The month of October is designated Black History Month in the UK, and is an opportunity for education, exploration, and entertainment regarding the achievements of Black people from all walks of life. It gives us an opportunity to share our collections and spaces across the university, to critique our curricula and to celebrate the diverse achievements of the African diaspora both locally and nationally.
In this article, Dr Sheine Peart who leads on BHM for the university, shares some highlights from this year’s celebrations and reflects on the relevance for our community of this annual festival.
"I am pleased to report that this year’s celebration of Black History Month at BGU saw a wide range of opportunities to take part, including many exciting and enriching events. We once again held a film night at The Venue, with many people making generous voluntary contributions which met hire costs and enabled us to donate to the Lincolnshire Centre for Reconciliation. Our visiting Gospel Band from the Alive Church raised the Chapel roof and I particularly enjoyed meeting a couple who attended this event with their primary school aged daughter. The lecture on Black Scientists delivered by Dr Wahiba Toubal was attended by a large audience from a local secondary school and was showcased by ITV's News Calendar programme. We heard a lively talk on diversity in the popular table top role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, and the BGU Performing Arts Society once again researched, rehearsed, and performed an evening of events which was attended by a large student audience. I was particularly pleased by the way the BGU catering services embraced BHM, every Tuesday throughout October offering a different African or Caribbean dish. Students and staff could literally enjoy a taste of the month!
These various and varied ways to participate matter because Black History Month matters. It gives an opportunity for us to talk openly about race and a way to engage with conversations at all different levels and stages. As a loosely defined festival it can go in whatever direction it needs to do, from politics to science to dance and nutrition - from Nelson Mandela to Carlos Acosta and on to Ainsley Harriot. It is a way of celebrating and actively recognising the ways that peoples of the African diaspora have contributed to and enriched society in all parts of the globe. Too often these are the unheard or unspoken stories; BHM changes that and gives the opportunity to foreground these contributions.
And these stories matter. We are, together, working out ways to navigate the world and work with others from across the world. In areas with low populations of people from the global majority, these stories can be sidelined or ignored. While most UK universities have predominantly white student and staff populations, some universities and parts of the UK have even fewer people of colour. The population of Lincolnshire and BGU is very monocultural and therefore structured opportunities to draw attention to these contributions is essential – BHM provides such an opportunity.
To facilitate as wide an opportunity for participation as possible, we structure our BHM celebrations intentionally so that different elements appeal to different audiences. Those who attend the quiz night hosted by the SU may be different to the parents who take their children to storytelling sessions in the library. Our academic staff embed BHM into their curricula in an academically relevant way and produce outcomes ranging from creating EY podcasts to conference posters to discussions on issues relating to being a Black carer. The BGU library services provide active support through their rotating display of books and their showcasing of events in their newsletter The Four Corners. I believe that it is this richness and range of these celebration which makes BHM at BGU such a success, supporting the university in realising its desire to be a civic university, enhancing the lives of staff and students and out into our local community.
It is also important to consider how BHM adds to the life of the BGU and how it enriches the University experience. I have spent the month talking to a range of colleagues about BHM at BGU including academic staff from across Faculty, together with other colleagues from internal support services and I heard a range of views regarding the events we had chosen to offer. Feedback has, I am pleased to say, been universally positive and members of the university-wide community could see how BHM positively contributed to university and community life. Equally, colleagues were shocked and angered to hear about cases of discrimination and wanted to know how they could work to challenge such actions and behaviours. Everyone I spoke with could see how BHM both contributed to the wellbeing of the community and how greater understanding of race and racial issues would help to produce more cohesive and robust communities able to work together to achieve common goals.
'[What] “just” is, isn’t always justice’ (Gorman, 2021). This common goal must, I believe, include challenge where challenge is needed. I hope that those who experience BHM at BGU gain a clearer view of their power to contribute to a more equal society and what local action they would take to help achieve this goal. This might be ‘calling out’ certain language use, identifying changes to language culture and how some terms are no longer acceptable. This might be through standing with others to challenge inequality or revising resources so that those resources more accurately reflect wider society. It might be that these contributions include huge leaps or small steps, but I hope that all involved remain dedicated to working together to achieve change.
Planning for BHM 2024 is already underway. We hope to continue to build on previous years and to offer again some of the more popular activities such as the student drama evening, quiz, and film night. We also hope to grow community-focussed activities and offer an expanded range of public facing lectures. I am most delighted, though, to report that some students have already taken the initiative and have directly approached me to ask if their work can be included in BHM 2024. Enthusiasm that grows from within is itself a measure of success. I look forward to next year with optimism and enthusiasm."
Reference Gorman, A. (2021). The Hill We Climb: the Amanda Gorman poem that stole the inauguration show. The Guardian