Features / Education

Project celebrates Bristol’s black educators

By ellie pipe, Thursday Oct 29, 2020

After starring in a documentary to highlight the lack of black teachers in Bristol, Aisha Thomas pledged to change the face of education.

The assistant principal of City Academy launched #RepresentationMatters, which started as a campaign and is now a company, to spread the message about the importance of diversity and role models in schools and beyond.

Aisha’s latest project, Beyond the 26, aims to celebrate black educators in Bristol, as well as others from underrepresented communities, who have influenced her journey through photography and by giving people a platform.

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Each person featured has provided a quote about why representation in education is important and the photos will be displayed in different locations across Bristol and via Instagram.

Aisha Thomas launched the Beyond the 26 project to celebrate and give a voice to black educators

“We need to diversify the workforce, we need to challenge the narrative, we need to add richness and vibrancy to the curriculum,” explains the assistant principal and TEDxBristol talker.

“We need to be seen, be heard and be included.

“However, what this made me realise, is that we are not celebrating all of the other amazing educators, from Black and minority communities which are here now.

“As a result, I decided to self-fund a project called Beyond the 26, where I could celebrate some of the Black and minority educators in Bristol that I have had the pleasure of working with.”

In 2018, Aisha partnered with the BBC to film a documentary highlighting the lack of awareness around black educators in the city. The project came in the wake of the Runnymede Trust report in 2017, which documented the racial divides in Bristol and, in particular, the lack of diversity among teachers.

The documentary revealed the population of black secondary school teachers in Bristol was just 1.9 per cent, a total of 26. Since it aired, Aisha has travelled up and down the country to talk about why representation in education is important.

Beyond the 26 is the first phase of ongoing work to move things on, while celebrating the educators and people making a difference to young lives in the city.

Aisha adds: “Since 2018, I have had the same three questions posed to me:
· So what now?
· How do we get more black teachers?
· How many have you managed to recruit?

“I wish it was that simple. It would be great if I could wave a magic wand. However, there are a variety of factors which are affecting recruitment and retention within the education system.”

Tanzil: “Representation in education gives children hope that they could be more that what the media says they could be”

Tina: “It is not where you start, it is where you finish, and if I can make it you can make it”

Sylvester: “Good representation helps to guide, motivate, inspire, and challenge the students to achieve and to empower them”

Sherell: “I feel they sometimes need positive reinforcement to know that they are fully capable to achieve”

Tracy: “Every person of colour knows that there is inbuilt disadvantage at school”

Adrian: “Students need to see, hear and feel difference and ‘uniqueness’”

Rodeane: “I wish I had someone who looked like me at school”

Aaron: “I feel the students attending school have their views of the world shaped while in school and the people doing this do not represent them”

Nafeesa: “Whether it is students who express angst that their skin tone is ‘too dark’ or those that unfortunately engrave swastikas on desks, representation is indispensable”

Jason: “Representation is important to help build a young person’s identity and help them build a proud sense of belonging”

Modupe: “We are often inspired by those we can relate to or have a similar story to”

Derek: “I believe education is the stability in creating a foundation that can reach all students within all communities”

Lana: “You cannot be what you cannot see”

Kwabena: “Representation in education empowers an entire school community to thrive as together we stand”

Sabrina: “For many people, seeing is believing and by being able to see visual representation of diversity within all fields, it becomes easier to foresee yourself potentially fulfilling a variety of roles”

See more portraits and information about Beyond the 26 via www.instagram.com/beyond_the26/?hl=en.

All photos by Harry Lloyd Evans

Read more: Breakfast with Bristol24/7: Aisha Thomas

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