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Interview Black History Month: In Conversation with Clive Myrie

Black History Month: In Conversation with Clive Myrie

With October we welcome the annual event that is Black History Month. The month-long celebration was introduced to the British cultural calendar by Linda Bellos in 1987, and in its 31-year history, it has seen schools, councils and communities come together to celebrate black British achievements.

More recently, the approach to Black History Month in Britain has become a multi-faceted debate to which voices are continually contributing, from leading speakers and writers to ordinary people on social media. Journalist and author Yomi Adegoke writes on the importance of a specifically British focus during October’s celebrations, wary of the tendency for discourse to centre on the narrative of the black American experience. Writer and former barrister Afua Hirsch raises the issues associated with confining the celebration of black figures to only one month rather than the mainstream curriculum. Historian, TV presenter and author David Olusoga considers the importance of abandoning the fixation on black heroes during Black History Month, welcoming an approach that moves beyond famous figures and their biography, and towards the exploration of the centuries-long relationship between Britain and people of African descent.

In light of Black History Month celebrations, we were lucky enough to chat to BAFTA-nominated journalist Clive Myrie this week. Clive has been at the forefront of current affairs, broadcasting and documentary making since the nineties. He shared details of his career highlights, the importance of black role-models on screen, and how crucial it is for white people to engage in Black History Month.

Have you always been interested in news and current affairs?

Yes, I have, from a very early age. I had a paper round when I was a kid, around the age of 7 or 8, and I used to get the papers for free. I was very interested in what was going on in the world. My family would gather around the TV to watch the News at Ten on ITV every night, so it was a ritual to be abreast of current affairs through that medium. When I was growing up I also admired Trevor McDonald. I was interested in what he was doing, and following that got me interested in the rest of the world.

What is your favourite part of your job?

I love the travel. I love going to far-flung places and meeting people with different ideas and different outlooks on life. I also just like hearing people’s stories and telling people stories. There is nothing more interesting in the world than our fellow human beings and to be able to record some of their thoughts and feelings in any moment because of a particular news story is a privilege.

You have cited Trevor McDonald as an influence on your career. How important was it for you to see black presenters on the TV?

It was critical, absolutely critical. Growing up in the seventies, the representation of black people on television was very, very scant, and it usually involved some kind of trouble at Notting Hill Carnival or some famine in Africa. There weren’t many positive images of black people and Trevor McDonald, in reading and reporting the news, was a positive role model. I thought, ‘he looks like me, so I could do what he does,’ and as a result, he has been a huge inspiration.

How can Black History Month serve as a platform for future black British achievement?

Anything that shines a light on the achievements of black people in Britain and indeed around the world is absolutely fantastic, and Black History Month is a showcase for that. It gives – crucially – white people as well as black people an opportunity to understand the cultural heritage of black Britons in the UK, and the contributions that they have made. And that’s a really great thing, because I hope it means that when white people interact with black people in any other month of the year there will be a sense that those black people are their equals, that they have achieved things and that they can achieve great things, in science or literature or music or fashion. It is important that Black History Month reflects that in telling the story of the black experience in Britain.

In your opinion, has Black History Month changed over time?

From what I’ve seen, it has certainly got more prominent – it’s much more of an occasion now in the way that it is in the US. I think it may have been the kind of event that basically black Britons celebrated and pointed to, but now I think it’s very much cross-cultural, I think it’s gone across the racial divide and is something that is celebrated nationally by white people as well as black people. To be honest, a lot of black people know the highlights of the black experience in this country, they know who the really successful entrepreneurs and scientists and artists have been over the last thirty, forty, fifty years. It’s white people who might not have an idea of that. That’s why Black History Month is a really important thing – to showcase that talent.

If you could give one motivational or inspirational comment to our audience out there, what would it be?

Always appeal to the positive. Always look for the good in someone. Always appeal to our better angels, as Lincoln put it, and try to be positive and constructive. Reach for the best, not the worst.

For further information, to book Clive or any of our other speakers, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email info@speakerscorner.co.uk.

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