How to Make a Difference for Good
Thursday, 24 September 2020
Earlier this week, Philip Britton, Headmaster of the Boys’ Division at Bolton School, gave the traditional Leverhulme Birthday Assembly, through which the school marks the anniversary of the start of the Bolton School Foundation in 1915. The occasion provides an opportunity for pupils to find out more about William Hesketh Lever, who became the first Viscount Leverhulme, and his life and times. This year, however, the focus was slightly different.
A senior Monitor read from the book ‘Leverhulme’s Legacy’, including this quote: ‘his father, James, had a deep concern for the spiritual and material improvement of the communities in which they lived and these values inspired William.’
The Headmaster then asked, ‘How did the boy inspired by these values become the man whose statue at Port Sunlight was on the list to be toppled at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement?’
Mr Britton reminded boys of his assembly in the summer term, which focused on condemning racism and raising awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement. He went on to relate Lever’s links to events in the Congo in the early 1900s, including forced labour in palm oil plantations, as well as the housing, hospitals and schools he built in the eponymous town of Leverville, which is now Lusanga.
He compared this to two of Lever’s other projects: first the northern isles of Lewis and Harris, where Lever sought to mechanise and improve the fishing industry and where there is still a place called Leverburgh; and Port Sunlight, where he built housing for the workers in his soap factory.
Port Sunlight was arguably the most successful. Contemplating why, the Headmaster suggested that it was because Port Sunlight was a new venture: soap manufacture was novel and Lever was not replacing a way of life but inventing it. In contrast, in the Congo and Scotland people had harvested and fished for generations. Lever was replacing their way of life and the changes, even if meant to be for the better, were imposed upon the community.
Mr Britton reminded the boys that their aim should be to ‘go out and make a difference for good’. He said: ‘What we learn from our Founder this year, as we celebrate his birthday, is that you cannot do good to people, by imposing your will, however well intentioned. You can only do good with people, understanding their way of life, their thoughts and their needs.’
The thought for the day shared during the assembly by Vice Captain Thomas Britton was a quote from US President Abraham Lincoln, taken from an executive order later called the Emancipation Proclamation: ‘All persons held as slaves shall be thenceforward forever free.’ The order was passed on 22 September 1862, 158 years ago to the day when the assembly was held. Thomas went on to speak poignantly about the historical context of the Proclamation, referring to the inhumane treatment of slaves, as well as acknowledging that work is still needed today. He said: ‘We cannot imagine the horrors slaves went through … but the President in that moment empathised with all those millions of people, and changed their lives with a flick of his pen, granting them dignity, humanity and freedom. While there was a lot more work to be done, this was the beginning of a long road to freedom and equality that is still not complete.’
Watch the thought for the day in full here.
Read more about Bolton School’s commitment to actively dismantling systemic racism and prejudice here.
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