Equality, diversity and inclusion specialist, Ellisha Soanes, of  Aspire Black Suffolk and Eastern Education Group agrees with Morgan Freeman on Black History Month

When asked his thoughts on Black History Month by The Guardian, the actor Morgan Freeman replied: “You’re going to relegate my history to a month?” 

I believe he was right.

I'm not just talking about black history – I'm talking about all history – especially in the context of education. 

A few years ago, I had the idea of trying to broaden what is taught at the place where I work and set about coming up with a plan to incorporate black history into the curriculum at West Suffolk College.

Ipswich Star: Ellisha agrees with Morgan FreemanEllisha agrees with Morgan Freeman

My plans have now been embraced and taken on by others and I’ve been asked to offer some advice on how other organisations can do something similar. 

Firstly, I think the best place to start is by looking at what you do and see how you can change.

Get everyone in the organisation engaged in what you are trying to do and talk about the language that is used day to day.

It may be an uncomfortable conversation in order to get comfortable – but by taking those first steps, you can cascade the training down.

Personally, I believe you need to start with your staff before moving on to students.

After that, you can take a step back and let the students teach you. 

I’ve also found it worthwhile setting up a steering group.

There are so many people who work in education who are passionate about EDI who will support you by becoming ambassadors for what you are trying to achieve.

Make sure you involve everyone in your organisation as it will encourage a culture change across the board.  

Another piece of advice is to see your transition as something bigger than a tickbox exercise.

People always ask me if doing Black History Month in their organisation is okay.

It is, but I believe you need to be having those conversations throughout the year, not just in October. 

When I do my presentations for people, I talk about world history: Henry VIII, The Battle of Hastings, Neil Armstrong, Queen Victoria - and I always say to people “If I asked you to learn all of this history in one month, would you be able to?”

Ipswich Star: Ellisha says a month isn't nearly long enough for black history, or any other kind of historyEllisha says a month isn't nearly long enough for black history, or any other kind of history (Image: SUSU)

Of course we couldn’t – so what makes you think you can learn black history in a month? 

Finally, don’t afraid to ask for help or get things wrong.

We don't know everything ourselves, so ask for support from external organisations and invest in our community networks.

That will really help propel you forward.

Have conversations with different people from different cultures and learn from them but don’t worry if you get things wrong.

Ipswich Star: Ellisha is an equality, diversity and inclusion consultantEllisha is an equality, diversity and inclusion consultant (Image: JOHN_FERGUSON)

Just put your hands up and say sorry and learn from your mistakes. 

I really believe it’s time for organisations to come together to increase the momentum.

All sectors need to be working together to share best practices on equality, diversity and inclusion.  

Morgan Freeman also said in the film Shawshank Redemption: ‘Get busy living or get busy dying’.

I guess in the context of what I’m trying to do it’s more a case of ‘Get busy changing and get busy doing’.  

Aspire Black Suffolk delivers workshops and training to schools and organisations on anti-racist practice, how to embed EDI, how to work with local communities, and understanding and safeguarding cultural aspects.

* Ellisha is an award winning equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) specialist who is a consultant for several educational organisations including the Eastern Education Group. Ellisha is also the director of business development for Aspire Black Suffolk. She delivers workshops and training to schools, educators and organisations nationwide. https://www.aspireblacksuffolk.org.uk/