Children and parents/carers were recently invited to Essex Primary School to see the Year Four performance in celebration of Black History Month. This wonderful showcase was the culmination of a project run in collaboration with such award winning-musicians and singers as Eska Mtungwazi (whose debut album was nominated for the prestigious Mercury music prize 2015), Gail Windrass and Marsha Morrison (who have both worked with many household names and for the BBC). With these talented facilitators, and through dedicated cross-curricular learning, the children developed a moving and yet ultimately uplifting programme of drama and song.
Each class had concentrated upon a different aspect of Black history, and were obviously delighted to share their knowledge with their audience. The performance spanned the centuries, from the first black Roman Emperor, Septimus Severus, to the first black President of the United States, Barack Obama. Original dramas, songs, poetry, and re-workings of contemporary musical pieces not only impressed the audience with their creativity, but also showed how the children had understood the struggles and triumphs that contribute to the different aspects of contemporary black experience.
Class 4H had learned about the 1948 voyage of the Empire Windrush, which transported much-needed workers invited from the Caribbean to Britain. The children gave their voices to the men and women who had faced many hardships in a society slow to accept newcomers. The children showed how, excluded from much of the social and economic life around them, the new arrivals adjusted their own institutions: for example, the co-operative method of saving called ‘the partner system’.
Under the direction of London-based Jazz Vocalist Randolph Matthews, the children then performed Michael Jackson’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us’, where child-led beatbox and physical percussion underscored the song’s call for black rights and recognition.
The show culminated in a celebration of the political changes driven by powerful black leaders, including John Archer, the first black mayor of London. Then, after a rousing speech from Dianne Abbot MP, the audience were treated to an explosion of red, white and blue confetti as former US President Barack Obama took the stage. While his secret service agents scrutinised the crowd, President Obama reprised his wonderful speech about progress, hope and the continuous striving for equality.
After the cheering and applause died down, Essex head Mrs Rosie Cowan addressed the audience. Thanking the children and their supporting adults for their wonderful work, she noted that it is always wise to listen to children on the subject of unfairness, for their judgements are untainted by prejudice and fear. In the final comment, Mrs Cowan reminded us that, although we have much to celebrate, social equality is an ongoing struggle, and closed with a quote by Nelson Mandela: ‘After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb’.