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Black History: "This is our month"

THE TOP OF OUR GAME: Kwame Kwei- Armah paved the way with his appointment at the Young Vic last year, but there are lots of young black creative talents who have been blazing their own trails this Black History Month

IT'S BEEN a great Black History Month so far and it ain't even over yet.

Last week we saw the celebration of our ancestors at No 10, with the Prime Minister leading the Downing Street posse in a knees-up of the African Caribbean type.

And she was relaxed enough to carry on the ‘dancing queen’ theme from the recent Tory Party Conference by name-checking the destinations in Africa she had visited recently and where she displayed her very own Theresa Two-Step.

That’s what she’s known as in Brixton and she was happy to play along with any jibes about her African dancing. And, by the way, Naomi Campbell was there and I already told you how this most recognisable of all British icons had already ensured that this was going to be a brilliant BHM by spending some quality time with me the week before.

Black History Month 2018 has also brought more success for the best breakfast show on TV. It’s called Breakfast in BEN and it’s with me and my co-host Swarzy, every weekday morning from 7-10am on BEN TV (channel 175 on Sky or stream it on bentelevision.com).

Why is this significant? Well, when was the last time you saw a black person presenting a breakfast show on any channel? It is invariably the preserve of white folks. I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s because that’s what people wake up to and even this multi-racial Britain isn’t quite ready to wake up to a black man and a black woman discussing the news and chatting through al the anecdotes that comprise 'the black condition' in Britain, with the kind of jokes that have kept us sane in this country when all around us seemed to have lost their minds with prejudice.

Breakfast in BEN reflects black Britain as it rises and shines for the day’s work. You need that smile on your face as you go out your front door like a knight in shining armour to face another day at the grind.

It’s an even better start to the day than a cup of coffee as you join in with the daily dilemma (e.g. “Shall we take our cultural values with us out on the streets or should we leave them at home?”).

Which other breakfast show gives you a daily dose of live lovers rock every morning, alongside celebrity paper re-viewers and the cream of the black politicians? If you leave home without your morning dose of Breakfast in BEN, good luck to you. But you are going to need more than luck to face the daily grind while black.

And just when you thought Black History Moth this year couldn't get any better, along comes an amazing exhibition of young black creatives making history.

I know you might be rather sceptical. For one thing, what have these young people done to ‘make history’? They have not exactly marched in Selma.

So what have they done other than stand on the shoulders of the giants of black history like Rosa Parks, Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Maya Angelou and Diane Abbott?

Well, let me tell you this: if you go down that road with this younger generation who are movers and shakers in their own right and changing the narrative for us black folks, you will be doing yourself a disservice.

I’m sure someone once said that the problem for the yutes of today is that they will only be taken seriously and recognised for their achievements when they stop being the yute of today.

The exhibition – on now at the We Built London Gallery in the capital’s Carnaby Street until Sunday – features people who have used their skin colour to their advantage despite the prejudice against it.

Take Leo Jonah, for example. You don’t need to be a genius to see that he is a model. He looks absolutely amazing and he’s doing really well.

But he’s asking for someone amongst the powers that be in the corporate or public world to explain to him why they are still prejudiced against someone like him, someone with albinism.

“It’s like all the people who control things are way behind where ordinary people are," he says. "Society has moved on form the days when only one type of model was used to sell a product.

Consumers want to see people that look like them on television ads or posters or newspaper ads or in online commercials.”

He is right, of course. Once upon a time it was the reggae MC Yellowman, the first Jamaican superstar with albinism, who had to single-handedly normalise albinism. Hey, folks, get over it: Leo Jonah is black and beautiful and his positive spirit makes this a memorable Black History Month.

And I haven’t even told you about the most exciting news of Black History Month 2018.

You know when Shakespeare said the whole world’s a stage Well, a few days ago it was announced that Hannah Pool is to be the new artistic director at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham, which – along with Kwame Kwei-Armah’s appointment a year ago at the Young Vic Theatre on London’s Southbank – puts us at the very centre of the stage.

Like Kwame, Hannah is one of the finest minds of her generation artistically. Prepare for the theatre of our lives at the BGAC in the coming months. Keep an eye out for it.

Yes, the whole world is a stage, but if there is a lesson to be learned from Black History Month 2018 is that if we don’t want to be at the periphery of that stage, we need to come correct and be at the top of our game. Like every single person I’ve mentioned above – including myself.

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