An inspiring new project has brought activists and Black schoolchildren in North London together to create an innovative digital community history archive.
West Green BEAT (Black Experience Archive Trust) is a collaboration between activist film-makers Migrant Media, Parkview Academy and the West Green Learning Centre in Tottenham and the London Metropolitan Archives. More than forty Year 8 pupils took part in the project, which started in June 2006 and was financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Meeting for two hours after school each week, on a voluntary basis, the pupils were trained in digital media skills by film-makers Ken Fero and Soulyeman Garcia. At the same time, discussions about the importance of knowing your heritage and the absence of Black people from mainstream British history encouraged the children to investigate their own communities to uncover the contributions of local Black people. Interviews were then set up where the teenagers filmed local Black people talking about their experiences of coming to and living in Britain. From a Second World War pilot to a local rap crew, the interviews make for illuminating stories of racism and resilience.
‘When the anniversary of Windrush happened it was like if you didn’t come over on that ship you didn’t exist, which is ridiculous’, explained Ken Fero, ‘This project is all about pride in Black heritage which has been ignored for so long.’
As well as interviewing local people, the children were asked to write about their own family background and a Black person they found inspiring. The resulting exhibition, of autobiographical panels about a selection of the teenagers who had taken part, was both moving and insightful, with the heroes ranging from Marcus Garvey to Thierry Henry.
At the launch, which took place at the London Metropolitan Archives on 21 June, the teenagers talked bashfully but with passion about the pride and sense of engagement West Green BEAT had given them. Having volunteered on the project for a whole year, including weekend and school holiday research trips, many admitted that their commitment and sticking power had exceeded even their parents’ expectations. For Ken Fero the most rewarding part of the project was building the relationship with the children who took part. ‘We’re pleased that trust has been established’, he said, ‘ It’s their heritage and their future – we just hope it can grow.’
At the culmination of the event, the children presented three CD Roms, containing nine hours of oral histories, to the London Metropolitan Archives, where they will form the basis of a new local Black history archive. A website containing a selection of the video interviews and information about the project was also launched.
The Black Experience Archive Trust is a national project that works in partnership with local groups. It was set up to record the experiences and chart the contributions of Black people who came to Britain during the twentieth century. The first incarnation of the project, West Green BEAT has proved a great success. BEAT is now looking for future funding and partnerships.