A Conversation with...Lavinya Stennett
We had a conversation with Lavinya Stennett, the founder and CEO of The Black Curriculum. Lavinya's vision to create The Black Curriculum came from first-hand experiences in British formal education, where Lavinya witnessed the effects of systemic disenfranchisement through the exclusion of Black pupils and Black British history. We discussed the missions and inspiration behind The Black Curriculum, including plans.
"The motivation came from not being able to see that there was Black history being taught constantly at a school level. In primary and secondary level, in a way that was truthful and empowering for young people." - Lavinya Stennett
Welcome Lavinya. Can you tell us a little about you and your background?
My name is Lavinia Stennett. I'm the founder and CEO of The Black Curriculum. I really enjoy the arts and music. Transforming words into rhythms are ways I think connect with who I am at the core of a Jamaican background. That has always been a part of me, for as long as I can remember. Just self expression within your world and environment comes naturally. I absorb a lot of the places that I'm in. So, for example, my main purpose of attending university was for African Studies. However, I wanted to absorb, being that person who listens to students' concerns, I wanted to be a change marker. Naturally, this led me to activism work with university. Before The Black Curriculum, I was running societies; I led a campaign that wanted bursaries for ninety-two students in university. I’m really passionate about education and everyone having the choice to have access to it.
What inspired you to start The Black Curriculum? What is the primary mission of TBC?
The motivation came from not being able to see that there was Black history being taught constantly at a school level. In primary and secondary level, in a way that was truthful and empowering for young people. From my experience studying African Studies, there were many conversations in class that felt very inspiring. I’ll go home and do some further research. However, this was great, but it was only for me and I had to pay for my education.
History is such a fundamental part of just learning and how you see the world, so I felt like every person needs this and so I think that was the real rationale behind it.
The motivation came when I went to New Zealand for a year and three months to study the Māori Law. Colonial and Māori history is not only taught, but talked about in the society, it had a lot more recognition. The UK needed something that platforms our history in the same way.In 2020, we kicked off our Teach Black History 365 campaign. That was a moment because the world woke up to the importance of teaching Black history in Black identity. We launched a 22 day campaign. The response we received wasn’t great. However, back in 2019, we sat down with the head of curriculum policy in the Department of Education, who were really supportive, but the ministers could only make the final discussions. That really spurred us to make sure the campaign targeted the ministers in June 2020.
The political landscape has changed, and we've got a new education secretary, we've just been keeping in touch with loads of MPs making sure that at a local level, they're really fulfilling their commitment in writing to make sure that their constituencies and schools in their brough are learning and teaching Black history.
TBC recently launched the Springboard Programme sessions. What can people expect from these tailored sessions?
Springboard is a programme that really identifies music and Black History to increase not only self expression, creativity but also more intimate peer learning. This helps us get towards our goal of empowering all students to have a sense of identity. Over time, through music and self expression, we have young people build up that confidence. Sessions normally happen on the weekends. We’ll visit local communities across five cities: London, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester. The sessions are teaching Black history and music.
Are there any further plans for TBC in the future?
We’ll be launching our online space, which will give people opportunities to interact with Black history in a broader way.
TBC commits to Teach Black History 365, what are the commitments?
I wouldn't say our commitments are stringent. It involves a level of honesty in how practitioners engage. We have been seeing some schools and parents buying a couple of books and engaging in a few lessons, but somehow the follow up is lacking. Teach Black History 365 is a personal call to think about how Black history is engaged with. The phase, to be honest, while teaching Black history. Without an honest reflection, we cannot have an accurate curriculum that reflects our history.
Can you recommend some books that represent Black British History?
Yes, I have a few. Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain by Peter Fryer, which is a good overview and Black and British by David Olusoga. I have a book coming out in Spring 2023 called Omitted: The untold Black History Lessons We Need To Change The Future. It assesses stories in all narratives of Black history that are important in changing the future. The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain by Beverley Bryan and Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala.
Quick Fire round
Your proudest achievement?
I would say the bursary campaigns. Just being part of the localised change in my community. In university I led a campaign which gave financial help to students who needed it. That would be my proudest moment.
The last book you read?
Summer or Winter?
Best part of the day?
Golden hour! Daytime shortly before sunset.
More about The Black Curriculum
The Black Curriculum (TBC) has a great learning hub, which includes many subjects. Our favourite are the animated videos, discussing history related subjects. Visit here for more details: theblackcurriculum.com