THE BLOG

Black History Month the British Way

02/26/2015 12:47 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Black History Month is not just an American celebration.

Though nationally confined to the 28 days of February in the United States, Black History Month also branches into the United Kingdom. In the U.K., and particularly in London, Black History Month is celebrated during the month of October.

Yet February is still used as a time to educate both kids and adults about the contributions of the black community in England.

According to the official website of Black History Month 2015, the U.K. first recognized October as Black History Month in 1987, about a decade after it stretched from a week to a month-long celebration in the States. Lucie Parkes, a coordinator for Black History Month programs at the Museum of London, said that events related to the topic occur year-round, but are particularly strong in October when children are learning about it in school.

She added, "Our philosophy is that black history should be taught consistently throughout the year and not just during one month."

In the U.S., those involved in Black History Month programs have expressed the same feelings. In U.S. classrooms and on college campus, Black History Month is set aside as a time for learning and activism.

Casey Ellis, the director the Black Student Assembly at the University of Southern California, said, "In programming for students on campus, I try to ensure that Black History Month is inclusive and productive. We also want to make sure that the programs that we host impact people."

The same is true in the U.K. Though it has a shorter legacy than the U.S.' month set aside to honor the achievements of people from the African Diaspora, those in the U.K. also use various mediums to educate the public on the African-Caribbean community.

Tony Warner, a native Londoner who spent some time living in New York, is the founder of Black History Walks. His program takes people -- oftentimes schoolteachers and their students -- through different parts of the city, identifying neighborhoods and spaces integral to black culture in London.

"There was nothing to reflect our presence in the capital of London," Warner said, "and I thought that was not quite right. There's no borough that I can go to and not find some black history."

At the Museum of London, they regularly do programming for adolescents on the "Windrush Generation," which was a mass migration of African-Caribbean people to London after World War II. This is a supplement to school lessons on black history that generally focus on slavery and the slave trade.

"Because slavery didn't happen here there's a slightly removed way of teaching," Parkes said. "The emphasis is very much on the USA and a small part of Africa pre-slavery, but I think some schools teach it better than others."

Recently a group of parents throughout England have worked to make the school's black history lessons more consistent. This month an online petition to make black history compulsory in British primary schools gained considerable attention after actor David Oyelowo commented on it.

The British-born actor, who starred in the Oscar-nominated film Selma and has lived in both the U.S. and U.K., said kids should be exposed to more aspects of black history.

"Black people are part of the fabric of this nation," he said in an interview with the Africa Channel UK. "We pride ourselves on being a multicultural society. It is outmoded and outdated to remove black history form schools because, like I say, it is a very real part of British history and British culture."

And it's not just the adults who feel this way. Many students of African descent who grew up in the British school system also echoed the concern that black history specific to British culture was not being adequately taught.

"We don't learn about it at all," said Marinda Yorke, a first year student studying at London's City University. "I've never heard of British black history at all."

Yorke, whose parents are from Ghana, said she felt extremely well versed in British history and all the wars that the empire had fought. But when it came to Black History Month it was more of a "statement" than actual learning.

"If people think of black history it seems like they think of slavery and that's all," Yorke said. "There's so much more to black history than that. But I think that goes back to the school system because there was no focus on [black history] in school."

Many Londoners said U.K. students might know more about black American history than black British history because the events from the Civil Rights Movement were so large scale and well documented compared to those in England.

"We learn everything about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King," Warner said. "But we don't learn anything about the exact same struggle that took place in England."

In terms of numbers, the black population in the U.S. is more visible than in the U.K. The black population in the U.S. comprises 13.2 percent of the population, according to the 2010 Census Data. In Great Britain, the 2011 Census for England and Wales showed that the black population makes up little more than a quarter of that. It accounts for 3.4 percent of the population.

Yet Parkes said the Museum of London's Black History Month events are among the most popular and draw thousands of people. The national recognition of black history has gone a long way in bringing awareness to minority communities. She said she believes each generation of kids are becoming more conscious of the African-Caribbean communities' contributions to the nation.

As Black History Month wraps up in the States, several people continue to advocate for black history be viewing worldwide.

"Unfortunately black history month is often considered nationally but that is a narrow vision," said Shana Redmond, an associate professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. "It is especially important that we keep a global perspective because the black community in the U.S. is itself diverse."

By the look of the growing awareness for celebrating black history, it shows that this global outlook is well on its way to becoming the case.