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Darrel Blake with kids from Black Rooted Academy at New Beacon Books

Black Rooted Academy: breaking boundaries for Black youngsters

We all had a school subject we hated.

Be that Pythagoras’ Theorem in maths or Shakespearean couplets in English you just could not get your head round.

Toni*, a young girl from south London, was no different – she hated maths – but she had a fantastic talent for braiding hair. The intricate loops and detailed knots were no issue as her fingers weaved through the natural Black hair of her friends.

It was not until Darrel Blake, a 32-year-old community activist, taught her that this talent for braiding was rooted in angles and shapes that she realised she had been doing geometry all along.

It is this unique, individualised approach which inspired Blake to create Black Rooted Academy. He is now fundraising on GoFundMe to launch a Saturday School in south London for students from age five to 16.

HANDS UP: Darrel encourages his students to raise their hand and raise their voice

He remarked: “It just takes one individual to bring the change. And that’s what I’ve tried to do by being the representation that people want to see.”

The Academy’s vision is to create a safe space to teach culture, language, music, media, and Black History from the Caribbean and African diaspora, as well as promoting physical and mental health awareness.

The Saturday school was originally to be held at a secondary school in south west London, Blake’s former school where he developed an after school programme called PREP – Power Reshape & Education Project.

However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Academy was pre-launched online with an official launch scheduled for 2021.

The Academy is highly appreciative of any donations as well as local business sponsorships from school supplies to uniforms.

Blake hopes to expand the Academy by branching out the Saturday Schools to Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool. He later envisions the course being captured in exercise books for schools across the country.

CHAMPIONING DIVERSITY: Darrel Blake reading an excerpt outside a memorial to the abolition of the slave trade. Photo credit: Eve Milner

During Black History Month Blake feels that some organisations and schools see this movement as a “tick box exercise.”

He advocates: “We need an original grassroots way of handling which is getting our hands dirty, we need to be on the front line. We need to stop talking about it and let’s do it.”

Black Rooted Academy is front lining an abundance of active platforms in South London.

His ‘Young Readers, Future Leaders’ programme fundraises for Black school children to visit Black bookshops and to receive free books which centre characters that they can relate to.

A recent study found of the 9,115 children’s books published that year, only 391 (4%) featured BAME characters and just 1% had a BAME main character.

Blake says: “Representation is so important for a child’s development, they have to have a sense of belonging, which comes from the root of sense of purpose.

“With a sense of purpose you can do anything.”

VOICING HISTORY: Blake speaking on his Black History Tour in London
Photo credit: Paul Iwala

The programme so far has provided around 95 kids with books, sourced from Black authors and black-owned bookshops, like New Beacons Books, Woke Babies, and This is Book Love.

With a Barbadian mother, Jamaican father and Grandparents from the Windrush generation, Blake has grown up with a complex identity.  

He explored his heritage and culture further whilst studying at Europe’s first ‘Black Studies’ Degree at Birmingham University from 2017-2020. He hopes to apply the innovative teaching methods to his Academy.

The need for positive representation in academia is evident as in a recent study only 140 professors, less than 1%, identified as black at UK universities. Whilst nearly 18,000 identified as white, 1360 as Asian and more than 2000 unidentified or selected ‘other ethnic background’.

Blake still recalls the massive impact school teachers had on his love of education growing up when other family members were busy living their lives. Recalling a former teacher Paul Lecky warning: “don’t stand in your own way.”

As a lead actor in ‘Equiano’s Cup’ exploring the abolition of slave trade, a documentary maker of ‘The Doll Test: The Birth Of Self Hate (2018) and with a Children’s book about animals and self-empowerment set in Africa ready to launch in the new year, Blake certainly has not stood in his own way.

As a youth leader and motivational speaker, he knows the importance of uplifting through words of affirmation.

MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER: Blake speaking at a mental health awareness event
‘Let’s Shatter the Taboo’

Blake hopes to impart three lessons of wisdom upon all of his students: be proud of your name and what you stand for, your complexion is powerful and a badge of honour – hold it with dignity and you are better than no one and no one is better than you.

He encourages: “Young people use your voice, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, use your voice.

“It just takes one person in an organisation or solo person to bring something negative to your life or something positive. It takes one genuine person to tell you they care about you and that could change your life.”

*Name has been changed for the purposes of the article.

Featured Photo Credit: Darrel Blake

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