West Ham United Foundation is celebrating Black History Month 2021 across its programmes this October
Black History Month 2021 runs throughout October, and is a chance to recognise, celebrate and understand black heritage and culture.
Equality, diversity, and inclusion are embedded across West Ham United and the Foundation, with a range of initiatives directly focusing on combating racism and discrimination, developing an understanding of the impact of prejudicial behaviours and actions, as well as why it’s important to challenge hate crime.
As such, throughout the month a range of the Foundation’s programmes – including Premier League Inspires, Community Hub Schools, Stop the Hate, Premier League Kicks and degrees run in partnership with University of East London – have utilised the opportunity to spread additional awareness on these issues.
Examples of these activations included creating a collage of famous historical black figures, meeting with successful black role models from the local community and exploring black heritage and cultures.
Additionally, through the Players’ Project, Equality strand ambassadors Aaron Cresswell and Ben Johnson joined pupils from Quilters Junior School in Billericay, who had taken part in an anti-racism and discrimination workshop as part of their Premier League Primary Stars sessions.
The workshop focused on the pivotal figures in the fight for equality through the ages and led to students asking the players about the importance of using football and elite sport as a tool to educate the country about equality and some black figures from history that they’ve found inspirational.
Ben Johnson opened the discussion, commenting on the purpose of Black History Month: “It highlights the contribution that black people have had throughout history. It may have previously gone under the radar what black people have achieved but Black History Month helps to highlight black people’s contribution in a positive way and how they have helped to alter the world we live in. “These attitudes around black figures are instrumental and will continue to be highlighted for many years to come.”
According to a recent UK study by the YMCA, in which schoolchildren were asked about their experience of racism in education, more than nine out of ten (95%) had said they had witnessed racist language at school, and almost half (49%) said they believed racism was the biggest barrier to academic attainment.
Evidence like this highlights the importance of educating young people about racism, whilst also creating a safe place for discussions.
Asked by the pupils what their values are, the teammates agreed that respect is a key one, with Cresswell explaining: “As Johnno said there, it's respect. I've got two kids myself and manners as well is a big thing for me. Those two things take you far in life and they don't cost anything to have them.
“Respect each other, it doesn't matter what your background is – whether you're poor, you're rich, your race..."
Since June 2020, players across the Premier League have been taking the knee to highlight their opposition to racism.
Responding to the students’ question about the importance of the gesture, Cresswell said: “Taking the knee is an education piece. So many people watch the game worldwide and young children watching our games will be asking why players are taking the knee – this will help to instigate a conversation with their parents. It is a way to educate young children and try to guide them in the right way and show why we are taking the knee to make a change.
“Taking the knee gives awareness to the whole population of why we oppose racism and why we want to put a stop to racism. It shows a togetherness, no matter your race and that is a really powerful message.”
Johnson continued: “Racism is not going to go away overnight – the world is so vast, and the way people have grown up and are taught is maybe why it still happens. But it is still an ongoing process, and we all want to do our bit to make the world a better place and to eradicate racism from our lives. It will help the game a lot and hopefully it will continue to do so.”
Kerry Downes, Managing Director at West Ham United Foundation, said the players’ presence and messages were important in helping young people gain the confidence to combat racism and intolerance in society.
“It’s so important that people are aware of and feel confident in addressing these issues,” he confirmed. “By using the power of the West Ham United badge and having the support of the players, we have been able to reach more people and break down barriers. As an organisation, our efforts reflect our values, and we will continue to drive equality, diversity and inclusion.”
To find out more about the Foundation’s initiatives please contact [email protected]