Authors on mission to get books by Black writers that celebrate joy into UK classrooms – iNews

A group of trailblazing writers and educators is on a mission to ensure students do not leave school without reading a single text by a Black author.
Race equality think-tank The Runnymede Trust and publishing house Penguin Books previously found that less than 1 per cent of GCSE students study a book by an author of colour. The only lessons where students read about Black people are when they are linked to stories of trauma and oppression, authors have said.
In response, Penguin has launched Lit in Colour, an initiative to diversify the curriculum and school bookshelves.
As part of the programme, Black writers are being invited to discuss their work at schools and sixth forms across the UK in an effort to plug the gap in learning and representation.
Award-winning journalists Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Timi Sotire, and Youth MP for Camden Athian Akec recently joined a panel led by academic Sofia Akel at the CTK Aquinas Sixth Form in Brockley, South London, on the power of Black joy.
“I didn’t read any Black authors on the school curriculum,” Ms Sotire told i.
“The first book I read that featured a Black character was Amazing Grace, a children’s book. On the front cover was a young Black girl with gaps in her teeth and I was like ‘oh my god, it’s me’.
“The book made me so happy – not because of the content, or even the story – I just remember the colour. It shows that for a Black child, representation is so important.”
The concept of celebrating what brings Black people happiness through an individual and collective lens is the subject of a new Penguin anthology co-edited by Ms Brinkhurst-Cuff and Ms Sotire, titled Black Joy.
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The pair have pulled together twenty-eight inspirational voices in a collection of essays that celebrate what it is to be Black British, with authors sharing their experiences of joy and what it means to them.
The panellists said the Lit in Colour programme is a sharp divergence from their own experiences of Blackness in compulsory education.
“The only time that I ever call seeing anything to do with Black people was through the lens of slavery,” Ms Akel told i. “I remember watching Roots, which was traumatic not just for the content of the programme – but by being in class.”
Ms Brinkhurst-Cuff agreed. “The video would roll, and there’s one or two Black people in the class, and the eyes would just pivot,” she said.
Youth MP Mr Akec only left his comprehensive school in North West London a matter of months ago. “I’m lucky enough to have come across some Black texts in my own reading, but not in the context of the classroom,” he told i.
Penguin is working with exam boards to develop a programme of support for schools that want to broaden the texts they teach and expand the selection of the books in their library.
Ms Sotire hopes that by providing free copies of the anthology to classrooms, Black pupils will be able to foster a connection to the community and advocate for their learning while they are still in school.
She said: “The school I was in was majority white, so I thought a lot of the problems I was going through were just personal issues.
“The students we spoke to expressed those same issues, and knowing that they can walk away from this, and read this anthology and know that there’s something bigger is so nice.
“Everyone who has contributed to it has come from a different walk of life, and has a very specific experience, yet there are words in there I can still relate to.
“I really wanted to do something where we spoke to schoolchildren about Black joy, because when we were putting it together, I thought ‘wow, if I would have had this when I was at school…’
“When I read the anthology, I felt so much more confident in myself.”
Ms Akel is currently leading London Metropolitan University’s race equity work and has also founded the non-profit Free Books Campaign that gets books by authors of colour to those who can’t afford or access them.
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She hopes that Lit in Colour can be part of a wider movement to give Black students the confidence to be “active, not passive learners”.
“The role of education is to prepare you to be a citizen of the society that you’re in. so as students, we need to be more active learners,” she said.
“But on top of that, our teachers and lecturers need to continue educating themselves, and recognising the power and responsibility that they hold in the classroom.”
Black Joy, edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Timi Sotireis, is available to buy here.
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