On the 30th anniversary of Black History Month, Patrick Vernon talks about why he’s relaunching the campaign and explains how to nominate
Back in 2002, I established Every Generation, one of the first websites in the UK looking at black genealogy. The project was based on my experience as volunteer mentor working with African and Caribbean boys and young men in Brent and Hackney who were either on the verge of being excluded from school or had low self-esteem in finding work.
I soon realised the importance of role models for young black Britons and in 2003 100 Great Black Britons was launched to wide acclaim and saw Jamaican nurse and entrepreneur Mary Seacole voted number one.
The original project was in response to the BBC’s 100 Britons campaign in 2002, which saw the public voting for Winston Churchill as the greatest Brit of all time. Not one person of African heritage was included; in fact, Freddie Mercury was the only person of colour.
What’s the value of a campaign like this? I hope that through raising awareness we can change the conversation about the contributions of black people to British society and history, and protect their legacy. When in 2013 Michael Gove attempted to exclude Mary Seacole from the history curriculum we were able to galvanise a campaign of resistance because we had raised her profile as an important figure. We’ve also seen others from the list such as Rev Oliver Lyseight and Walter Tull to have more visibility. Even our website, although out of date, still has over 1 million hits a month and is recommended in the national curriculum.
As Black History Month celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, it’s the ideal time to undertake the enjoyable task of amassing a new list. Against the backdrop of Brexit, the rise of rise-wing politics, and the continuing inequality faced by black communities in the UK, I hope the campaign will inspire, and be a further marker that we belong here and our historical and current contributions are making a difference, despite not always been valued and respected.
The process of nomination will lead everyone to explore history and the present for well-known icons, and those that have been forgotten. We’ve made it as open as possible and will conduct research on the submissions to uncover unknown stories where we can. We hope that once more, 100 Great Black Britons will provide role models to black communities, and also emphasise that the history and achievements of black Britons are an integral part of our shared heritage in this country.
Nominations start 1st of October 2017. Closing date for nominations 31st of March 2018. Voting begins 22 June on Windrush Day, with results announced 1st of October 2018.
Patrick Vernon OBE is a leading expert on African and Caribbean genealogy in the UK. Founder of Every Generation Media and 100 Great Black Britons Patrick was selected by the Queen as Pioneer of the Nation for Cultural History in 2003. He has researched family history and Swahili culture in East Africa and Oman as a Clore Fellow and has advised the BBC, The National Archives, The National Trust, Royal Geographic Society, Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Council. In 2012 he was awarded an OBE for his work tackling health inequalities for ethnic minority communities in Britain. Having worked for the Department of Health, NHS and the voluntary sector Patrick is an Associate Fellow at the Department of the History of Medicine at Warwick University, England. See his website www.patrickvernon.org.uk or find him on Twitter @ppvernon