What Black History Month means to me… | Abiola Bello

Black History Month

Black History Month for me is the most important month of the year.

In an ideal world it would be taught all year round and be part of the curriculum. It’s the only time I remember in school when they actually taught me about my culture. In History class I would learn about the Tudors or the Vikings but in October, I would learn about great Black leaders like Maya Angelou and Mary Seattle. I know people who have said they were only taught about slavery but I was taught about strong Black female leaders. Perhaps it’s because I went to a girls’ Secondary School and they were determined that we would learn about influential women in History.

Even in Primary School, my deputy head, who had to take over our Year 5 class from October onwards made us do a year-long project on St Lucia, where he was from. He said, “We should be learning about Black culture all year not just for the month.” That’s always stuck with me.

With the Black Lives Matter movement and even the ‘controversy’ with the Diversity dance piece on Britain’s Got Talent, I feel like this October needs to be even louder than before.

I remember when there was this debate to change Black History Month to something like Diversity Month and I just thought, oh here we go again! It’s just one month we get, can you just leave us alone?! They wouldn’t change Chinese New Year to make it inclusive to all Asians would they? It’s the equivalent of saying ‘All Lives Matter.’ WE KNOW THAT but it doesn’t need to be at the expense of Black people. I think at one point some London boroughs did change the wording to Diversity Month and I just had to shake my head. People have no idea what impact doing that does to Black people. Why not a new month for Diversity Month if you want it so badly? Black History Month was introduced to the UK in 1987 to celebrate the achievement and history of Black people. Changing the name dilutes the meaning.

I hope people can take the time to really learn about Black leaders who have made positive changes—there are so many. This is especially important in schools where the children need to learn more than Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King. There are great leaders who have said important things about our culture including Tupac Shakur, Chadwick Boseman and Michelle Obama.

As a writer, I always do a post sharing the children’s and Young Adult books I have on my bookshelf that are written by a Black author with a Black protagonist. It’s so interesting to see over the years how that has grown and I have so many gorgeous books to recommend. Black History Month is time to celebrate Black culture and Black talent.

We are releasing the winner of The Diverse Book Awards in October along with an epic Black History Month campaign across my publishing houses Hashtag Press and Hashtag BLAK, as well as The Author School. We have competitions for children to win a book bundle by Black authors, a free Own Voices discussion panel on the 15th October, an open letter to publishing from our Black authors. It’s going to be great and I can’t wait. What makes it even more special is we are so excited to just shout about Black authors and that’s the energy that’s needed every single day.

So, my advice is to pick a book by a Black author, watch a movie that celebrate Black Stories—Netflix and Disney+ have even made a category for it. Educate yourself if you have no awareness and spread that message on to others. I always say that everyone needs to see themselves represented and October is our month to really see that.

About the author

Abiola Bello was born and raised in London. She first began writing the Emily Knight saga shortly afterwards (only 12 years old!) with the intention of filling the gaping hole in children’s fiction for an inspirational, strong, black female, young protagonist.

This gap remains in the publishing world and Abiola is a passionate supporter of diversity and inclusion in books.

Abiola received rave reviews for her debut book, ‘Emily Knight I am…’, as well as outstanding success with her Emily Knight Warriors pop-up book, which went viral in 2015 when it was gradually released online throughout the month of August.

‘Emily Knight I am… Awakened’ was released on September 2017 and was in the top 100 Coming of Age YA books, the winner of London’s Big Read 2019, finalist for Best Children’s book for the People’s Book Prize and nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2019.

Abiola is the founder of The Lil’ Author School, co-founder of Hashtag BLAK, Hashtag Press, The Diverse Book Awards, The Author School and ink!

She won The London Book Fair Trailblazer Awards 2018. Abiola is regularly called to talk at literary events and within the media, she has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Female First Magazine, The Mirror, BBC1XTRA to name a few.

Abiola spent ten years working as a professional dancer and teacher. She has performed for more than a decade in prestigious venues including The Royal Opera House, The Barbican, Sadler’s Wells, Hammersmith Apollo, Stratford Theatre Royal. She has also appeared on The Apprentice, Got To Dance and Street Dance AllStars The Movie.

Abiola is currently editing her fourth book and is represented by The Bent Agency.

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