Petition calls for return of Ashay programme
The former head of a parent teacher association has collected more than 6,500 signatures in support of the reinstatement of a black history course in schools.
Ruth Moran said she fought to keep Melodye Micëre Van Putten's “Ashay: Rites of Passage” programme as part of the curriculum when she was president of the Dellwood Middle School PTA, but it was cancelled in 2009.
The scheme, which was introduced to middle schools in 2003, emphasised black history, culture and personal development.
Ms Moran started the petition to have it reinstated after she watched Black Lives Matter protests in Bermuda and overseas.
The petition is addressed to David Burt, the Premier, Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, Diallo Rabain, the education minister, Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, and Cole Simons, the shadow education minister.
Ms Moran said: “I was immediately thinking both my children are grown and I have time on my hands.
“Let us get Ashay back in the schools. Let us teach our children true global history, as opposed to the history we currently teach them such as Christopher Columbus discovered America.”
Ms Moran highlighted that the human race originated in Africa, so African history was everyone's history and that better education would help break down any ‘them and us' mentality. Ashay is still offered at the Berkeley Institute as part of the S1 advisory period, although it is no longer part of the school's curriculum.
A spokesman from the Ministry of Education said: “If principals are interested in the programme, they will make contact with Mrs Van Putten, as the funding for this will come from their school budgets.”
Mrs Van Putten said she wanted the course to be accessible to all schools.
She added: “The only reason Berkeley has it is because they have independent resources for teacher training, curriculum workbooks and so forth.
“Ashay is not a casual programme that the average school has financial resources available to implement.”
Ms Moran's daughter, Waverley, said she benefited from Ashay while at Dellwood in 2007. Now a student at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, she added: “I think it was genuinely one of my favourite classes I took in school in Bermuda.”
She said she loved learning about the history of Africa and the African Diaspora, but also found the personal development aspect a great help. The 24-year-old explained that she had had a struggle finding direction, and problems with self-confidence.
The Ashay programme teaches pupils life lessons such as ‘I am valuable and have genius' and ‘the world is waiting for me to contribute my gifts and talents'.
Waverley said: “Reading those Ashay objectives just now brought tears to my eyes because I was reminded of how impactful those statements were for me to hear and say about myself at that age.
She added: “Ashay never felt to me like I was learning about black history. I was learning history, the history of the world and of humanity.
“Yes, it was the history of Africa and the African Diaspora but the things that happened on that continent and to the people stolen from that land are just as important and relevant to the world history at large as the history of things happening in Europe or the Americas.”
Waverley said: “I don't remember my middle-school class breakdown exactly, but I am guessing I was the only or one of a handful of white students in that class.
“And while I did massively struggle with feeling out of place in many aspects of being one of the few white students at my school, I never felt out of place learning the lessons we were taught in Ashay.”
Ayana Bean, who also went through the programme, added it had also boosted her self-confidence.
She said: “Previously, I had learnt that black people were only slaves, but through the programme I learnt of our rich history in discovering astronomy, building the pyramids and advances in science long before we were enslaved.
“I believe Ashay can help young people of all colours to see black people's humanity instead of just having a history of enslavement.”
Alneisha Outerbridge, who also completed the programme, said there was a cultural and historical necessity to teach young people about black pre-slavery accomplishments and heroes.
She said: “This is an opportunity that had been stolen from us — to grow, having a strong sense of identity and sense of usefulness and belonging.”
Mrs Van Putten said she continued to teach the programme to children and adults through Ashay University and that thousands of people around the world had taken part.
She added: “Things are being revealed that have normally been swept under the rug even here in Bermuda, in terms of how black people are treated in general.
“One of the Ashay programme's objectives is to help our young people persevere through obstacles of racism and issues of self-worth.”
• Look for the petition at https://bit.ly/38WQ2sv. For more information about Ashay: Rites of Passage visit www.educatorpoet.com/?page_id=53