black person in the field he is in and for what he must have gone through in the beginning. Constantly having to prove himself, ten times over that he was worthy to be there. Seeing how he started to now is such a journey, the level of commitment that he and his family had to put in is quite something. I also like the way he is willing to use his voice and his platform; whilst many in a similar position would stay quiet, in fear of monetary loss. 

And finally, another minority in her field is my cousin Yvonne who is a teacher. During my whole time at school from nursery to university I had one black teacher, and he was there for maybe 6 months. It is essential that children see or have a black person leading and educating. It gives you someone to look up to and say it is possible to do that. She works in Ilford and she is giving those kids that person to aspire too. In addition to this, a more diverse workforce would reduce the occasions where non-black teachers’ unconscious biases inhibit the educational progress of black students.

4. Is there an unknown/untold or underrated person or story that you think people should know about?  

I initially wasn’t going to say this story because I thought it was quite common, but after the past few months, it’s actually surprising how few people know her. It’s Harriet Tubman, who was formerly an enslaved woman in the US South, and she attained freedom to the North but instead of just being free and getting on with her life, she went back to free multiple slaves. She made numerous trips back and forth, over and over again and I just think that’s a good story. She could have just been content having successfully attained freedom and not looked back, but not, she made the decision to ensure other African Americans could be free, just like her.

5. Which part of history needs a different perspective?

I’d say Colonisation, in the sense that when covering the slave trade in school, we only ever looked at it through the eyes of the US and the European nations involved. The nations that were plundered were almost never named individually and you never heard the black voices in this situation. It’s as though we were just the extras in the movie. The only stories I know are from my Dad as his grandad had interactions with the British in Ghana. If you want to learn specifics you have to do that research yourself. For instance, Ethiopia was the only country not colonised, they were occupied briefly by Italy during WW2 but after that they weren’t. Because of this many African countries including Ghana used the colours of their flag as a kinship to stand with them.

We need to hear different voices, right now this is the first time that I’ve ever had the opportunity to speak about this, whether that be at work or school. There was never a moment when we were given the opportunity to speak and this is what has happened in history.

6. Rule of 6, who would be the 5 to join you at a celebration for BHM?

John Kwadwo Taah- My grandad, because he would have been around during pre-Ghana independence, he’s still around now, but it would be good to speak about how life changed and what he went through pre 1957. He also could tell the stories of my great uncle Ignatius Kutu Acheampong who was president of Ghana; how he coped with that power vacuum and what the transition between those two situations was like.

Nelson Mandela, I want to know how he managed not be vengeful after having been imprisoned just for wanting to be equal for all that time. He stayed so peaceful and had hope. I don’t know if I could do that.

Marcus Rashford- What he’s doing to feed children who don’t have enough is brilliant. I just don’t think people understand, I had a few friends at school who had meal cards and online people say things like the parents should pay for it they chose to have children, but at the end of the day if the children don’t have anything to eat how are they going to survive. I like how he has just taken this initiative and pushed the government to back track. It’s amazing what he’s done, he said no, it’s not good enough, and didn’t backdown because he understood from how he grew up.

Bernice King- She is Martin Luther King’s daughter and she is trying to continue the work her father started. I follow her on Twitter, and she is constantly trying to educate people on a day to day basis and despite all the negativity she gets, she still preservers and keeps going.

An every-day black person in the UK - As good as the people I have mentioned above are you rarely hear the voice of a standard black person in the UK to give their perspective on how they live and the issues they face on a daily basis. So, I feel I should reserve a seat for them to educate us all. Basically, going back to how I have never been asked, I’m inviting someone else to have their voice.