Former Hatfield headteacher spearheads campaign to send ‘100 Great Black Britons’ book to every UK school
PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 October 2020
A former Hatfield headteacher is spearheading a national campaign to send every school in the UK a copy of ‘100 Great Black Britons’.
Yvonne Davis, who retired from Oak View Primary and Nursery School in September, was involved in choosing the final list after the public were invited to vote for the Black Briton they most admire.
She is also hoping to change the education system for the better during Black History Month.
Since retiring Yvonne, a Samaritans volunteer, reflects that she would have love this type of book when she was growing up in the Midlands – during a period when her self-worth was low due to discrimination.
“I didn’t see myself during university and school lessons as there wasn’t anything on black history,” she said. “Even when I went to study history, there was nothing but there was lessons on China and Asia.”
During her work in education, since she was 21 years old, in the Midlands until her move down south in 2000 where she worked in Watford and Buckingham in schools and also as an Ofsted inspector, she faced incidents that still make her uncomfortable.
“I always tried for the top without support and facing discrimination,” she said. “When I was training I didn’t expect for it to be negative and when I went to my first school but children called me horrible names and the other teachers said nothing. And I thought how am I going to teach them.”
Yvonne then called her mother up – a Caribbean nurse – who told her: “That’s why you’re there.”
She added: “You know at that time, we had Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech, which was so divisive.”
And later, when she was not promoted – despite being extremely active in both the local community and working across lots of schools at the same time – the former Hatfield headteacher knows there was a racial element.
But she ultimately did not pursue it, despite a push from her union rep, as “I didn’t want to be there if they’re racist. It wasn’t because of my inability but where I was at that time.”
She also took inspiration from her parents, her father a chef and her mother, a former teacher and grammar school kid, who retrained as nurse, and came from Jamaica in 1955.
“It was very difficult then to find accommodation and you were stuck in places of multiple occupancy like many immigrants now.”
Her mother was also pushed to become a state enrolled nurse, a lower grade, less well paid and difficult position to change, rather than a state registered nurse but she “worked endlessly” after and before Yvonne was born in 1956. “They have been such good parents.”
But she explained it was not smooth sailing when they arrived, and her “mum was once pushed off by a patient, who did not want her black hands on her. She fell onto a sink and broke her back. Luckily enough after treatment over many years she was fine apart from the fact she always had back trouble.”
However, she is feeling now like Britain is changing and during her time at Oak View Primary and Nursery School, where she was head from January 2008 to September 2020, she was able to mark key occasions.
This included the anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush, which brought Caribbean and other immigrants – including her parents – into the country after World War II.
“We’ve got a good discussion going now and momentum,” she said, mentioning Black Lives Matter, Windrush, COVID-19’s effect on the BAME community and Grenfell. “The historical material is getting better and the sharing of its been very good.”
Though she would like Black History to be mandatory in schools, Yvonne acknowledges teachers are under a lot of strain and need support in digesting and communicating that to the children in their classroom.
“There would need to be time made to make it easier,” she said. “The book helps explain why cultural identity should be valued and respected.”
She also said: “A big thank you to all those who have donated to date. Its about celebrating, contributing and telling the truth instead of disconnecting black history from british history.”
Some Hertfordshire residents also appear on the list of ‘100 Great Black Britons’ including Gary Younge and Lewis Hamilton, both born in Stevenage.
100 Great Black Britons by Patrick Vernon OBE and Angelina Osborne 16 years ago and relaunched in 2019 to celebrate Black British History and Black Britons, who contributed to shape Great Britain by their work and actions.
For more see 100greatblackbritons.co.uk/index.html and to donate gofundme.com/f/send-100-great-black-britons-to-every-school.
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