Black in The Day: The Online Archive of the Black British Experience.

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Graphics by JojoLDN

“Our youth can be our fate or our future. If young black people embrace black culture, ground themselves in it and feel compelled to continue the legacy, then they are our future. But if they turn their backs on their blackness, if they have contempt for their fathers and mothers […] then they are not our future, they are our fate.” – Maulana Karenga.

The question is, how does one fully embrace a history that the country they grow up in sweeps under the carpet? Great Britain, I’m looking directly at you. Be it in the school curriculum, in textbooks or in the media. If young black people don’t know that black people were also individuals who lead vibrant lives, revolutionaries, and leaders before they were slaves, how does one continue a legacy if they are ill-informed as to how it began?

There is a James Baldwin quote that fits perfectly here, “know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Black people have a belonging in the UK that often feels alien, and yet we are such an integral part of this country’s existence.

Imagine demanding a bird who has been educated by sharks, to fly. Spreading wings should come naturally to the bird, but how does it fly in a land that teaches it to swim? It takes an experienced bird to teach a young bird how to soar, in other words it is important that black people learn black history from each other and especially from our elders whom have not only read it but have actually lived it. It is important to share and pass on insight. It is important to take control of not only the past but the present and the future also.

“We play a very important role on this island and although at times it may feel like we don’t belong here, we have every right to be here because this country wouldn’t be anything without us and our contributions. [When you know that and begin to feel like you belong], you can take up space and do the things that you need to do. It’s very difficult to exist in a space where you feel like you don’t belong and live your life to the fullest. You’re always doing things in a policed way” says Tania Nwachukwu, co-founder of the Black in The Day project.

Black in The Day is the name of a project spearheaded by Tania and Jojo. It is an online archive; the photographic documentation of the Black British experience. It aims to be an educational platform that will contribute towards fixing the lack of representation of black people in British history. I love this idea especially because it relies on submissions of personal family photographs; pictures of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, for example.

“We are the link between the generation before us and the generation ahead of us. And once the generation before us unfortunately goes, once that knowledge and all the information they have goes with them we can’t retrieve it. So, it’s very important now that we take those steps to make sure that we’re documenting these stories; documenting the ways that our parents and grandparents got here and the things that they experienced.”

This encourages community and collaboration. Without the people, the archive cannot exist. Is there anything closer to the truth than the primary source? No. Yet Black history, is too often told, written and taught from the perspectives of people who are not black.

In conversation with Jojo, he made that point that a lot of kids who have grown up and are growing up in the UK don’t really know “how long black people have been living in this country and how they lived. They don’t really have insight into that because it’s not on the school curriculum.” Tania added that “I think it’s very important for the younger lot coming up to understand that we have played such a huge part in everything in this country. In terms of culture and in terms of the very buildings, that we’re built by the people sold via countries that were colonised.”

The idea for Black In The Day was born during a WhatsApp conversation about a video in which Tania would be reciting a poem she wrote about her parents, with the context of Black British history included. High Roller Co were going to shoot the video to be released during Black History month however, it “transpired into a whole different thing.” The first project meeting was appropriately held at the BCA (Black Cultural Archives) in Brixton.

This is an educational platform that will empower generations to come, as Jojo put it “this is for cultural purposes, it’s not for the glorification of myself or Tania. We want this to serve an as educational tool; an educational platform for my kids, and my kid’s kids, and my little sister.”

This project is something I can wholeheartedly say is for the progression of the culture, black British culture to be less vague. I chuckled in agreement when Jojo mentioned that he has refrained from tweeting that the Black In The Day project is “for the culture” because of how unserious those three words have become. It is a term that is thrown around a lot especially on social media where it is often used humorously, or used because it is the cool thing to say if you’re creatively inclined, so much that it has begun to lose its potency. To say that something is “for the culture”, is to say that is it contributing to the growth and the advancement of a people – be it through the arts, in science, in social customs or in language.

When I asked why Black in The Day is important right now, Tania gave me such a poignant answer… “so you’re talking about now and in the future, I think it was important in the past. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was done in the kind of capacity that we want to do it in. I think that if we don’t take control of our own stories, if we leave them in other people’s hands, they won’t be told correctly or with truth. It’s very important that now, especially in this day and age with the resources that we have, we take control of them.”

Whilst the archive exists online, the pair are striving towards striking a balance between the world wide web, and the physical world. “Having everything online is great but we want the conversation to still continue in real life.” How do they plan to do this?

Well first things first, the archive needs to be bursting at the seams with imagery. Something that will also require the scanning of physical photographs in order to digitise them. There are many who may not have the time or the tools needed to do so, for those people a “Scanning Day” event will take place on the 3rd of September @ Black Sugars Cocoa House, Brick Lane.

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What is this Scanning Day Event all about, I hear you ask? I’ll let Jojo and Tania answer that for you:

Tania: The main focus of the event is to enable people to come down and they can obviously scan the photos. We’ve realised that as much as people have enjoyed the idea of what we’re doing, actually getting up and scanning photos for people that don’t have scanners… it’s long. It’s very out of the way, where as if we tie it into something fun, something that involves music and socialising, people are more willing to come down and do it. So not only can they come and get the photos scanned, they can come and meet new people, they can shake a leg, buss a two-step, get a drink.

Jojo: Yeah, I feel like some people are still unclear [about the idea], so we want people to come and understand the project. And for people who don’t have scanners or aren’t tech savvy enough to scan it themselves, we’ll just do it for them. It’s kind of like a meet and greet, we’ll have music and just a good vibe, you know?

You can stay tuned for further details and keep up with Black-In-The-Day’s parents via Twitter, @jojoldn and @gwehgweh1.

Lastly, SUBMIT, SUBMIT, SUBMIT! Photographs of your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunties, uncles, great aunts and great uncles… photos from as far back as the 50s, 60s, and 70s… you get the gist. Let’s all contribute towards a vibrant photographic library of Black British history!

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Words by Charisse Chikwiri, @CharisseeC on Twitter.