Tthere weren’t many expectations from me when I was in school. None of me went to university, so I didn’t even think about it. Where I grew up, the choice seemed to be: drug trafficking, working at a nearby car factory, or somehow using sports as a way out – although one teacher also told me that I would rather die at 25 than be a professional footballer. When expectations are so low, and you’ve been told “you can’t” for so many years, you start to believe it. And then, when I was 15, I was expelled from school, leaving without passing the GCSE, just another one a disproportionately large number boys of mixed race and black caribou will be removed from school.
I really became a professional footballer, joining the non-league when I worked as a bricklayer, and eventually joined Watford in 2010, and I saw the power of using my platform and rack when my colleagues and I knelt after the murder in George Floyd support Black Lives Matter. Football was my way out, but I also wonder what I could have done if I had been encouraged to go to school and seen that I reflected what I was learning and how life could be different for all the other kids who didn’t I have football.
That’s why I started a campaign to make schools better represent their students with a diverse curriculum that covers the history and experience of black, Asian, and ethnic minorities. Instead of rejecting it Month of Black Historywhat seems to me to be a symbolic gesture, the history and contribution of colored people should be seen as part of the history of the UK and included in the curriculum.
It is a story that shapes our modern society, and for children from ethnic minorities it also shapes our identity. My memories of black history at school were studying slavery and the civil rights movement – vital subjects, but if that’s all you learn, it reinforces the idea that black people were considered less than white people.
And what about all the positive ways that black people have brought to society? Where are the inventors, writers, artists and leaders? I liked math and I was good at it, but it never occurred to me that I could do anything with it because I didn’t learn about scientists or mathematicians who were like me. How many people know that traffic lights were invented by a prolific black inventor, Gareth A Morgan? Something as simple as this can lift the spirits for a generation of children who may think: I could also be an inventor.
In September, Wales will make teaching a diverse program a must, so there is a pattern of how we can do this without removing anything and at no extra cost. I would love to see the rest of the UK. I started a petitionand I had talks with Nadhim Zahavi, the secretary of education, but progress is slow.
Although the Black Lives Matter movement has supported the introduction of a more inclusive curriculum, little action has been taken so far. This idea seems inconvenient to some people – from politicians who refuse to accept it, to the racist abuses I receive daily on social media – perhaps because studying the history and experience of colored people, and especially the history of black Britons, emphasizes that the UK is not as big in all respects as we think.
The opposite does not come from teachers. According to a YouGov study I commissioned, 80% of primary and secondary school teachers surveyed believe that diverse and representative topics are vital and enriching for all students. But only 12% said they feel “authorized” to teach “optional” topics such as colonialism and migration, shattering the government’s argument that black history can be taught under the current national program.
We live in a culture of abolition, and I think that worries teachers, most of whom whitewho are afraid to say the wrong things (and of course I’d like to see many more black teachers). That is why I love the work of such organizations Black programrun by Lavinia Stenet, who goes to school and helps teachers with teaching.
If I had been given more knowledge of my legacy at school, I would have understood much more about myself and my family – I could have better understood my grandfather, part of the Windrush generation who came to the UK and worked hard for Royal Mail for 30 years. But I’m from a generation like him, where it was not talked about. If I had more compassion for his experience, I would know why he often seemed unhappy.
I have seen that teaching a variety of stories evokes conversation. In the Channel 4 documentary I made, students at Harris City Academy in south London, the first high school to sign up for The Black Curriculum, told me it opens up a place where they can have challenging conversations. Race may be an awkward topic for some people, but until we have more awkward conversations, we will never get along with the situation. I saw students who were engaged, had a broad understanding of the world, were proud of their heritage and were inspired by their future. This is what I want for all children.
Troy Dini is the captain of FC Birmingham and opposes racism. Troy Dini: Where’s My Story? May 23 at 22:00 on Channel 4
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