Teach Global Black history in Bermuda's Schools

Teach Global Black history in Bermuda's Schools

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Please sign this petition and join me in fighting for the kind of education we know our young people need.

In 2007, my daughter Waverley Moran attended Dellwood Middle School and had the good fortune to have the Ashay: Rites of Passage Programme, created by Mwalimu Melodye Micëre Van Putten.  Taught by Mr. Ajala Omodele, Ashay instilled in my daughter important lessons in Black history, values and respect.  The lessons of Ashay were continued for her and her younger sister, Katrina Moran at The Berkeley Institute by Ms. Shalane Dill, the drama teacher who was trained by Mwalimu Van Putten.  Ms. Dill, also a playwright, wrote a play based on Ashay and Mrs. Van Putten’s poetry that was one of the most impactful performances Katrina participated in.  Both of my daughters continue to benefit from the lessons of Ashay as young adults; in fact, Waverley, my oldest daughter, STILL talks about the impact of Ashay classes!  

The deletion of Ashay in middle schools in Bermuda was a travesty!  I was one of the parents who tried in vain to not only keep the programme in the middle schools, but expand it to all of our public schools, from P1 to S4.   The hurtful, racist events of our current times, brought back the despair of losing Ashay front and center to me yet again, even as my daughters are now young women.  The fight for Ashay to be reintroduced in our schools is personal for me.

Full disclosure, I am white.  The Ashay Programme assisted me in raising two beautiful, well-adjusted, human beings, conscious of unconscious bias and with an understanding of their obligation to make the world better.  While Ashay teaches global African and African Diaspora history, including Bermuda’s Black history, the Ashay Objectives provide a foundational lens for living a good, wholesome and productive life.   

The Ashay Objectives by Mwalimu Melodye Micëre Van Putten, MA

  1. I am valuable and have genius.
  2. My history and culture are sources of knowledge with lessons to be learned.
  3. I must develop my character in order to have a successful life.
  4. The world is waiting for me to contribute my gifts and talents.

When I told my oldest daughter about my plans to start this petition, this is what she had to say:  “I remember being devastated when Ashay was taken away. I also remember the sense of pride I felt in history classes every time Canada or Ireland was mentioned as contributing on a global stage because of my own personal connection to those places…  I want that for all young Black Bermudians. So much of their history has been lost because of my ancestors and I want to do what I can to give as much of it back as possible.  I want Ashay for my nieces and nephews. I want Ashay for my kids if I have them. I want it for every kid I taught swimming, every teenager I coached on the Spirit of Bermuda.” 

If all our young people, black and white, attending public and private schools, learned, understood and internalized the Ashay Objectives, along with the lessons of global Black history, we would realize the change we seek in this moment.   I believe the ONLY way we will effectively eradicate the scourge of racism is to teach all of our young people the history so that minds and hearts can be changed; that kind of change cannot be legislated, but must be a seed planted and nurtured through the power of education.  All of our children – white and black – need Ashay!

Mwalimu Melodye Micëre Van Putten is uniquely qualified, having not only created the Ashay Programme, but has trained teachers in a number of school districts across the US, Ghana and Bermuda.  She has written curriculum for Social Studies and Black History.  An Africalogist, Van Putten has her university degrees from Temple University as a Presidential Fellow and was chosen as a “Rising Star” by Time Magazine in 1989 for Black History Workshops for Children, known as Ashay in Bermuda and Ghana.  As a motivational speaker, she has given keynotes in churches and universities in the US and Bermuda, was a speaker at the Million Woman March in Philadelphia in 1998 and most recently, opened the Black Lives Matter Bermuda March in Solidarity (2020).  Speaking extemporaneously to students at the Atasemanso Primary School in Kumasi, Ghana, led to a month-long educator-in-residence programme and the creation of an Ashay enrichment club with over 175 students (2018).  

Van Putten is also the author of a dozen books, including Ashay! Bermuda History Stories for Children – a project born of her frustration in not being able to have Black history properly taught in Bermuda schools.  Written for parents and grandparents to enable them to teach their children the history, the book was enthusiastically received and reviewed by educators and parents alike.  Like Mwalimu Van Putten herself, Ashay! Bermuda History Stories for Children is seriously underutilized and not available for all teachers and students who need and would benefit from it.   

Over the years since Ashay ended, letters have been written to the previous Premiers and Ministers of Education; a variety of meetings have been held with promises and little to no action.  It is not for lack of effort on the part of various members of our community!  Forging ahead, Mwalimu Van Putten has continued her work privately, but our island is bereft as her work would significantly inspire our young people to a place of purpose, self-esteem, motivation and pride sorely needed.  The reintroduction of Ashay will give all of our young people a full accounting of history, devoid of stereotypes, myths and inaccuracies.  It will lay a foundation for mutual respect, knitting the bonds of community on this island, improving the quality of life for all of us.   We need Mwalimu Melodye Micëre Van Putten for the expertise, talent and passion she brings to our island home.  Ashay means it is good; it will be good indeed to have Ashay back in our schools!  Please sign this petition and join me in fighting for the kind of education we know our young people need.  Your comments or experiences with the Ashay Programme are also welcome!