Activate Learning celebrates Black History Month

Black History Month is a month of events that run throughout October and celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Black communities worldwide.

Black History Month at Activate Learning

In celebration of the month, we’ve put together a host of resources to help support your understanding of Black History Month and its importance.

These include:

  • Films, TV shows, documentaries
  • Books
  • Audiobooks, music and podcasts
  • BorrowBox resources
  • Pride in Black Culture – modern and historical figures

Films, TV shows and documentaries we’d recommend for Black History Month

There is so much media available educating people on the history, celebrations and struggles of Black people.

These programmes can be very informative and give watchers a unique insight.

Here are some of our favourite films, TV shows, documentaries and podcasts to watch during Black History Month, as recommended by our students and staff:

Films for Black History Month

Hidden Figures BHM

Hidden Figures

A story of three Black female mathematicians working at NASA during the space race.

Watch Hidden Figures on Disney Plus.

The Help
A story of a young, white author during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

She writes a book from the point of view of African American maids who work for the white families she knows. Her work recalls the hardship and discrimination they face on a daily basis.

Watch The Help on Amazon Prime.

TV shows for BHM

Black and Proud BHM

Black and Proud

A collection of films and tv programmes celebrating Black lives and culture, spanning British history, comedy, entertainment, drama, documentaries and films.

Watch Black and Proud of Channel 4.

Noughts + Crosses
A dystopian drama set in London explores the taboo relationship between Seph and Callum, who fall in love despite a Black elite and white underclass divide.

Watch Noughts + Crosses on BBC iPlayer.

I May Destroy You
An intense drama explores important themes such as sexual assault, racism and homophobia as a young Black writer and influencer navigates life and trauma in central London.

Watch I May Destroy You on BBC iPlayer here.

Documentaries for BHM

Black and British – A Forgotten History

In this eye-opening documentary series, historian, David Olusoga, explores the relationship between Britain and people whose origins lie in Africa. From African Romans to slavery, to Black sailors who fought for Britain to the shaping of Black British identity in the 20th Century.

Watch Black and British – A Forgotten History on BBC iPlayer.

Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History

Join Lenny Henry and Suzy Klein in celebration of gifted Black classical composers.

Watch Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History on BBC iPlayer.

Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle

Follow the story of Eunice and what it’s like for her to live as a Black woman in post-war Britain.

Watch Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle on BBC iPlayer.

Lights Up: J’Ouvert

Notting Hill Carnival is here. Follow Jade and Nadine as they stand up to find their own place in the world.

Watch Lights Up: J’Ouvert on BBC iPlayer.

Imagine…Bernardine Evaristo: Never Give Up

Alan Yentob meets the Anglo-Nigerian author Bernadine Evaristo, writer of the Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Women, Other and tells the inspiration behind her latest book, Manifesto: On Never Giving Up.

Watch Imagine…Bernardine Evaristo: Never Give Up on BBC iPlayer.

Books we’d recommend for Black History Month

There are so many fantastic reading resources to better educate yourself during Black History Month.

Here are some student and staff favourites. For those lucky enough to be studying at an Activate Learning college, you can order these books via our Learning Environments!

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs.

The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

12 Years a Slave – Soloman Northup

Born a free man in New York State in 1808, Solomon Northup was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841.

He spent the next twelve years as a slave on a Louisiana cotton plantation. During this time, he was frequently abused and often afraid for his life.

After regaining his freedom in 1853, Northup published this gripping account of his captivity.

The Help – Kathryn Stockett

There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from college, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared.

Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they’d be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell…

Small Island – Andrea Levy

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun.

Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do?

Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently.

The Long Song – Andrea Levy

July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity in Jamaica and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was present when slavery was declared no more.

The story tells also of July’s mama Kitty, of the Black people that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides – far too many for me to list here.

But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse. Perhaps, my son suggests, I might write that it is a thrilling journey through that time in the company of people who lived it. All this he wishes me to pen so the reader can decide if this is a novel they might care to consider. Cha, I tell my son, what fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves.

Martin Luther King – Christine Hatt 

This wonderful biography combines an in-depth account of Martin Luther King’s life with a series of key questions for discussion and debate.

Extensive primary evidence is quoted for and against each question and you, the reader, are invited to ‘judge for yourself’. This book details and examines the story of King’s life and the events leading up to his assassination in 1968; slavery in the USA until its abolition in 1865; the struggle to win economic and political rights for the Black people of the USA through non-violent protest; and King’s opposition to the Vietnam War.

Rosa Parks and her protest for civil rights: 1 December 1955 – Phillip Steele

This title explores Rosa Parks’ protest for civil rights in America.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African-American seamstress, refused to give up her seat to a white man while riding on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. For doing this, Parks was arrested and fined for breaking the laws of segregation.

It looks at the timeline of that day and the background and consequences of the event.

It is suitable for a quick-reference introduction to the event, and also as a high interest/low reading level book.

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

A worldwide bestseller and the first part of Achebe’s African Trilogy, Things Fall Apart is the compelling story of one man’s battle to protect his community against the forces of change

Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive, and his fame spreads throughout West Africa like a bushfire in the harmattan. But when he accidentally kills a clansman, things begin to fall apart. Then Okonkwo returns from exile to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived in the village. With his world thrown radically off-balance he can only hurtle towards tragedy.

Refugee Boy – Benjamin Zephaniah

Life is not safe for Alem. His father is Ethopian, his mother Eritrean. Their countries are at war, and Alem is welcome in neither place.

So Alem is excited to spend a holiday in London with his father – until he wakes up to find him gone.

What seems like a betrayal is in fact an act of love, but now Alem is alone in a strange country, and he must forge his own path…

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

Set in the deep American South between the wars, THE COLOR PURPLE is the classic tale of Celie, a young Black girl born into poverty and segregation.

Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage.

But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.

Empire Windrush – Onyekachi Wambu

In 1948, the SS “Empire Windrush”, carrying hundreds of young men and women from the Caribbean, docked in Southampton.

The ship’s arrival signalled the beginning of a mass migration which was to have profound effects on Britain for the next 50 years. This anthology charts those 50 years.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

‘I write about being a Black American woman, however, I am always talking about what it’s like to be a human being. This is how we are, what makes us laugh, and this is how we fall and how we somehow, amazingly, stand up again’ Maya Angelou

In this first volume of her seven books of autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American south of the 1930s. Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty. As a Black woman she has known discrimination, violence and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.

Gather Together in my Name – Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s volumes of autobiography are a testament to the talents and resilience of this extraordinary writer.

Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty. As a Black woman she has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.

In the sequel to her best-selling, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou is a young mother in California, unemployed, embarking on brief affairs and transient jobs in shops and night-clubs, turning to prostitution and the world of narcotics.

All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes – Maya Angelou

Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty. As a Black woman, Maya Angelou has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.

In the fifth volume, Maya Angelou emigrates to Ghana only to discover that ‘you can’t go home again’ but she comes to a new awareness of love and friendship, civil rights and slavery – and the myth of Mother Africa.

Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela

The riveting memoirs of the outstanding moral and political leader of our time, A Long Walk to Freedom brilliantly re-creates the drama of the experiences that helped shape Nelson Mandela’s destiny.

Emotive, compelling and uplifting, A Long Walk to Freedom is the exhilarating story of an epic life; a story of hardship, resilience and ultimate triumph told with the clarity and eloquence of a born leader.

Beloved – Toni Morrison

It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky.

Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece.

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

Set in New England mainly and London partly, “On Beauty” concerns a pair of feuding families – the Belseys and the Kipps – and a clutch of doomed affairs.

It puts low morals among high ideals and asks some searching questions about what life does to love. For the Belseys and the Kipps, the confusions – both personal and political – of our uncertain age are about to be brought close to home: right to the heart of family.

Knife Edge – Malorie Blackman

Sephy is a Cross, one of the privileged in a society where the ruling Crosses treat the pale-skinned noughts as inferiors.

But her baby daughter has a nought father. Jude is a Nought. Eaten up with bitterness, he blames Sephy for the terrible losses his family has suffered.

Now Jude’s life rests on a knife edge., Will Sephy be forced, once again, to take sides? A razor-sharp and intensely moving novel, the second in the Noughts and Crosses sequence.

Forge – Laurie Halse Anderson

Isabel and Curzon have escaped New York and are facing a life on the run. Isabel wants to find her sister, and Curzon can’t see how to help her.

When they find themselves separated, their journeys become harder and Curzon joins the American army, fighting for independence against the British. Neither has the success they wanted and soon they are reunited in terrible circumstances, enslaved once more.

As the army prepares for its biggest battle yet, Curzon too prepares for the hardest challenge he has ever faced – getting both himself and Isabel out of Valley Forge and freeing them. For good.

Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama

Before Barack Obama became a politician, he was, among other things, a writer. Dreams from My Father is a masterpiece: a refreshing, revealing portrait of a young man asking the big questions about identity and belonging.

The son of a Black African father and a white American mother, Obama recounts an emotional odyssey. He retraces the migration of his mother’s family from Kansas to Hawaii, then to his childhood home in Indonesia. Finally, he travels to Kenya, where he confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.