Introducing Afrocentric Studies in Dutch education

Marvin Hokstam, The Broos Institute, Amsterdam at Archaeology, Beyond the Decade virtual conference, 12-09-2023

I am a non-conformist; I have been using my journalism for activism. And A few years ago I started The Broos Institute that is adding Afrocrentric perspectives to education. I’m here today to tell you more about that.

A few months ago I was at a meeting in Ireland, where I was asked to share my experiences with racism. So I asked the room to give me 10 words randomly and I promised them that I would be able to tell a story about racism that I encountered, from each of those words.

They gave me 11 words

I told them 10 stories.

They were shocked!

I told them

Don’t be fooled by how easy Black people make this life seem. This world is not a safe space for Black people.”

Inequality is embedded into the fabric of society.

Even in countries where Europeans are no longer part of the ruling class, they still determine the direction. In a room with only people of color, without white people present, white people are still present. That’s how dominating and invading Eurocentrism is.

Last year someone tagged me in an article about the first Afrocentric school in Africa!

This wonderful development happened in 2022! The first Afrocentric school in Africa opened only in 2022!

So I asked the journalist how he would feel if I would write about the first Eurocentric school in Europe! I was sarcastic of course, but He got offended: “all schools in Europe are Eurocentric!”

He totally missed my point that even in Africa, we have accepted Eurocentrism as the norm.

In school Black children are taught every day that their ancestors’ killers and enslavers were heroes. Even in schools in former colonies. I know a Black person who lives on the VOC street in Rotterdam! People of color drive through the Coen Tunnel every day; do you know who Coen was? What he did?

Consider how strange it would be to teach Jewish children that Hitler was their hero.

Allow me to tell you a personal story.

I am a descendant of the anti-slavery freedom fighter Broos. He was the leader of a group of warriors who fought back against slavery. They had a camp at Rorac, in the forest on the right bank of the Suriname River. In 1862 Broos traveled to Paramaribo to sign a peace accord with the governor. That’s when they took a picture of him; it’s the only known picture of an anti-slavery hero from Suriname. Broos is the progenitor of all people with the last name Deekman.

My family comes from a special place named Toledo, a former sugar and cacao plantation my family still owns in upper Suriname region, alongside the Suriname river.

It’s a magical place, but it wasn’t always so. In 1863 when slavery was abolished in Suriname, this plantation held 80 enslaved Africans but it was named La Liberte (The Freedom, go figure).

In 1914 my great grandmother Catharina Weegman purchased the place where her mother and ancestors had been enslaved on.

After my great grandmother bought this place, my grandfather Frederik Weegman stayed there to farm the land and he would paddle his boat to other plantations along the river to sell his harvest. He would also stop at Rorac.

That’s where he saw Bertha Deekman and he asked her father permission to marry her. Bertha Deekman was my grandmother. Her father was a grandson to Broos. My grandmother was the great granddaughter to Broos.

These are my grandparents.

So I am a direct descendant of this great man Broos, but the history books that I was taught from in Suriname, never mentioned this hero, who survived his war against slavers. History textbooks do mention the people who perished, who were caught, who were betrayed, who were burned alive because they resisted slavery. The conquered. Not Broos who had been victorious and lived to tell history.

Even in my own family! I had never heard of Broos until I was about 35 years old. We have been conveniently taught to forget who we are and deceived to disregard what great people we come from. Black people, like me, were raised to see their ancestors as losers.

Inequaly is embedded in the DNA of our society

Black people are discouraged from studying ourselves. In the US the governor of Florida is steadfast in his opposition against the integration of African Studies into the curriculum of secondary schools.

When the university of Suriname started a course on Afro Surinamese Development people made fun of it and asked if students would become certified bonuman (voodoo priests).

Some of these were Black people.

The cause for this lies in historically induced ignorance.

Years ago I interviewed an archeologist who was doing a lot of research into African cemeteries in St. Maarten.

Before I met him I had never thought about where enslaved Africans were buried.

He was the first person that made me rethink the impact African people have had on our region. He remarked to me that we should realize that the historical buildings throughout the region are AFRICAN buildings and not European. “They were built by Africans”. I started to realize then that people often ignore or conveniently forget the impact that Black people have had, because we are not in charge of the discourse about ourselves.

But we should, if we want to change our trajectory. Remember that cliché: to claim your future, you should know your past?

What I’ve also learned is that nobody is gonna do it for us. In 2021 I approached the government in Amsterdam to start a school that would also teach from an Afrocentric perspective alongside the other mandatory subjects. Not just schools for children of African descent to learn about themselves, but also for other children to learn about Afrocentric views. They responded that I wanted to practice segregation.

So the only way to change our trajectory is by doing it ourselves.

Every other ethnic group has its own schools: you have Indian schools, Muslim school, Jewish schools, Chinese schools … white schools. Yes, all public schools are in essence white schools. Even in many former colonies. Here young Black people are taught how to be white people in a world that is consistently telling them that they are not white people.

In the US, the Black community created HBCU’s.

They list among their benefits for students:

Student’s benefit from intimate settings

Students are More than a number

Students are member of a community

Students have Memorable social experiences

Students are set on path to creating a legacy

Students Learn about the Black diaspora

Recognize their worth early on.

I always wondered why this was not done anywhere else than the US.

There is overwhelming evidence that teaching students in a safe environment can have benefits.

Children are better off in an environment where their culture and background are not disrespected. Where no one punishes them when they speak their home language on the playground. All children must be given the opportunity to develop a positive self-image: this is an absolute necessity if they are to develop into full-fledged citizens later on. They recognize themselves in teachers with whom they share their ethnic, religious or social background – and therefore also personal experiences.”

Of course I am now speaking from a Dutch perspective, but I can tell you that it also applies to other countries. Education is not balanced. Nearly every country has discriminatory mechanisms in its educational content.

For example, history and art lessons are full of cultural stereotypes.

I could also talk about iconography.


Last month I was driving through the city of Livorno in Italy, when I came across this statue of four Black men chained to a pillar, with a white man towering above. Beautiful to some, but to me this statue has placed people like me in chains perpetually. To me this teaches that I am a sufferer, forever in need of help.

Why not a monument about the contributions that Black people made to society?

The message is clear: ‘You don’t belong.”

It’s because Black people do not get to teach themselves and others from their own perspectives, that we are not able to influence consistent change.

If we had a school system that taught children from more than one perspective, it would perhaps lead to a better sense of diversity.

People who are better anchored in themselves and who learn to value other people, perform better.

A lot of potential is wasted at the moment because children do not see themselves reflected in schools, they drop out or refuse to pursue higher education because it doesn’t link with their identities.

I myself was a student who dropped out halfway to my masters degree.

I work with students in Amsterdam, who regularly tell me that they don’t feel like they belong. That they don’t feel like the school system applies to them. When I’m in Suriname or anywhere in the Caribbean, I meet with these young vibrant Black people who are not stimulated to study, because they don’t recognize themselves in education. Who feel like it won’t lead them anywhere.

Meanwhile the world is changing rapidly and they’re left behind. Many jobs in the job market today, didn’t exist 10 years ago and many jobs of the future do not exist yet. And yet we continue to send our children into schools that do not apply to them, that do not prepare them for what’s current. We force them to study for failure.

And they know that, why else do you think they drop out?

As a society we are leaving a lot of potential on the way side, because everybody loses when one child’s potential is not developed.

We need safe spaces where potential is nurtured.

Imagine if these safe spaces did exist?

In 2021 we launched Broos Institute with which we are in the process of launching more Afrocentric perspectives into Dutch education. Broos Institute is launching safe spaces for Black youth to study. We have weekly sessions with young Black children to help them with their schoolwork while we also teach them about their identity. To study themselves. Educational institutes where other people can learn about Black people.

We have four pillars:

Support (Those weekly sessions that I just mentioned)

Campus (we want to have fullfledged schools by 2027, where anyone, white, Black, yellow can attend)

Academy (our masterclasses series that is starting in october)

Research (Black people researching Black issues.)

And we have been achieving milestones from the getgo.

  • We have secured funding to send three students from Suriname to Ghana on an orientational trip to research their link to Africa.
  • We arranged lectures for the university of Suriname on the identity and on the spirituality of the African diaspora.
  • We are in the process of setting up research into the identities of young people of African descent in Amsterdam.
  • We’re building a virtual campus that will launch in january
  • We are in the process of setting up a course in which participants will dive into the intricacies of Africa and the diaspora. We want to teach people who we are. People who work with people of African descent can only do their jobs better if they are also taught who people of African descent are, how they look at things. What is our psyche, what makes us tick?
  • We are soon launching a series of masterclasses, in partnership with a Caribbean university.
  • We’re partnering with the Anton de Kom University of Suriname, to bring a course on AfroSurinamese Development Studies to Europe. About this I am very excited, because this has never been done before. Broos Institute is of the firm belief that in order to do decolonization right, we should break the mold in which it’s always western scholars who visit our countries to spread their views and knowledge.

And we are developing more partnerships. This playing field is limitless, because what we have set out to do, has never been done before.

Change is best brought by bringing it.

I leave with an expression of gratitude to dr. Cheryl White, for inviting me to speak here today.

This conference triggered me because it touches on subjects that I am passionate about: Black people discussing how to be in charge of studying Black issues.

I thank you.