Black History Month | An interview with our author, Alex Neophitou

Black History Month | An interview with our author, Alex Neophitou

This month of October commemorates Black History Month to raise awareness of how the history that black people have created impacts society today. Black History Month was a way to help teachers educate pupils about Black and African Americans and the history they have made. There are contributors to black history that many people have forgotten about or are completely unaware of, which is why October is a way of making these contributions known.

Our Black History publication has been a popular seller with primary schools across the UK. Written by Alex Neophitou, we decided to dig deeper into what inspired Alex to write and build such a publication.

What inspired you to write a Black History publication?

When Clive approached me about writing the publication, it was a topic that I hadn’t looked at in much detail. Many schools I have worked in have been developing in other areas, so it wasn’t always my main focus. However, after Clive spoke to me, I read a short book by David Olusoga called Black and British, A Short Essential History. Reading it made me realise that there were so many aspects of British history that I didn’t know about and that it was something that would be worthwhile and necessary to write about. So much of Britain’s history includes black people, and I don’t remember learning about any of it when I was in primary school.

In your research, what did you find most interesting?

Just the sheer number of amazing black figures I had never heard of before, all facing adversity and challenges in their lifetimes due to the nature of the relationship between black and white people over the centuries. The fact that black people stood on Hadrian’s wall during the Roman times, even having studied ancient history and archaeology at university, no one ever presented the evidence that this had happened.

Speaking to black people who have migrated to Britain was also extremely eye-opening. People who saw Britain as ‘the motherland’ and now call it home. I really enjoyed hearing their stories, even though some of them were difficult to hear.

Which part of your Black History publication did you find most interesting?

I don’t think I could say there was a bit that wasn’t interesting to write. What was the most interesting for me was that almost all of it felt like new information. For someone who loves history, this was the most engaging experience, and it drove me to keep finding new information to ensure that the publication was fit for purpose.

I am not black, and I couldn’t possibly pretend to understand the feelings and emotions of the number of people who have suffered over the centuries due to racism and the effects of the Atlantic slave trade. Still, an awful lot of what I discovered was upsetting, and for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it happened, and this needs to be acknowledged in a much better and more constructive way, but also because whilst I knew about some aspects, I didn’t learn about many of the events and issues I have tried to include even at secondary school. This emphasised how important it is to draw all of this together to support primary schools when making links to black British history as part of the curriculum.

How did it feel when you had completed your first publication?

Initially, it was just a relief that it was done. I spent a lot of time writing at weekends and in the library, and I think my wife was glad to have me back! Once I saw the actual printed publication and how it had come together, from being involved in designing the cover to finishing writing it, I was just really excited. I felt like I’d achieved something mega in actually writing a book. Still, I also thought the subject I had written about was significant. Even now that I’ve completed it, it still needs exploring and developing further in primary schools nationwide.

The interviewees


When you interviewed the contributors to this publication, what did you think of their experiences?

It was amazing to listen to their experiences. They shared events from their lives that helped to form them as people. Some were exciting and funny, others were saddening and upsetting, but I was grateful that they were willing to share their experiences of living in Britain with me and any others who benefit from seeing the publication and the interviews.

I haven’t and couldn’t have experienced many of the things that they talked to me about, but they helped me to try to understand some of the complexities of the topic I was writing about. Listening to people like Robert and Marlan and hearing their stories showed me that there is a lot for us to learn and that educating children is a positive step towards understanding and embracing everyone’s uniqueness.

Before interviewing each person, I talked them through my idea for the publication and showed them bits I had done. I interviewed different people at different stages of writing, so some saw more of it than others, but I think they understood the importance of what we are trying to achieve. I think Marlan even suggested at one point that I might know more about black British history than him (which I highly doubt) as I talked to him about teaching children about the Cheddar Man, Aurelian Moors and the black Tudors that I had learned about from reading David Olusoga and Miranda Kaufmann.

They appreciated that someone wanted to do something purposeful to educate children about things that have impacted them and will impact future generations. The only way we can make a change is to learn from our mistakes, but first, we have to recognise them and understand them.

Would you write any more publications for Focus Education?

I would love to write more and have already discussed a few ideas with Clive. I’m excited about running a course this month and perhaps doing this more too. Time is precious, and I felt like I needed a bit of a break after the scale of this project, but I’m looking forward to doing more!


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