Following the Black Lives Matter movement and the calls for racial justice in the States, one UK teacher is aiming to decolonize her classroom lessons by infusing Black joy into the curriculum. Bristol, England based Tanisha Hicks-Beresford is a part of a cohort of teachers working to make education more inclusive. For this group, this also means grappling with the history of the city’s involvement in the slave trade. But Hicks-Beresford didn’t want to end the lesson there.
“I went to school in Bristol and there was hardly any representation of people who look like me,” Hicks-Beresford shared. She desires to not only have her students see themselves in the teachings, but that the Black students also walk away feeling empowered as opposed to deflated.
“The emotional impact is huge when the only history you’re taught is that you come from slaves, and that everybody else comes from kings and queens,” the English teacher said. “So you start thinking am I less than everybody else?”
While Hicks-Beresford recognizes that there is a lot of violence circulating in the media, espeicially when it comes to Black bodies being shown murdered in the street, she wants her students to be informed, but to also feel encouraged to celebrate themselves and their culture.
“It’s not just about racism, there’s so much more to this world,” she told BBC News. You don’t want our students to come out and just feel ‘I’m oppressed’. They need to see themselves in the world, and be agents of change.”
Hicks-Beresford looks for any opportunity to bring in stories about Black people who’ve shaped their own destinies; artists, community activists, entrepreneurs, etc. Her literal change in course has inspired the rest of the Bristol school as well. In the art department, the students are working on a mural inspired by the AfriCobra movement of Chicago. In English, students are reading anthologies of short stories by authors of different backgrounds. And in history, the students are learning more about the Haitian revolution as well as ancient African kingdoms.
While we may not all have descended from kings and queens, African royalty is a truth that should be included in the narrative. There will also be four new texts added to the English department curriculum including Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.
Hicks-Beresford also encourages healthy debate in her classroom. In 2020, a statue of Edward Colston, a known slave trader, was rolled into the water at the Brisol docks. A student of Hicks-Beresford does not agree that protestors should have taken this action, and yet knows that our differences have to be addressed.
“It’s really diverse our world,” Teah shared. “It’s quite cool to learn about different races and religions. It really solves the puzzle of our world.”