In celebration of Black History Month this February through to March 1, we salute a key figure cementing the black legacy through education.
Jamaican educationist and retired academic and professor of language education at the West Indies in Mona, Beverley Bryan!
Born in 1950 in Portland, Jamaica to Jamaican parents who eventually settled in the Brixton section of London, UK, upon graduation at age 18 in 1968 from Keele University, London, she proceeded to enroll in London University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Master of Arts in Language and Literature in Education, and a Ph.D. of Philosophy degree in Language Education by 1976. But between 1970 to 1973, she had already been actively involved with the Black Panther Party in Great Britain. Their mission was to ensure the black community politically and socially were given due recognition, thereby calling for discrimination against blacks to stop. In 1973 when the Black Panthers dissolved, she went ahead with Liz Obi and Olive Morris, to found the British Black Women’s Group, with similar ideologies to Black Panther. During her free time,
Bryan would run spearhead one of the group’s Saturday schools – offering supplementary lessons in maths and English, her tool to combat the racial discrimination in education, teaching children Black history.
“I wanted to give my students a kind of self-defense against the negativity they would encounter,” she says. “I wanted to give them Black stories, Black culture and Black history as a way of affirming that you come from a history of proud people.”
“The main reason why I chose a Black curriculum was because, when I think about my own experiences, if people called you names, rather than say: ‘I’m not Black,’ you could point to what Black people had achieved,” she says
In 1992, Bryan although rrecognizedfor her contributions towards bringing equality to the UK returned to Jamaica and began teaching at the University of West Indies near the capital, Kingston.
On her return to Jamaica. “I never felt fully settled,” she says. “From my teenage years, I always felt that one day I was going to go back.” The police violence she witnessed played a role in her decision, in 1992, to relocate with her husband and sons. “If you have two boys and you see them growing up in England; it’s very dangerous, being a young Black man in the UK,” she says. “The idea of worrying about them when they’re out on the road – whether they’re going to be stopped by the police. Those kind of things were still there.”
Starting as a Lecturer in Educational Studies, she was promoted as Senior Lecturer in 2002, and then to Professor in 2011. In addition to her expertise in Jamaican Creole literature and language, she also worked at the Jamaican Ministry of Education. She has also authored several groundbreaking books; in 1985, she co-authored alongside Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe – The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain – which helped enlighten about the ttruggles and triumphs of Black women in Britain.
Today although retired, Beverley Bryan travels between Jamaica and Great Britain lecturing on women’s lives and issues.